How Congress Evolves: Social Bases of Institutional Change

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From the end of the New Deal until quite recently, the U.S. House of Representatives was dominated by a conservative coalition that thwarted the Democratic majority and prevented the enactment of measures proposed by a succession of liberal presidents. Today presidents aren't necessarily liberal and the House of Representatives is not necessarily the graveyard of presidential proposals. What happened? Congress evolved. It all began with air conditioning... In this entertaining tale of the people's house of our nation's legislature, Nelson Polsby describes how the Democratic majority finally succeeded in overcoming the conservative coalition, changing the House. The evolution required, among other things, the disappearance of Dixiecrats from the House Democratic caucus. Dixiecrats were replaced by the rise of the Republican Party in the South. The Republican Party in southern states was strengthened by an influx of migrants from the North, who came south to settle after the introduction of residential air conditioning, which made the climate more tolerable to northerners. This evolutionary process led to the House's liberalization and concluded with the House's later transformation into an arena of sharp partisanship, visible among both Democrats and Republicans. A fascinating read by one of our most influential political scientists, How Congress Evolves breathes new life into the dusty corners of institutional history, and offers a unique explanation for important transformations in the congressional environment.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating history of how the House has developed." —The New York Review of Books

"Polsby's How Congress Evolves is crisply written and argued, moving logically toward an explanation of how Congress changes over time. It should be read by anyone serious about the subject of how political institutions evolve."—The Weekly Standard

"A new work on Congress by one of the most prominent scholars of American government in the past half century is a major event.... How Congress Evolves is an intelligent, eminently readable and accessible study that accurately summarizes how Congress has changed in the last half century and the reasons behind that change.... Nelson Polsby has produced another valuable addition to his considerable corpus of scholarship on American government that will assist congressional experts, undergraduate and graduate students, and the politically aware general reader in understanding the contemporary Congress."—Perspectives on Politics

"In this very readable, memoir-like book, the author develops a comprehensive account to explain the historical evolution of the U.S. House of Representatives over the past half-century. Unparalleled by related studies in its breadth, the book links several causal arguments to show how societal changes exogenous to political institutions have profound consequences within them."—Review of Politics

"Polsby, one of the nation's leading congressional scholars, presents a short, readable, and insightful book about institutional change that will have enduring value. This will most certainly become a classic."—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195161953
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/28/2003
  • Pages: 272
  • Lexile: 1550L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Nelson Polsby is Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where he has taught American politics and government since 1967. A close Congress watcher for more than 40 years, he is the author of, among others, Congress and the Presidency, and Presidential Elections (with Aaron Wildavsky, 10th edition.) He is editor of the Annual Review of Political Science and writes often for the Op-ed pages of the LA Times, Boston Globe, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 The House in Sam Rayburn's Time 7
A Conservative House: 1937-57 7
After the 1958 Election: Frustration 20
The Rump Session of 1960 30
Packing the Rules Committee by Avoiding the Democratic Caucus: 1961 31
2 Toward Liberalization 36
Succession to Rayburn 36
Conflict within the Caucus: Liberals against the Leadership, 1963 40
Incremental Committee Packing: Appropriations, 1963 44
Republican Committee Packing: Maintaining the Party Mainstream, 1961-63 50
The Landslide: 1964 56
The Democratic Study Group Uses the Caucus: 1967-72 59
Fallout from Watergate: The Caucus Puts Seniority under Siege 65
A Remodeled House 73
3 Causes of Liberalization 75
The House Democratic Caucus 75
The Rise of the Two-Party South 80
Southern Republicans in the 1990s: A Group Portrait 97
4 Consequences: Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System? 109
The Retreat from Bipartisanship in Committee 114
Two Strategies of Opposition 124
An Era of Ill-Feeling 130
Tyranny Tempered by Assassination 137
5 Overview: How Congress Evolves 145
Innovation and Stalemate 145
Overview of the House 148
Stories about Change 151
App.: Methods and Sources 156
Notes 171
Index 251
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