Dangerous Convictions: What's Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress

Overview

The rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaign exposed the deeply rooted sources of political polarization in American. One side celebrated individualism and divided the public into "makers and takers;" the other preached "better together" as the path forward. Both focused their efforts on the "base" not the middle.

In Dangerous Convictions, former Democratic Congressman Tom Allen argues that what's really wrong with Congress is the widening, hardening conflict in worldviews ...

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Dangerous Convictions: What's Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress

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Overview

The rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaign exposed the deeply rooted sources of political polarization in American. One side celebrated individualism and divided the public into "makers and takers;" the other preached "better together" as the path forward. Both focused their efforts on the "base" not the middle.

In Dangerous Convictions, former Democratic Congressman Tom Allen argues that what's really wrong with Congress is the widening, hardening conflict in worldviews that leaves the two parties unable to understand how the other thinks about what people should do on their own and what we should do together. Members of Congress don't just disagree, they think the other side makes no sense. Why are conservatives preoccupied with cutting taxes, uninterested in expanding health care coverage and in denial about climate change? What will it take for Congress to recover a capacity for pragmatic compromise on these issues?

Allen writes that we should treat self-reliance (the quintessential American virtue) and community (our characteristic instinct to cooperate) as essential balancing components of American culture and politics, instead of setting them at war with each other. Combining his personal insights from 12 years In Congress with recent studies of how human beings form their political and religious views, Allen explains why we must escape the grip of our competing worldviews to enable Congress to work productively on our 21st century challenges.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With historically low ratings, Congress is regarded as 'dysfunctional' by Americans of all political persuasions. Why that is so, and what can be done to reduce excessive partisanship, is the subject of Tom Allen's well-informed and provocative book." -Former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell

"This is an extraordinarily valuable examination of the most troubling concern of our time: the inability of our leaders in Washington to find consensus and forge compromise in the public interest. Readers will discover here a deeply penetrating analysis by an author who had unique opportunities to observe from the inside the causes and consequences of our current polarization. Anyone who wants to understand why contemporary politics so often results in failure cannot afford to miss this essential book." -G. Calvin Mackenzie, Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of Government, Colby College

"Allen, a former Democratic congressman from Maine and current president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers, offers a panoramic critique of Congress based on his 12 years in office (1997-2009), covering policy areas from the budget to health care....Allen's pragmatism and reason help frame major issues for Americans hungering for some legislative wisdom after the election." —Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
Allen, a former Democratic congressman from Maine and current president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers, offers a panoramic critique of Congress based on his 12 years in office (1997–2009), covering policy areas from the budget to health care. Since he left office four years ago, Allen says, Congress “has descended to new lows of dysfunctional partisanship and vanishing public trust.” Many centrists will agree that today’s Congress exhibits a frightening degree of factional bitterness. This combination of memoir and game plan will not astonish the Beltway crowd. Allen’s solutions generally align with moderate factions in the Democratic Party. Allen defends Obamacare and takes a polite swipe at Paul Ryan’s economic policies. His gauzy and rather naïve analysis of why “polarization”—the word he returns to throughout—has occurred is less convincing that his ample reflections based on personal experience. To explain conservative “rigidity,” for example, he recycles psychobabble about parenting styles and authoritarian personalities. However, Allen’s pragmatism and reason help frame major issues for Americans hungering for some legislative wisdom after the election. Agent: Mel Berger, WME. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Allen (president & CEO, Assoc. of American Publishers) draws here upon his six terms as Democratic U.S. congressman from Maine (1997–2009). He left Congress alarmed and frustrated by our two major parties' inability not simply to work together but even to comprehend each other. The idea that incivility is at the root of our problems misses the point, he says, because members are divided by a worldview that prevents real engagement with the issues. Allen's focus is on four areas: the budget and taxes; our invasion of Iraq; health care; and climate change. In each area he contrasts the pragmatism of his own party with what he calls the Republicans' calcified orthodoxy that is impervious to evidence. Democrats, he believes, have the more difficult message to deliver, one based on Americans' "second language" of community, as opposed to a Republican message based on our "first language," individualism. Our politics will remain at a stalemate, he writes, unless somehow we reconcile the two. While he ends on a hopeful note, Allen has little to offer on how we might achieve that reconciliation. VERDICT Democratic and Republican readers alike may find Allen's book repetitive and his perspective not especially new. Their own world views, as with Congress's, won't be changed by this book.—Robert Nardini, Niagara Falls, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199392872
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 995,122
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Allen is President and CEO of the American Association of Publishers. He is a former U.S. Congressman representing Maine's 1st District from 1997 to 2009.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One: Early Lessons in Congress
Chapter Two: The Federal Budget: Faith-Based Economics
Chapter Three: Iraq: Evidence Doesn't Matter
Chapter Four: Health Care: Principle before People
Chapter Five: Climate Change: Denial as Public Policy
Chapter Six: The Sources of Polarization
Chapter Seven: Finding a Path to Recovery

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