Tag Archives: Talking Points Memo

Abandoning Equivalence

A few days ago, over at Talking Points Memo Josh Marshall shared an important observation.  He was reporting on yet another asinine demand by yet another asinine Republican operative–in this case, the Chairman of the Republican party of Virginia, who wanted the University of Virginia to open an investigation into Professor Larry Sabato. Sabato is a noted and widely cited political observer; however, according to the Chairman of the “anti-cancel” party, Sabato’s “bitter partisanship.” violated  UVA’s ethical code and justified “cancelling” him. (Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way…)

The University responded, according to Marshall, “by telling the Virginia GOP, in so many words, to STFU.”

Another day, another example of hypocrisy and stupidity. It wouldn’t be worth a post, except for Marshall’s further insightful observation, which I am taking the liberty of quoting at some length.

Years ago – and in some case until quite recently – there was a group of commentators who the prestige news shows relied on for non-partisan, “both sides” commentary on the politics of the day. Two of the most visible – especially on shows like The NewsHour were Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two think tank political scientists from AEI and Brookings respectively. Another was presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Another was Larry Sabato. Ornstein and Mann tended to focus on the function of Congress; Beschloss, the presidency; Sabato, federal elections. But they each covered the full terrain of contemporary politics. If you go back through 20-plus years of my writing the Editors’ Blog you’ll probably find some criticism of each of them, almost certainly precisely because of this studious effort to see the country’s two political parties in equal terms and treat them as such, even as the evidence for that perspective steadily dwindled….

In the spring of 2012 Mann and Ornstein published an OpEd in The Washington Post: “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem“. The title speaks for itself but if you wanted more you could read the book that it was adapted from It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Ornstein’s twitter feed is now so blistering in its criticism of contemporary conservatism and the GOP that it makes me blush. Beschloss now has a priceless Twitter feed made up largely of historical artifacts, photos, commemorations almost all of which function as subtweets of Trump, Trumpism or some related manifestation of the contemporary GOP.

Sabato was in many ways the final holdout. In an interview with The Richmond Times-Dispatch for an article about the state GOP investigation demand, Sabato chalked the shift up to Trump and the January 6th insurrection. “People had better pay attention because if they don’t, it’s going to happen again.”

These political pundits originally earned reputations as fair-minded, non-partisan political scientists translating research data for the edification of the public. Their whole “schtick” was even-handedness; they were political Joe Fridays confining themselves to “just the facts, ma’am.” They had–and still have– significant professional incentives to be “both-siders” to the greatest extent consistent with scholarly integrity.

So what has changed?

I suggest that what’s changed is political reality. We are at a point in America’s political life when people who actually know what they are talking about can no longer treat today’s GOP as a normal political party. Norman Ornstein was a Republican and to the best of my knowledge, he is still working for a conservative think-tank. Michael Beschloss always struck me as a bit right of center, although careful to maintain objectivity. Ditto Sabato, who never came across as anything but a studied fence-straddler. (Granted, these were my impressions, and may well have differed from the reactions of others.)

There comes a time when knowledgable people who were trained to be dispassionate (and incentivized to bend over backwards to be “balanced”) can no longer ignore the evidence.

We’re at that point.



So Here’s Where We Are….

I did it again. This should have posted tomorrow morning. Sorry.


This week saw the start of the public phase of the House Impeachment process. Media outlets–left, right and center–have reported on testimony, the behavior of various Representatives, the White House and a multitude of partisans. Still other outlets have reported on those reports.

In other words, there has been a lot of noise. Amid the clamor, though, I think Josh Marshall has made the most incisive observations.As he points out, the question commonly asked is whether the Democrats can make their case convincingly to the American public. And as he also points out, that really isn’t the question.

What’s really being asked is whether Democrats will be able to convince not the American people but Republican partisans and more specifically congressional Republicans. And that is by design an all but impossible standard because they are deeply and unshakably committed to not being convinced.

This is not only the obvious verdict of the last three years. It’s even more clear with the questions which have emerged since September. Congressional Republicans have hopped from one argument to another: from no evidence of wrongdoing, to the wrongdoing is actually fine, to a rearguard action against a corrupt process. The chaos of arguments has zero logic or consistency beyond the simple and overriding one: of refusing to accept that the President did anything wrong no matter what evidence emerges and simply use whatever argument is available to justify that end.

Marshall is right. The pundits who are evaluating the Democrats’ “performance” by their success in moving immovable Republicans are applying a ridiculous standard. As he says, no sane person willingly plays a game or has an argument or even wages a war in which the adversary gets to decide who wins or loses.

That not only guarantees failure it breeds a a sense of helplessness and mawkish begging. It demoralizes supporters and puffs up opponents with a sense of unmerited power.

Public opinion surveys show the public is already pretty well convinced even in advance of public hearings. Overwhelming numbers see this kind of extortion and foreign election interference as wrong. Similar numbers believe the President did these things. Even in advance of public hearings roughly 50% of the voting population already supports the extreme step of removing the President from office – something that hasn’t happened in almost a quarter of a millenium of American history.

Marshall points out that the evidence of illegal behavior and abuse of power is already overwhelming. Damning testimony has come from Trump’s own appointees, and to the extent details are still missing, it’s because Trump has kept people who could fill in the blanks from testifying.

Certainly it is important to air the evidence publicly, clear up good faith confusions and nudge as many people who believe the President did something wrong but are hesitant about the upheaval of impeachment in the direction of supporting impeachment and removal. But the basic case simply makes itself. The evidence is overwhelming.

His conclusion–with which I entirely agree–is sobering.

It’s not the Democrats who are on trial here, needing to prove themselves with some magisterial performance. Indeed, it’s not even really the President whose guilt is obvious and not even questioned with serious arguments. Who and what is on trial here is the Republican party, which has made it pretty clear that they are willing to countenance any level of law breaking and abuses of power so long as it is done by a Republican or at least as long as it is Donald Trump.

The Democrats’ job is to lay out the evidence in a public setting and get elected Republicans to sign on the dotted line that this is presidential behavior they accept and applaud. That won’t be difficult. They have one last chance to change their answer. Democrats real job is to clarify and publicize that that is their answer.

This isn’t pollyannish. It is simply recognizing the nature of the crisis in which the country finds itself and avoiding nonsensical, bad-faith exercises that can only end in frustration. The aim for Democrats is to set forth, calmly and clearly, what the Republican party accepts and what it is and consolidate the non-Republican, non-authoritarian nationalist vote which supports the rule of law and the constitution. Since the GOP is self-indicting, President Trump will almost certainly not be removed from office and these questions, properly set forth, will go before the people in one year.

What We The People do then–and the margin by which we do it– will tell us who we really are.