"But the tea-party citizens are under the misapprehension that democratic governing is supposed to be the same as democratic discourse, that elected officials are virtuous to the extent that they too default to unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance and refusal. And the elected officials, as never before, are indulging that populist fantasy."
"Of course, in a democracy, the people, even the unreasonable and crazy people, have to be made to feel they’ve been heard. But the job of serious Washington grown-ups with big populist constituencies—both presidents Roosevelt, Reagan, even Richard Nixon—is to respond to the rage with the minimum necessary demagoguery, throw them a few bones to calm them down, and then make deals with your fellow members of the elected elite. Civility and sanity and prudence prevail, as the founders intended. Obama’s plainspoken human-to-human give-and-take with the House GOP caucus the other week was a perfect model for how the Washington elite could walk together back from the brink"
"But it’s possible that the populist impulse is now too powerful for the elite to reassert control. In the old days, the elite media really did control the national political discourse; there were no partisan, splenetic cable news or ubiquitous talk-radio channels and no blogosphere to keep the populists riled up and make them feel the excitement of a mob. Until fifteen years ago, presidents and congressional leaders could pretty well manage the policy conversations, keep them on reasonable simmer. But the new technologies have, maybe permanently, turned up the political heat to boil."
"If the Republicans, as a result, stick to their just-say-no game, what’s at risk is not merely Democratic majorities and Obama’s reelection, but—not to get too hysterical—the future of the republic. Apart from practical paralysis on addressing the big issues like health care and entitlements and energy, this extreme and practically nihilistic divisiveness, refusal as virtue, could become the new normal."