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.