Seminars at Steamboat speaker addresses social, political schism | SteamboatToday.com

Seminars at Steamboat speaker addresses social, political schism

Jim Patterson
Speaker Norman Ornstein addresses a large crowd at the first Seminars at Steamboat Dialogues on Public Policy Monday evening at the Strings Music Pavilion. Ornstein, who is a political scientist and contributing writer for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research among other things, spoke about both political parties and examined the current political situation on the eve of the conventions. Ornstein is the first of several speakers lined up to appear at this year’s Seminars at Steamboat. Future speakers include William McCants, Philippe Le Corre, Matthew Rojansky and Richard Reeves.
John F. Russell

Upcoming Seminars at Steamboat

• July 18: “Radical Islam and Terrorism: Views from the U.S. and Europe,” a policy talk with William McCants and Philippe LeCorre of the Brookings Institution.

• July 28: “Russia-U.S. Conflict: The New Normal,” a policy talk with Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center and an expert on U.S. relations with the states of the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia.

• Aug. 18: “Inequality and the American Dream,” a policy talk with Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Center on Children and Families.





Speaker Norman Ornstein addresses a large crowd at the first Seminars at Steamboat Dialogues on Public Policy Monday evening at the Strings Music Pavilion. Ornstein, who is a political scientist and contributing writer for The Atlantic, a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research among other things, spoke about both political parties and examined the current political situation on the eve of the conventions. Ornstein is the first of several speakers lined up to appear at this year’s Seminars at Steamboat. Future speakers include William McCants, Philippe Le Corre, Matthew Rojansky and Richard Reeves.
John F. Russell

— The opening moments of Monday’s first talk in the 2016 summer season of Seminars at Steamboat: Dialogues on Public Policy, more closely resembled a stand-up comedy act than a public policy discussion, as political scientist and author Norman Ornstein unleashed a barrage of quips directed at politicians of both parties, much to the delight of the standing-room-only audience that packed Strings Music Pavilion.

Upcoming Seminars at Steamboat

• July 18: “Radical Islam and Terrorism: Views from the U.S. and Europe,” a policy talk with William McCants and Philippe LeCorre of the Brookings Institution.

• July 28: “Russia-U.S. Conflict: The New Normal,” a policy talk with Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center and an expert on U.S. relations with the states of the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia.

• Aug. 18: “Inequality and the American Dream,” a policy talk with Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Center on Children and Families.

Of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Ornstein said, “Our world has been turned upside down in politics, of course, since Donald Trump threw his hair in the presidential ring,” adding that Trump naysayers need not worry about the repercussions of a Trump presidency, because, “… if he becomes president, within a couple of months, he’ll leave us for a younger country.”

He also took light-hearted jabs at Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, saying recent attacks from the Trump camp on Clinton’s religion were unfounded.

“Hillary Clinton said actually several times a day, she speaks to God, just never for under $100,000,” Ornstein said.

But the initial levity stood in stark contrast to the serious nature of Ornstein’s premise. He acknowledged he prefers to get audiences laughing from the beginning, because, “it’s all downhill from here.”

Growing divide

Ornstein spoke of a growing divide in the nation, one which began with partisanship — which he described as “deeply imbedded in the DNA of the United States” and not necessarily a negative thing — but has, through the past two decades, devolved into “angry populism and partisan tribalism,” a state in which one side would rather see nothing accomplished than compromise with the other.

This divisive attitude, he added, has fractured the nation, not only in terms of political ideologies but also in “the basic fabric of society.”

Angry populism, he said, has its roots in a sense of general distrust of elites and those in positions of power and has emerged at various points in the nation’s history, particularly in times of economic difficulty. In the modern era, he added, it is almost always accompanied by nativism, protectionism and isolationism, attitudes Ornstein said have contributed to the rise of both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

He pointed to a similar rise in angry populism in the late 1980s — spawned by a 25-percent pay raise for elite federal employees and members of Congress — that he said cemented the careers of such media pundits as Rush Limbaugh. Politically, he added, it spurred “a populist uprising on the left with Ralph Nader, on the right with Pat Buchanan, and in the angry center with Ross Perot.”

The overarching feeling, he said, spoke of “a conspiracy of elites, the sense that they were feathering their own nests while the rest of us suffered.”

Similarly, he said, the financial collapse of 2008-09 and the subsequent TARP program bailout engendered the same variety of angry populism.

“They passed it, but that led to an even greater spasm of angry populism — on the left with the Occupy Wall Street movement and on the right with the Tea Party movement,” Ornstein said. “The fundamental attitude was, ‘Those elites got together, and they bailed out the miscreants who got us into this mess, and then let them take bonuses. And what happened to us? We lost our houses.”

He said the rise of Trumpism, with “its stark versions of nativism and protectionism and a dash of isolationism,” found resonance in this brand of anger.

The result, he said, has been a collapse of the center and political factions that would rather hold to their own ideologies than compromise, even if the result is inaction.

As an example, Ornstein cited the recent Zika outbreak and Congress’ attendant reluctance to do anything to combat it.

“We knew six months ago that there was a strong potential for the Zika virus to spread significantly enough in the country that it could cause real problems …” he said, “The Centers for Disease Control came out months ago with a detailed plan on how to prevent this, asking for $1.8 billion … Congress has not done anything, and they are poised to go away for most of the summer without having done anything.

“Zika is not a partisan or an ideological issue. The mosquitoes don’t ask if you’re a Democrat or a Republican … they bite when they have the targets, and the consequences are significant for this society. If you can’t even do that, what are we going to do when we have much larger challenges?”

Enormous challenges

“However the presidential election comes out, we’ve had enough of a breakdown in the political system — and one that’s going to continue to deepen — that the basics of governance are going to be enormously challenging,” Ornstein said.

The biggest problem, he said, is not that the nation’s political structures are faulty, rather, that the structures can no longer function as they should in the prevailing political and social climate.

He also stressed the problem goes much deeper than politics.

“What we’re seeing is an ugliness on race and religion that is very difficult to deal with and legitimacy given to words and polices that should not be legitimized,” he said.

The solution, he added, is threefold.

First, he said, the political finance system — which “adds a layer of corruption” to the system and lends credence to the idea that the elites are rigging the game — needs to be overhauled.

Second, the districting process — which Ornstein said is becoming a system in which politicians choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians — needs to be revamped.

And finally, Americans should work to enlarge the electorate.

Ornstein said the addition of more voices to the process of selecting the nation’s leaders would work to balance elections in which — more and more often — decisions are made by only small segments of the population — segments, he added, which are often the most radical.

To reach Jim Patterson, call 970-871-4208, email jpatterson@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JimPatterson15


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