Long-time Congress watchers Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, out earlier this year with a book that pins congressional gridlock on the GOP, attended the House Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday and insisted that despite their standing with party leaders, they were not advocating that Americans vote for the Party of Andrew Jackson.
"We're not saying we've got one terrific party and one awful party. ... but you've got one party that's more oriented toward solving problems and another that has gone a little bit astray," Ornstein said standing alongside Mann, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Larson and Vice Chairman Rep. Xavier Becerra.
That, in a nutshell, is their criticism of Congress: one party, the Democrats, wants to get things done and the other party, the Republicans, wants to stand in the way. Fueling the dysfunction is a media that, according to Mann, imposes "an artificial equivalence on an underlying reality that is as different and asymmetric as one could want." He's talking about reporting that includes points of view from both parties but does not flat-out say whether one side is objectively right.
That's the problem, they argue, and the solution involves the American voter.
"Don't elect, we say, people who claim to be non-politicians and willing to stand on principles and never compromise. That is an ingredient for absolute gridlock. You have got to think more broadly about the system," Mann said.
Both Democratic leaders present on Wednesday praised Ornstein, who is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Mann, a senior fellow at Brookings. Becerra described them as "sage, dispassionate and non-partisan."
Both authors said they'd be willing to speak to the Republican caucus if invited. Calls to the Republican Conference Chairman's office have not yet been returned.