The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Friday, June 09, 2006


Norm Ornstein, resident goo-goo at the American Enterprise Institute, has his knickers in knots because Republicans aren't talking about "real issues."

According to Ornstein, Congress is "embarrassing itself" and by "dropping any real focus on the immediate issues facing the country at home and abroad to waste weeks of precious and limited floor time on the diversions of banning same-sex marriage and flag burning."

He continues, "Can anyone say with a straight face that these issues are more urgent than energy, health care, the budget deficit, homeland security, pensions, hurricane preparedness, the war in Iraq or the balance between fighting terror and protecting civil liberties?"

Worse yet, these are "doomed diversions." They aren't going to pass, so why waste time on them. Instead, Ornstein has found something Congress should be working on: "reform." Prescisely, "election procedure and reform."

Ornstein, I should note, is not alone - all over Georgetown and the Upper West Side of Manhattan, elite opinion is appalled. Thomas Friedman sniffs that "Congress ought to stop debating gay marriage and finally give us a framework to maintain a free flow of legal immigration." Such is the tone in cocktail parties and among the upper crust most everywhere.

The question, of course, is, "why isn't gay marriage, or flag burning (or elimination of the estate tax, another issue Republicans are chastised for bringing to a vote) important?" Because Ornstein and Friedman don't think so? To many Americans, these are extremely important issues. And as to Ornstein's complaint that they won't pass, why is that? It's because they are important enough to some members of Congress to filibuster. That's why they don't pass. If the state of the law in these areas is so unimportant, why don't Ornstein's groupies in Congress - wake up, Senator McCain - just vote for these changes, get 'em done, and move on to those "important issues."

Note, too, that Ornstein doesn't ask whether anything is likely to be passed on the issues that are important to him. I mean, what exactly is Congress going to do on the war in Iraq? Is there any chance of Congress passing a meaningful energy bill?

Ornstein's own history belies his elitism. For years, public polling has shown campaign finance reform to be a low priority issue with the public, and for many years in the 1990s, it was clear - as with gay marriage or flag burning todya - that no law could pass because it would be filibustered. Yet campaign finance reform throughout the 90s was a mantra for Ornstein, and I don't recall him being critical of President Clinton when the latter threatened to bring Congress into special session to debate the issue. That's because Ornstein thought campaign finance reform was important, and believed that votes were important to pin people down, and build long term pressure for the change.

Back to the present, the odd thing is that I basically agree with Ornstein/Friedman et al. Flag burning doesn't do much for me one way or the other. I don't see gay marriage as a priority issue; I favor a middle road immigration approach that actually increases levels of legal immigration, etc. etc. But it is up to me - and to Friedman and Ornstein and all - to convince people that these issues are more important than gay marriage or flag burning or repealing the estate tax. Mere assertion is not argument. It is more of the elitism, arrogance, and disdain for ordinary Americans that dominate "reform" politics, top to bottom.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life