Congress Behaving Badly: The Rise of Partisanship and Incivility and the Death of Public Trust

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Overview

Partisan rancor and the public exchange of incivilities among members of Congress have become rampant on Capitol Hill and in the media studios since the 1980s. Polarization between mutually repugnant congressional factions has reached the point that the legislative process is paralyzed and democracy is hobbled. Ahuja documents the rise of incivility and partisan shrillness in Congress, traces its complex causes, identifies its adverse consequences for the functioning of democratic government, and prescribes remedies to curb destructive partisanship and restore dignity and efficiency to the workings of Congress.

Partisan rancor and the public exchange of incivilities between members of Congress have become rampant on Capitol Hill and in the media studios since the 1980s. Polarization between mutually repugnant congressional factions has reached the point that the legislative process is paralyzed and democracy is hobbled. Ahuja documents the rise of incivility and the partisan shrillness in Congress, traces its complex causes, identifies its adverse consequences for the functioning of democratic government, and prescribes remedies to curb destructive partisanship and restore dignity and efficiency to the workings of Congress.

Ahuja catalogs the most shocking examples of the abrasive new confrontational style as practiced by the likes of Gingrich, Burton, and Pelosi in the House, and by Boxer, Santorum, and Lott in the Senate. He contrasts this new style of congressional comportment with the decorum and pragmatism of the old style exemplified by such leaders as Foley, Hamilton, and Michel in the House, and by Dirksen, Mansfield, and Moynihan in the Senate. Ahuja identifies six causes of the rise of partisanship and incivility among congressional members: *Political redistricting and imposition of party discipline. *rising influence of adversarial special-interest groups. *adversarial format fostered by the 24-hour news cycle. *rising use of short-term consultants. *increasing insertion of wedge issues. *avoidance of social interaction among opposing members. The author prescribes measures for restoring civility and moderating partisanship in Congress: reapportioning legislative districts; restricting the influence of consultants, media, and interest groups; and regularizing social interaction among congressional opponents.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A plain-spoken examination of a serious problem in American representative democracy, highly recommended - especially for anyone serving or considering serving in a public office."

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Midwest Book Review

"Ahuja….reviews the extensive literature, considers the evidence demonstrating Congress's poor performance and incivility, and offers six causes….The author provides ample quantitative and qualitative evidence that documents the factors discussed, and he concludes with a series of recommendations to improve the institution….This is a concise and informative book, and a valuable addition for all libraries whose holdings in this subject area are limited."

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Library Journal

"Ahuja (Youngstown State Univ.) explores the rise of partisanship and incivility in the two houses of the US Congress….The book provides a doleful record of bad behavior. Recommended."

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Choice

Library Journal

Much has been written in recent years by academics (e.g., Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein's The Broken Branch), journalists (e.g., Joe Klein's Politics Lost), and politicians themselves (e.g., Lee H. Hamilton's How Congress Works and Why You Should Care) about Congress's descent into dysfunction. In this book, Ahuja (political science, Youngstown State Univ.; coeditor, Legislative Studies Quarterly) reviews the extensive literature, considers the evidence demonstrating Congress's poor performance and incivility, and offers six causes: gerrymandered congressional districts that lead to the election of more intensely partisan members, the increased importance of narrowly focused interest groups, the 24/7 news cycle, the rise of political consultants, the supplanting of policy issues by wedge issues, and the inability to or unwillingness of members to socialize in their free time, leading members to view those in the opposing party as objects to be scorned rather than people with whom one could reason. The author provides ample quantitative and qualitative evidence that documents the factors discussed, and he concludes with a series of recommendations to improve the institution, among them limiting the use of campaign consultants and the media. Some of the recommendations are unrealistic, but many are worth serious consideration. This is a concise and informative book, and a valuable addition for all libraries whose holdings in this subject area are limited.
—Thomas J. Baldino

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275998684
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/30/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

SUNIL AHUJA is Associate Professor of Political Science at Youngstown State University. He is Editor of the recurrent series The Roads to Congress, coeditor of Legislative Studies Quarterly, and Past President of the Northeastern Political Science Association.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The problem of incivility and partisanship 1

Ch. 2 The Capitol Hill junior high school 21

Ch. 3 Changing of the guard 41

Ch. 4 What is behind partisanship and uncivil debate in Congress? 61

Ch. 5 Whither confidence and respect in the modern Congress? 85

Ch. 6 The impact of partisan warfare on the legislative process 107

Ch. 7 Democracy is a conversation 127

Notes 153

Index 169

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