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In the mid-1790s, Fisher Ames, a member of the First Federal Congress, declined to run for a fifth term in the House, questioning the usefulness of the legislative body, given the divided politics of the time, and making the remark that lends itself to the title of this book. The best-selling author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007), Draper takes an unsparing look at the contemporary House of Representatives, given the divided politics of our time. Draper focuses on the major players, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as the freshman class of the 112th Congress to offer a revealing look at the messy legislative process. Among 435 colleagues, the ambitious distinguish themselves as earnest ideological newcomers, many sponsored by the Tea Party, and search to find effectiveness. Boehner, Pelosi, and their respective party members cut deals for votes, campaign funds, committee assignments, and other measures of influence, handing out rewards and punishments based on compliance with party politics—with very little legislative work getting done. This is a timely and insightful look at lawmakers as Americans brace themselves for continued political gridlock. --Vanessa Bush
About the Author
Robert Draper is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic and a correspondent to GQ. He is the author of several books, most recently the New York Times bestseller Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. He lives in Washington, DC.
This new book genuinely confirms my worst fears about the decay of our government through the last five Congressional sessions. I listened to a detailed preview and interview about Do Not Ask What Good We Do through online and cable news recently. As a proud non-partisan Independent, born out of 6 generations of Republicans, I now fear greatly for our nation. Moreover, Robert Draper's book underscores how a relatively small radical segment of the Republican Party is now trying to secretly diminish and seemly dismantle our "We the people" government simply for their narrow short-term election year power gains. Behind what appears to be the necessary checks and balances by Congressional governance, it's now really all about winning elections, staying in office, making money, agitating class warfare, political distractions, coded rhetoric, and setting-up to win the next election to make more money. Has anyone ever asked themselves if we really want "less government," then does the trillions of our tax dollars dollars we pay remain in their pockets -- can you say what "taxation without representation" means now? Clearly, Mr. Draper's book title is perfect for our times. Ironically, the GOP started out as an anti-slavery, socioeconomic rights and political equality party in the 1850s when we were a young nation and a very divided republic -- including our national "birth defect" of slavery and various forms of racial terrorism, according to former (Republican) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Having read Grand Old Party by Lewis L. Gould, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth Century Egalitarian by Hans L. Trefousse, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia by Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer and Jeffrey O. Nelson, and Alfred Blumrosen's Slave Nation book (truly must-reads), greatly enhanced what Mr.Read more ›
Bashing Congress is hardly new, as Robert Draper quickly points out. Complaints from within and without date back to the early days of our Republic and certainly everything here is hardly a newsflash from a Congress that not only has the lowest public opinion in history, but seems hell bent on driving it still further downwards. Dysfunctional Congresses and partisan politics are likewise nothing new, but what is stunning is the access that Draper is given by members of the 112th Congress and that Draper is willing to serve it up, warts and all. Most reporters and members of the media are so timid and afraid of saying what is REALLY going on out of fear that their access to politicians will be cut off. As a result they apparently willingly acquiesce and will only cite "unnamed sources" or will heavily water down what true news they do report so as not to offend. That is NOT the case with Draper as he names names and says what was really going on behind the scenes during the current (112th) Congress, some of which points out why opinion polls rank them so poorly. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat you'll find much to agree with and much that will shock you as politicians in both parties come off very badly.
Some of the shots Draper takes are obvious ones, like the idiotic hubris of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who got what he deserved. Draper skewers Weiner ruthlessly here and takes no prisoners on either side of the aisle. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is revealed as despised by members of her own party for forcing unpopular votes on vulnerable members in the 111th Congress that cost many their seats in the 2010 elections. President Obama comes in for criticism from congressmen for his unwillingness to lead or to use his political capital to advance causes near and dear to his heart.Read more ›
This book gives an inside look into the 112th Congress by following the budding careers of Republican Freshmen (Jeff Duncan, Allen West, Blake Farenthold, Renee Ellmers, Raul Labrador) and detailing their frustrations and successes. A few veteran Democrats such as John Dingell, Chris Van Hollen, Anthony Weiner, and Sheila Jackson Lee appear throughout, but the focus is primarily on young Republicans. Draper's tone and anecdotes are designed to create disgust in the reader towards Congress, and readers of all political viewpoints will probably agree that Draper does this successfully.
Draper discusses events from 2010-2012 in great detail (with the chapter on the debt ceiling particularly well detailed), but there is little analysis of Congressional history and no discussion of what the future of the House might look like. The book lacks a major overriding theme or argument, so the reader is left to reach his/her own conclusions. The book is nonetheless entertaining reading and based on the bibliography, Draper conducted an appropriate number of interviews to create an authoritative portrayal of the members highlighted. Draper also did a good job of exposing the conflicts facing the Freshman between being leaders and representatives of their constituents by observing town hall meetings and other district gatherings. Readers who greatly enjoy politics will be very satisfied by this book and the unique perspective is offers.
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Draper does a good job getting to know individual members of the 2011-12 Congress, particularly the freshman Tea Party Republicans -- but also gadfly Democrat Weiner, the Dean of the House Dingell, Pelosi, Boehner, and House Whip McCarthy. Draper is not a fan of the Tea Party and adds a few zingers that will delight Democrats and irritate Republicans. However, he does a very good job of telling their individual stories, so that the reader is in a position to understand the charm of guys like Allen West and how they appeal to their districts.
But the Republicans do not come off well in this account. McCarthy and Boehner create a monster by enabling misbehavior by the freshmen, who are accountable to no one. Of course, the safeness of their districts, their lack of any real debt to the party for their election, and the end of the old pork barrel politics of earmarks would make it very difficult for a Sam Rayburn style leader to control these guys. The irritating thing is that having provoked a confrontation in the debt limit crisis, the freshmen then still don't provide the votes necessary to deliver a deal that's pretty good for their side. So the Democrats hold their nose and vote along -- blaming Obama's negotiating ineptitude in the process. This perhaps explains why the the 2013 debt limit crisis will be far harder to resolve. There are a lot of hard feelings on the Hill, and the Tea Party act is really beginning to wear on people.
The most disturbing thing about the Tea Party Republicans is their lack of intellectual curiousity. They have some core general principles that they don't question: we spend too much, government is too big. But what does that really mean? And one cannot get the U.S.Read more ›
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