From Publishers Weekly
Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that the present Congress is essentially an arm of the Bush administration, according to Mann and Ornstein, nationally renowned congressional scholars from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, respectively. Their book argues persuasively that relentless partisanship and a disregard for institutional procedures have led Congress to be more dysfunctional than at any time in recent memory. Looking back to the arbitrary and sometimes authoritarian leadership of Democratic speaker Jim Wright and the Abscam scandals of the 1980s, the authors demonstrate how they presage the much worse abuses of power committed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. In outlining more than 200 years of congressional history, Mann and Ornstein sometimes allow just a sentence or two to explain the policies and philosophies of an important politician or even an entire party, even as they catalogue deviations from obscure points of procedure in extensive detail. Their book may be useful and enjoyable to the specialist, though recent conservative pushback on issues from the Harriet Miers nomination to warrantless wiretapping and immigration will make some wish the authors had had the opportunity to add a postscript. (Aug.)
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Mann and Ornstein are affiliated with different political parties and work at rival Washington think tanks, but they share a fascination with Congress and an abiding dedication to the First Branch's productivity. With this book, they stage an intervention. Over the past 20 years, they assert, legislators have increasingly subordinated earnest deliberation to partisan tribalism, eroding that branch into division and dysfunction. Although careful to remind us that the root causes of this decline lay in an escalating dialectic of majority arrogance and creative rule bending perpetuated by both parties, the brunt of Mann and Ornstein's criticisms are of the current Republican majority. They are not afraid to name names: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, for example, is repeatedly singled out as guilty of putting party before duty. The majority of Mann and Ornstein's analysis, however, examines incremental yet insidious tweaks of congressional procedure: three-day workweeks and innovative methods of arm-twisting. Both a plea for a return to dignified deliberation and a brave discussion of which legislative behaviors need to be changed, this book is timed for the upcoming congressional elections. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved