House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps the nation's most powerful Republican,… (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo )
The Washington Post lit a fire under Republicans with an op-ed Friday by Brookings Institution senior fellow Thomas E. Mann and American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein titled "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem." The gist: The party's rightward shift has broken Congress. This isn't exactly new ground; other pundits and politicians have complained about the problem and other academics have studied it, including a pair of professors who spent decades digging through historical archives and declared today's Republican Party the most conservative it has been in a century. The Post's conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin is having none of it, arguing that Democrats are just as partisan and uncompromising as today's Republicans. Mann and Ornstein conclude that reporters should stop trying to treat the two parties objectively through the "even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views" and simply tell the truth as they see it, pointing out who's telling the truth and who's stonewalling. Actually, we've already got a media outlet that does that: It's called Fox News, and it's not a good idea. The professors seem unclear on the concept that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and reporters are better off reporting what's said and done and leaving the interpretation up to readers. As for Rubin, she appears so blinded by ideology that she genuinely can't see the harm being wrought by a party that stridently refuses to reach across the aisle and ignores any scientific or policy analysis that contrasts with its world view.
The Sacramento Bee, meanwhile, is buzzing about what it considers deceptive ads in the campaign against Proposition 29, a June ballot initiative in California that would place a $1 tax on cigarettes to pay for cancer research. The Bee endorsed Proposition 29, and its editorial page is upset that the tobacco industry is running ads featuring a physician complaining that the initiative would create a "huge new research bureaucracy" with not a penny going to treatment. The Bee somehow concludes from this that the ad implies that all doctors oppose Proposition 29, when in fact the California Medical Assn. supports it. Actually, this may qualify as among the least deceptive campaign ads I've seen in a while -- the proposition's opponents might have well have been reading from The Times' anti-endorsement of Proposition 29, in which we urged a "no" vote because "it just doesn't make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other unmet needs." Just because Big Tobacco opposes Proposition 29, that doesn't make the "no" campaign dirty.
A couple of weeks ago, a student at American University named Dylan Kaplan wrote a rather lovely op-ed in Haaretz about the importance of dialog between Israelis and Palestinians that had some rather nasty words for right-wing American bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, heads of Stop Islamization of America, which is notable for being declared an extremist group by the Anti-Defamation League. Geller's response appeared today. Its essence: How dare you talk about dialog without mentioning how nasty and anti-Semitic all Muslims are? It's worth reading if only to demonstrate how ideological blinkers can block progress and peace.
Explaining American politics to the British, columnist Michael Cohen in the Guardian compares Mitt Romney to Don Draper of "Mad Men" fame -- "a figure buffeted by the social and economic changes of the 1960s. Romney appeals to those who, rather than adapt to that change, are fighting desperately against it." I'm not sure the U.S. electorate is really as polarized on racial lines as Cohen believes, but his piece has at least one terrific line: "If 2008 was change (Obama) v more of the same (McCain); 2012 is more of the same (Obama) v restoration of a bygone era."
Finally, our sister paper in Chicago, never one to pass up an opportunity to point out why the Windy City is the center of the known universe, takes a wistful look at Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire following last week's closure of the Chicago offices of Playboy Enterprises (Hefner has moved the corporate headquarters to Los Angeles, a reversal of the usual trend in which L.A.'s biggest companies tend to be bought up and closed by bigger companies based in places like Chicago). "The Playboy era seems kind of quaint now," the editorial page concludes. "Hefner looks a little quixotic at his age, cavorting with young women. But in his day, he threw a helluva party. In Chicago." OK, we get it: L.A. gets the surviving wheeze of a once-great empire whose heyday passed long ago. Chicago is a truly great place, which might be a little greater if it could get over its insecure Second City complex.