DANA MILBANK: Confrontation in pursuit of extremism won't craft a solution

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON – Richard Mourdock stands a good chance of being elected to the Senate. Keith Judd is a federal inmate in Texas. And the similarities don’t end there.
Both men were beneficiaries of voter protests on Tuesday against the Washington status quo – one protest harmless, the other insidious. The benign vote went to Judd, who won 41 percent of the ballots against President Obama in West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary. It was an embarrassment for the president but purely symbolic. The more worrisome protest vote benefited Mourdock, who bested six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary. That election has the potential to make the already broken system in Washington more caustic and less functional.
Mourdock, a geologist by trade, is the Indiana state treasurer. Perennial candidate Judd, who goes by the nickname “Dark Priest” and has an extremely long mullet, lists himself as a past member of the Federation of Super Heroes and is doing time for making threats at the University of New Mexico.
Yet the two men are equally irrational in their plans for changing Washington. And the two are equally likely to succeed with these plans, which is to say they have no chance at all.
Judd wants voting rights for incarcerated felons, and he proposes to abolish the income tax and fund the government with “free money.” Mourdock’s solution is just as implausible: an end to bipartisanship and compromise. “One side or the other has to win this argument,” he said the day after his primary victory, adding that “the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else.”
That Indiana voters would make such a protest statement is understandable. These are hard times, and Americans correctly perceive that the federal government has become unable to deal with problems big and small. But the Hoosiers’ proposed cure – sending to Washington an ideologue who calls for confrontation over compromise – will just make the illness worse.
Over the last couple of decades, and particularly since 1994, both parties have been sending increasingly disagreeable characters to Washington.
Washington Post pollster Jon Cohen has documented, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say that the economy is in bad shape and that Obama could do more to lower gas prices. During the Bush years, it was the reverse. As recently as the 1990s, there was no such partisan divide on the economy.
Mourdock prevailed in part because he ridiculed Lugar for living in the Washington area. But this history student should know that’s how it was done for most of our history. The lawmakers who beat the Nazis, won the Cold War and led the nation to economic dominance didn’t do three-day workweeks in the capital and jet home on weekends; they got to know each other and learned to work with each other.
It is Mourdock who is outside the tradition envisioned by the Framers. If he thinks the way to success in Washington is to banish collegiality in favor of confrontation, he might as well grow a mullet and join the Federation of Super Heroes. It will work equally well.
Dana Milbank’s email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.