William A. Galston and Thomas E. Mann:
The GOP's grass-roots obstructionists: For decades, the operational core of bipartisanship in Congress was the overlap between the parties. Through a long process triggered by the politics of the 1960s, that core has disappeared.... What The Post's editorial missed, however, is that these developments have not produced two mirror-image political parties. We have, instead, asymmetrical polarization.... More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate identify themselves as conservative or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal....
Consider the episode that The Post cited as Exhibit A for polarization: Sen. Robert Bennett's commendable work with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to develop a bipartisan health bill, which was used against him by conservative Utah activists to deny him renomination. The Post failed to note, however, that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug on the Wyden-Bennett initiative well before health reform was taken up last year. Bennett and other Republican co-sponsors of this bipartisan bill were told in no uncertain terms that the party strategy was to block every major domestic policy initiative of the new administration and not to engage in substantive negotiations that could produce bipartisan majorities on the floor. During the lengthy health debate, not one Senate Republican spoke in support of the Wyden-Bennett bill. Tea Party activists outraged at Republican incumbents for cavorting with the enemy (i.e., Obama and the Democrats) took their cue from Republican Party leaders.
Under these conditions of asymmetrical polarization, Congress can become a haven for obstruction and gridlock rather than deliberation and compromise.... [W]hen the people are divided, the most strident voices tend to dominate, and Congress reverts to the all-too-familiar pattern of behavior that has driven its public esteem to a record low. And a Republican Party dominated at the grass roots by angry rejection of all bipartisanship -- and of all but the most limited government -- may win support in the short term, but it will be hard put to cooperate productively in the serious tasks of governance.