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

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Overview

Hyperpartisanship is as old as American democracy. In moments of heightened rancor, congressmen and senators used to challenge each other to duels or hit each other with canes. But now, acrimony is not confined to a moment; it’s a permanent state of affairs. Nor is it confined to Congress; it has seeped into every part of the political process. Thus, Congress’ approval ratings are at record lows, and both Democrats and Republicans are disgusted by the government’s inability to ...

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Overview

Hyperpartisanship is as old as American democracy. In moments of heightened rancor, congressmen and senators used to challenge each other to duels or hit each other with canes. But now, acrimony is not confined to a moment; it’s a permanent state of affairs. Nor is it confined to Congress; it has seeped into every part of the political process. Thus, Congress’ approval ratings are at record lows, and both Democrats and Republicans are disgusted by the government’s inability to get anything done.

In It’s Worse Than It Looks, Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein present a grim picture of how personal pettiness and childish tribalism have led Congress – and the United States – to the brink of institutional failure. Though the nation handed the reins of governance to the Democrats in 2006 and then again in 2008, the Republicans pursued obstructionist tactics, and since they were rewarded for those tactics in 2010, things have only gotten worse. Since the 2010 midterms, the legislative process has been stuck in a grinding gridlock because of the Republican Party’s refusal to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter what the cost. At the same time, artificial barriers to compromise – such as campaign pledges, the abuse of arcane parliamentary rules and purity tests in primary campaigns – have been erected, exacerbating pre-existing structural deficiencies in all branches of government.

Having diagnosed the problem, the authors offer solutions. There is no “silver bullet” reform that can solve everything, but increased education, greater political participation, more outlets for responsible, non-extreme voices, and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate will fix Congress’ functionality and rescue American democracy from the bickering and gridlock of recent decades.

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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: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 634,025
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
 
Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a weekly column for Roll Call, called “Congress Inside Out.” He lives in Washington, D.C. Both are fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
 
They are coauthors of The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 15, 2012

    Even better than it looks.

    I have been a fan of Norm Ornstein for many years, ever since first hearing him as a commentator on politics and government on NPR. He, and Thomas Mann, provide a well-thought-out, insightful review of the origins of the current problems in the federal (and local) governance and how the problems have accelerated. They point out that a tactic of the Right and of the right-wing media is to say, "but, both sides do it", but correctly demonstrate that it is by far caused by the obstructionism and deceit of the right, with party first over country. Their solutions to gridlock, however, don't leave much hope. Good reading, but probably will not change the minds of those who need to be changed.

    13 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2012

    Elephant in the room, emperor¿s new clothes stuff

    The hours you spend reading, watching and listening to columnists – and tearing your hair out – are better spent reading this book. Though a short, crisp read, the authors have carefully documented their facts and argument. Which I think they understood they need to do because what they state (1) is not what we are hearing from other observers, and (2) seems so obvious that a critical reader would want to make sure it is true.

    Two thumbs down for my local B&N retailers. Their front racks are piled high with Coulter, Limbaugh, Klein. Go to the Current Affairs section and you can find these and the other usual suspects, but not a single copy of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” Sadly proving much of the argument made by Mann and Ornstein.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    If you don't read another this summer I recommend this one. 200

    If you don't read another this summer I recommend this one.
    200 Pages: 1st 100 how we got so polarized/partisan; 2nd 100 how to fix it.

    10 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2012

    Recommend highly

    Fair and non-partisan look at what is going wrong in our government. A little repetitive at times, but sometimes you need to say things more than once to get it to soak in.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2013

    Illuminating and disturbing

    A clearly written and sober analysis of how and why our political system and governance has gone off track and become calcified by inaction. Plus suggestions for improvement--some possible, some not very likely, some highly unlikely. Written from a Democratic perspective but the criticisms of the new Republican attitudes, agendas, and operating practices are more often on target than not. A clear yearning for an earlier, now passe form of rational GOP conservatism and loyal opposition--plus a few well placed digs at the Democrats, the media, and voters themselves. Highly informative sections on the foggy procedural workings of the Senate where inaction is often the goal and procedural roadblocks are more common and easier to errect than intended by the Constitution or previous Congressional precedents.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    Very interesting, and quite depressing...

    The book is very interesting, and the facts it reports about our congress is quite depressing. Still, I think this book is a must read!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2012

    Important reading

    On point, but disheartening.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2012

    Very thoughtful

    Very thoughtful

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    I had to read this book for a Legislative Processes class.... Th

    I had to read this book for a Legislative Processes class.... The book is wonderfully written, and very well thought out!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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