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It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism Hardcover – May 1, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465031331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031337
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (263 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Paul A. Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve
“More than anytime in my lifetime, the United States is challenged at home and so is our place in the world. When Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein get together to sound a loud alarm about the way our political system is being torn apart, it’s time to listen—and listen hard. Then the tough part—how do we restore some sense of common purpose, of working together to make our government work? Mann and Ornstein set out ways to rebuild political bridges, beginning right now. We better get to work.” Chuck Hagel, U.S. Senator (1997–2009), Distinguished Professor, Georgetown University
“This is an exceptionally important and cogent analysis of America’s breakdown in self-governance. It is an urgent warning of the consequences of our intolerant politics and governing paralysis, and ways to fix it.” Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader
“One doesn't have to agree with every one of Mann and Ornstein’s proposals to appreciate the extraordinary contribution to improving governance that they make in this important book. We could do no better than to use it as a compelling blueprint for urgently needed reform. If every member of Congress would read just one book on the subject, my wish is that it would be this one.”

E. J. Dionne, author of Our Divided Political Heart
“The phrase ‘essential reading’ does not begin to get at the importance of this passionate warning by two of our very best political scientists about our nation’s capacity to govern itself. Mann and Ornstein sweep aside the timid conventional wisdom to inform Americans that our problems are even worse than we think they are. It is absolutely vital that this book’s findings and message enter the consciousness and consciences of journalists, politicians and citizens who care about the future of our republic.”

William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America“In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein diagnose the roots of our nation’s new legislative order. In doing so, they draw attention to the forces holding back America’s future and the changes we must make in order to overcome them.” Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post “Reading this book is a little like quaffing a double espresso on an empty stomach — it’s a jolt. For this reader it was a welcome jolt. . . .  Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have been Washington fixtures for three decades. They are two of the brightest, best informed and most scholarly students of our politics. . . . [As] Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: Our situation really is even worse than it looks.” Paul Krugman, New York Times“The Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have been making waves with a new book acknowledging a truth that, until now, was unmentionable in polite circles. They say our political dysfunction is largely because of the transformation of the Republican Party into an extremist force that is “dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” You can’t get cooperation to serve the national interest when one side of the divide sees no distinction between the national interest and its own partisan triumph.” Timothy Egan, New York Times“[It] is encouraging to see two longtime Washington wise men — Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, sensible, nonpartisan scholars and impeccably credentialed authors of good advice that no one ever follows — come out with a full-blown polemic against the Republicans who have steered Congress off a cliff.” The Economist“What happens to a two-party political system when one party goes mad? That is the question posed in a powerful and angry new book by two scholars at two respected think-tanks, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.” The Economist, Lexington Notebook Blog“Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings are highly respected analysts. . . . Coming from them, the claim that the American system is even worse than it looks deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness. . . . Mann and Ornstein provide one of the most careful, forensic accounts so far of how Congress has worked in these conditions. They are also astonishingly frank about what they think of the Republican Party – and about the media.” Eric Alterman, TheNation.com“Written by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two long-time Congressional scholars, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks fillets the traditional media for perpetuating a principle of false equivalence in its coverage of the two parties, the effect of which, they say, has merely masked the GOP’s unalloyed march toward the fringes of the right wing. . . . Insightful.” Juan Williams, The Hill“We now have history’s first draft of the story of this Congress. There is so much political fog right now that it is hard to get a clear view of the reason for the dysfunction on Capitol Hill. But three new books take a step back to get a clear look at the fray, and all three conclude that no-holds-barred, right-wing politics is to be blamed. . . . Mann and Ornstein paint sad pictures of a House Republican Conference that is ‘more loyal to party than to country’ and intentionally crippling Congress ‘at a time when the country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats.’” R. Garrett Mitchell, The Mitchell Report“[A] compelling analysis of the gridlock that characterizes America’s domestic politics.” Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, MSNBC“[W]hat we have here is a group of respected, credible, inside-the-beltway establishment types who are now willing to acknowledge what is plainly true: Republican extremism has no modern precedent, and it making governing and policymaking nearly impossible, even during times of crises – despite the demands that Very Serious People agree that “both sides” are always to blame for everything in all instances. Indeed, they’re making these pronouncements in a surprising, matter-of-fact sort of way. Here’s hoping other respected, credible, inside-the-beltway establishment types feel emboldened to be equally candid about reality.” The Daily Kos“[An] excellent book that… may have an impact on the 2012 campaign. . . . [It] should be read by every progressive.  It’s not going to change many progressive minds, but it deepens our perspective on the history of this and the political science perspectives involved. . . . That is one of the keys to the brilliance of this book…Buy the book. Pass it around.  Spread the word.  Our nation has a crisis in Congress worse than anything we’ve seen in 150 years.  The sooner more of us recognize that, the sooner we can get to work on solutions that are appropriate to the problem.”  Bonnie Erbe, Scripps Howard News Service“Two of the most sage politics watchers of our time are congressional scholars Norm Ornstein of the (mainly conservative) American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the (more Democratic than not) Brookings Institution. Together they've written and just released a book called “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” It is about our broken, dysfunctional, nonfunctioning partisan political system. . . . When and if voters learn to think strategically and reward problem solving, the American impasse might end. If they punish rather than reward obstruction, the blood of American democracy might start flowing once more.” Catherine Poe, Washington Times Ad Lib Blog
“Something awful happened on the way to the 21st Century. This should have been the new American century, but by the time the Republican Party got through with us, we were a country, battered, on its knees, reeling from the body blows. . . . Just out and stirring up debate… [It’s Even Worse Than It Looks] confronts our uniquely American problem head on.” Tom Moran, New Jersey Star Ledger
“[T]wo respected centrist scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, have written a book that moves past the bland and lazy conventional wisdom. They argue, with a truckload of evidence, that the blame in Washington lies overwhelmingly with Republicans. . . . .Our national politics has turned a strange corner. And it is a cop-out to say that both parties are equally to blame. Strained attempts to be even-handed distort the reality we face. . . . The book is titled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks and it is both fascinating and alarming." Michael Brissenden, Australian Broadcasting Corporation “[‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks’ has] blown the lid off the usually staid and predictable world of political punditry.” Barrie Dunsmor, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus (Barre-Montpelier, VT)“Mann and Ornstein are among the brightest and best informed political scientists in the country. . . . [T]his book really is a must read for anyone who cares about what is happening to this country.” Ed Luce, Financial Times“[T]he authors know what they are talking about, lay it out clearly and are right to broadcast their concern about the health of US democracy. They are also correct – and brave – to emphasise the asymmetric nature of America’s polari...

About 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

I think one of the problems with this book will be getting the people who need to read it to read it.
Brian Smith
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are noted scholars of American politics both of whom are well respected by members of the republican and democratic parties.
Joseph J. Hazewski
This is an excellent book that draws a very stark picture picture of the current state of our Congress and today's political reality.
John R. Valles

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

538 of 589 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Na on May 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What this book IS NOT is another silly polemic designed for the polarized Sunday talk shows. This is a careful, thoughtful discussion of the problems at the heart of our dysfunctional Congress.

This is a book every American should read. It discusses the problems that led to this, it discusses bromides that should be rejected and proposes thoughtful solutions that are well reasoned even if some may be difficult politically to implement.

Check out NPR's April 30 edition of Morning Edition for an interview with the authors.

The authors are political scientists who've studied Congress for 4 decades and aren't just talking head political pundits. They don't let the Democrats off the hook but they lay the chief blame for the current dysfunction in Congress upon the Republicans. Their reasoning is based based on a number of factors. High on the list are the tactics Republican Congressional leaders employed during the ceiling debt fiasco of 2011 (see update below). It is the authors' judgment that by implying to the world that Republicans preferred to have the US default on its debt rather than have a compromise with the Democrats that included revenue as part of the agreement, the Republicans took Congressional dysfunction to a new extreme.

The authors make a good case. But what makes this book really fascinating is the level of scholarship, the wealth of political science material and the long term view.

For example, there is a graph of party polarization as calculated by roll call votes. It shows that the polarization is at an all time extreme since 1879, 133 years ago. This speaks to the seriousness of what faces this country.
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258 of 295 people found the following review helpful By Donald A. Collins on May 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Two respected policy analysts, one from a liberal think tank, the other from a conservative one, have stated for us news junkies a verity which is obvious, yet not well understood in its implications for conducting future sane policies.

As a former Republican when moderate Republicans were uncricified in that Party, I can well appreciate their concerns as stated in their May 1, 2012 Washington Post article: "It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharp0ly to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate---think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel--are virtually extinct."

The implications for that extremism are dramatic. Inability to compromise or to make any connections with the other party means (again from the Post piece) "When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges."

In short, they write, "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in Americn politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of is political opposition."

They mention the charge reminisent of Joe McCarthy from Congressman Allen West (R-Fl) who stated that "78 to 81" Democrats in Congress are members of the Communist Party, regretting that virtually no Republican challenged that absurd comment.

This situation produced almost complete gridlock, as issues such as our obscenely huge debt, health care reform and climate change are lost in Republican embrace of ideologies which lead to no decisions.

This stark book needs wide embrace by independent voters who will determine the next election.
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126 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on May 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The authors, Mann and Ornstein, took up residence at the Brookings Institute (Mann) and the American Enterprise Institute (Ornstein), helping ensure objectivity; usually this also ensures that any conclusions are vague and mushy. Not here - their 'bottom-line' is that today's Congressional Republicans behave like they were in a British parliamentary, winner-take-all system. The problem is that such 'ideologically polarized, internally unified, vehemently oppositional' doesn't work in our 'separation-of-powers system that makes it extremely difficulty for majorities to work their will.' (My one criticism of this book is that it didn't really explain why the English system works in England and not in America.)

Republicans are now 'more loyal to party than to country,' and the political system hobbled and unable to address serious problems and threats. They are scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of Democrats' legitimacy.

The most glaring example is how House Republicans addressed the need to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. And its going to be repeated in 2013, per Senator McConnell in a Fox News statement.

Adding to this partisan warfare is the increased role of money on our politics - the worst of any time in over a century, possibly ever.

The authors grant former Speaker Gingrich special dishonor - painting the House as elitist, corrupt and arrogant when the Democrats controlled. His strategy - convince voters the institution was so corrupt that anyone wold be better than the Democratic incumbents.
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