Rules are rules. When it comes to the political establishment discussing what ails the American system, the rules dictate that "both sides" are always to blame for everything in all instances. Even if reality clearly shows one party more responsible than the other, no one's allowed to say so -- to assign responsibility to those who deserve it is to be biased and irresponsible.
With these rules in mind, it was a delightful surprise to see Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein publish a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend, headlined, "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem."
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges.
"Both sides do it" or "There is plenty of blame to go around" are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
For those unfamiliar with Mann and Ornstein, these aren't just two political scientists who occasionally write about current events. Mann and Ornstein enjoy almost unparalleled credibility with the Beltway establishment, and are generally accepted as centrist observers, not ideologues or partisan bomb-throwers.
This context matters. When Paul Krugman or Eugene Robinson says the radicalization of the Republican Party drives the dysfunction of our politics in the 21st century, they're correct, but the impact of perspective is limited. When Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, present the same argument, their observation raises eyebrows.
What's more, consider the real-world implications of the GOP's radicalism.