Republicans standing at the next urinal

When it comes to thinks governing human behavior, there’s laws and there’s there’s social customs and norms.  It would be against the law to attack me in the men’s room, however, there’s nothing against the law saying that you cannot come and stand at the urinal next to me when there’s plenty of other free ones.  It would just be weird and creepy.  There’s a lot of things we don’t do, for better and worse, because you just don’t do it.  It violates social norms and customs.  Traditionally, Congress has been much the same way.  There’s the actual rules of the place, and then there’s the long-standing norms.  The reason that Republicans in Congress have been so successful in getting their way of late, is that they basically decided if its not an actual rule, just a norm, that damn the norms, full speed ahead.  In short, when it comes to conducting themselves in Congress, Republicans are standing at the next urinal.

That was going to be the end of my post, but I came across this excellent piece by long-time Congressional observer/scholar, Norm Ornstein, approrpriately titled, “Worst.  Congress.  Ever.”  And it’s not because of the Democrats (also worth noting, Ornstein definitely plays things down the middle and is employed by the conservative thinktank AEI).  I would actually assign it to my Intro Class this coming year, but I’m not actually going to be teaching Intro this year for the first time in a long time.  Since it’s going to lose that big audience, maybe you should just read it instead :-).  It’s quite good.  (Or, if you are JP, you can assign it to your class).  Anyway, here’s the part most relevant to my comments:

In 2006, I wrote a book with the Brookings Institution’s Tom Mann called The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, in which we reflected on the high level of dysfunction in Congress that had been building since the 1990s. From the Clinton years through the middle of George W. Bush’s second term, partisan division had been accompanied by a growing ideological gulf in Congress, and along with it had come a decline in institutional loyalty and other norms, the near disappearance of meaningful debate and deliberation, and a sharp decline in the “regular order,” the adherence to and respect for the rules and procedures that normally operated in the legislative body.  [emphasis mine].

And, there’s no false symmetry here.  It is predominantly, though admittedly not exclusively, Republicans who are responsible for this.  There’s a reason this is the worst Congress ever.  And it starts with an R.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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