Alex Simendinger of RealClearPolitics is reporting that Republicans and Democrats on the so called super committee "sounded more hostile than ever" on Thursday, as both sides struggle to find common ground on raising revenues and cutting spending. Simendinger is predicting that we'll hear a continuation of the talking points from both sides on the weekend talk shows as we head into Thanksgiving week and the super committee's deadline on Wednesday.
But there's a bigger problem beyond the polarization of the super committee and the political parties. Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes about it in today's Washington Post:
Over the past few decades, the GOP has become a more conservative party. The development of self-consciously conservative media — on radio, cable and the Internet — has provided a welcome alternative to the bias of the mainstream media. It has also simplified many public debates into a contest of ideological teams — a tendency shared by self-consciously liberal media. Candidates, pundits and voters are called to join one side or the other, doing nothing that will give comfort to the enemy. But ideological conformity easily becomes cultural isolation — the development of assumptions, language and views disconnected from the broad middle of American life.
The problem isn't that the GOP has become more conservative (especially for those of us who think everybody needs to get a little more fiscally conservative these days), or that the Democratic party is becoming more liberal. The problem is while both sides are paying attention to their own extremes—on the right, to the socially conservative primary voters, and on the left to the Occupy Wall Street protesters—no one is paying attention to all those people in the middle. That cultural isolation isn't limited to politics.
It's everywhere: we can see the development of "assumptions, language and views disconnected from the broad middle of American life" all around us in life. There's a feeling that our biggest institutions are letting us down, because they're so out of touch with what working families are going through: you see it in the record-low approval numbers for Congress, the distrust of the mainstream media, the antipathy toward big banks, the outrage at the Catholic Church, the anger at massive government spending, even the disgust at the leadership of Penn State. The people in the middle, the ones who work hard and play by the rules, feel like no one's looking out for them. They don't have a voice. Earned success by individuals seems like it's being crushed by failed institutions.
That feeling of isolation and disconnection in so many areas of society has political ramifications: it explains why the broad middle swath of GOP voters hasn't coalesced behind one candidate; it explains why there's so much talk about a third party candidate entering the race; it explains why the biggest voting bloc right now is independent voters. There's a backlash going on, which I think will continue to grow as the extremes get louder and louder.
A grand bargain from the super committee isn't a be-all and end-all, but it would certainly go a long way toward reversing some of the frustration and anger we're seeing—both in political system and in our economy. Let's hope they get something done over the weekend.