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A House Divide

They call the GOP an “insurgent outlier.” As Ornstein’s American Enterprise Institute colleague Peter Wallison has noted, “by the lights of Ornstein and Mann, a political party that is ‘far from the American mainstream’ could be put fully in control of the U.S. government” come November. Isn’t that what “mainstream” means?

The book largely ignores the reasons behind the Democrats’ historic setback in the 2010 elections. And it utterly fails to consider that the new crop of Republicans who won office that year might have a point about the dysfunction of Congress before they arrived.

Each book has a lengthy chapter on last summer’s debt-ceiling negotiations. Mann and Ornstein paint GOP leaders as the villains in their negotiations with President Barack Obama. “Cantor criticized and undercut negotiations,” they write. “Boehner was sandbagged.” 

Draper, for his part, largely ignores the White House talks and focuses on the debt-ceiling dynamics among House Republicans. He relates a tale in which four Boehner allies cautioned him that Cantor was encouraging a tea party “brush fire” against Boehner’s deal-making. He does not offer a response from the top two leaders. More recent journalistic examinations of the controversy have placed greater responsibility on Obama for last summer’s debacle. 

As these two books demonstrate, the “first rough draft” of history has its limitations. And expert even-handedness is in increasingly short supply.

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