It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism

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by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein
     
 

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Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of

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Overview

 

Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.

 

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress—and the United States—to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost.

 

With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no “silver bullet” reform that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger. 

 

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-09
Two scholars examine how today's hyperpartisanship has crippled our government. In a country famous for its rough-and-tumble politics, are things really worse than they've ever been? Yes, wrote Brookings Institution senior fellow Mann and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Ornstein in last year's best-seller, and the answer is still yes in this paperback edition with an updated preface and new afterword allowing the authors to factor in the 2012 election results. To explain the dynamics of the institutional dysfunction plaguing Congress, they begin with a chronicle of the 2011 fight over the debt limit. They trace the governmental breakdown to two sources: 1) the mismatch between our separation-of-powers government and an increasingly parliamentary-style of party politics that features rigid ideologies, a prioritizing of political strategies over national welfare, and an unwillingness to compromise; and 2) the asymmetric nature of the polarization--i.e., a wildly out-of-the-mainstream Republican Party. After dismissing a number of hoary "solutions" to the problem (a vigorous third-party movement, a balanced-budget amendment, term limits), the authors offer their own proposals for fixing the parties and reforming our governmental institutions, most very lofty--e.g., mandatory voting, shifting authority between and within the branches of government--few likely to be adopted. They reject the notion that we're merely passing through an unfortunate phase and insist that we're at an unprecedented impasse. They go on to criticize the mainstream media for its false sense of equivalence, its unwillingness to hold Republicans more properly accountable for the current dysfunction. The authors, who've collaborated before (The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, 2006), style themselves as straight shooters, nonpartisan analysts who've worked for decades in Washington with members of both parties. They say they are calling out the Republican Party only because the evidence obliges. Likely, at least half the country will disagree. Precisely the sort of argument that causes a stir in establishment D.C. but only small waves elsewhere.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465031337
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
05/01/2012
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Thomas E. Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. He is a former executive director of the American Political Science Association, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the author of a weekly column for Roll Call and an election analyst for CBS News. He has done extensive work on campaign finance reform. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Both have written many books and articles about Congress, and they are co-authors of The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track and joint recipients of the Policy Studies Organization’s Hubert H. Humphrey award for distinguished public service by a political scientist.

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