Time to Mann up

Scholars trace the rise of the wingnuts in new book

When News Hits got an offer to interview author Thomas Mann, we were more than a little bit surprised. As far as we knew, the great German writer and Nobel laureate has been, shall we say, not among the living for more than a half-century.

Silly us.

We had the wrong Mann.

This Thomas Mann is an esteemed scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he's very much alive and raising a ruckus with his newest book, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.

Co-authored with Norman Ornstein, another highly respected political scientist, the book points an accusatory finger at the far right-wingers who have effectively brought Congress to a standstill while doing their best to prevent President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats from achieving anything, including trying to keep our nation's fragile economic recovery going.

The call inviting us to chat with Mann came from Paul Stevens, a lefty attorney looking to drum up a little publicity for the annual Millie Jeffrey Dinner put on by the Justice Caucus.

Don't get the wrong idea though: The book isn't some partisan hack job. For starters, although the Brookings Institution tends to be left-leaning, the American Enterprise Institute, where Ornstein has long been a resident scholar, skews a bit to the right. 

These men aren't party shills.

So we put in a call to Mann and asked him what he planned to talk about in his upcoming keynote speech.


"I'm going to be talking about what's in our book," he said.

Although we'd read Death in Venice back in some long-ago college literature class, we were too embarrassed to admit to this Mann that we hadn't actually read the latest offering from him and Ornstein. So we did what any semi-good journalist would do under the circumstances. 

We faked it.

"What would you say is the central thesis of your book?" we asked.

Too polite to say, "Did you even bother to read the title?" (which we certainly did, and all the way through too) Mann helpfully dove right in, telling us that he and Ornstein set out to explore the roots of the "utterly dysfunctional way our political system appears to be operating."

Dysfunction being something we are more than familiar with, the interview picked up steam from there.

Mann helpfully pointed out that there have been a few times in the past when America's political parties had been completely unable to find common ground. There was, for example, a period in the mid-1800s. Hopefully, though, we'll be able to make it through this period of extreme loggerheads without fighting a terribly bloody and protracted Civil War.

What's going on, explained Mann, is that the Republican Party of today has fallen under the sway of the Tea Partiers, who disdain the idea of compromise.

As Mann contended, "No past Republican president could run on the platform of today's Republican Party."

Gone, for the most part, are the "pragmatic" Republicans like Richard M. Nixon and George H.W. Bush. Their policies would be considered too liberal. Even the hallowed Ronnie Reagan — patron saint to proponents of supply-side economic policies that have resulted in the 99 percenters getting trickled down upon — would be considered too much of a compromiser and a spendthrift in the eyes of today's GOP. 

No, these new-breed Republicans are extremists, pure and simple. Just look at the way they pushed America to the brink of default last year as they battled to keep this nation from raising the limit on its debt ceiling. 

"You can't play around with the full faith and credit of America," said Mann. 

But that's exactly what they did. Thankfully, there were enough sane Republicans still in Congress to fend off the financial disaster that would have occurred had the debt limit not been raised. But the battle continues.

Just look at the Affordable Care Act, which was originally a plan hatched in the bowels of the far-right Heritage Foundation.

Just last week, after a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted, for the 31st time, to repeal it. Never mind that, as with the other 30 times, the bill had no chance whatsoever of making it through the Senate.

This GOP would rather thump its hairy chest and make a statement than, say, work across the aisle to do anything that would move this country forward.

"It is a party bent on obstruction," observed Mann.

At this point, the only real goal appears to be to defeat Obama and gain complete control of Congress, no matter what it may cost this nation.

How, we asked, are they able to get away with this kind of crap?

Part of the answer, according to Mann, are the news media.

Watch any of the Sunday morning talk shows and you will see both parties treated evenhandedly, even though the folks on the right are clearly detached from anything even approaching reality. 

Yet they persist, characterizing Obama as a "socialist" even though the president has been a disappointment in many ways to a lot of those who consider themselves to be real lefties.

In striving to be evenhanded — giving us a he-said, she-said version of reality — the mainstream press is failing us by failing to point out how truly dangerous and batshit crazy these bastards are.

In fairness to Mann, the words "batshit crazy" and "bastards" didn't ever cross his lips during our interview.

But you get the idea. 

And if you do want to hear in person the words that actually do come out of his mouth, there is still time to get tickets to the Millie Jeffrey Dinner, which will be held the evening of Sunday, July 29, at the Westin hotel in Southfield. For info call 734-674-7327 or see justicecaucus.org.

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