Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?

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ISBN-13: 978-1538105825
ISBN-10: 1538105829
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Editorial Reviews


This book provides an overview of the development, or decline, of the Senate from the 1950s to the present, highlighting current issues between the Senate and President Trump. The institutional problems mark a devolution from the Senate’s golden age of influence and bipartisanship in the 1960s and 70s. Blame for this degeneration is placed on the deterioration of American politics, political culture, and American government in general. . . decline is pegged as coinciding with Republican resurgence in the institution. The book looks first at Mitch McConnell’s leadership in the Trump-era Senate, and then moves chronologically through Senate history from the Kefauver hearings of the early 1950s into the first year of Trump’s presidency. Senate decline begins with Ronald Reagan’s election as president and the Republicans' “shattering” of the existing order by taking the Senate majority for the first time in 25 years. The review of Senate’s activities from the 1980s provides some excellent snapshots of critical events affecting the body and are the strength of the book. It concludes with some suggestions for reordering the Senate to recover its lost prestige.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals., CHOICE

[T]he Senate is unlikely to live up to its potential as a deliberative body anytime soon. But in Broken, Ira Shapiro makes a compelling and persuasive case that we should never stop demanding that it does., Washington Monthly

Shapiro (The Last Great Senate), a former trade negotiator for the Clinton administration, examines headline-making political battles dating back to the 1970s in this engrossing overview of the Senate’s decline into what he characterizes as hyperpartisanship. In talking about the obstruction tactics that he says have eroded public trust in a formerly respected and reliably bipartisan institution, the author takes the impassioned tone of an anguished parent watching his beloved children fail to live up to their potential. Part one focuses on the implementation of obstructionist tactics that are now firmly entrenched and wielded with ferocity. Shapiro sees them originating with the New Right ideologues who came to power with Reagan, and reaching a nadir under Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, who cared more about “partisan warfare” than the “health of the institution.” Part two looks at Trump’s first months in office, and though the assessment is bleak, it’s never hopeless. Although “procedural frailty” in Senate rules has led to a state of gridlock, the Senate could fix itself, Shapiro writes, as one of its major strengths is its agility: “Bipartisan action can happen in swift and surprising terms.” Written to inform and to exhort, Shapiro’s work is a fast-paced narrative that moderates will appreciate. (Jan.) , Publishers Weekly

“Ira Shapiro’s seminal book The Last Great Senate reflected both his deep knowledge and his love of the Senate of Mansfield, Dirksen, Kennedy, Baker and Byrd. Broken reflects Shapiro’s deep dismay and anger at what has befallen that Senate. By chronicling the dysfunction of contemporary American politics through the prism of the Senate and its role, Shapiro has given us important insights into what went wrong and why, and a roadmap to fix at least one vital part of a system gone awry. His book is particularly timely at a moment when the Senate faces the challenges posed by a radical and dangerous president.” -- Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; contributing editor, The Atlantic; and co-author of One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not―Yet Deported.

"Broken is a worthy sequel to Ira Shapiro's wonderful first book, The Last Great Senate, which captured the work of the upper chamber during the Carter presidency. Here Shapiro skillfully describes the decline of the upper chamber from then to now by focusing on many of the central episodes and the senators who played pivotal roles. Shapiro's deep knowledge of, experience with, and love for, the Senate makes this a rewarding read for college courses as well for those interested in the future of American democracy." -- Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law, and author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (2016).

“While our country, and the world, is understandably focused on the unprecedented and reckless nature of the Trump presidency, Ira Shapiro’s narrative history takes a wider lens to describe how dysfunction in the Senate helped open the door to Donald Trump in the first place. His unflinching account is a call for the Senate to rise above partisanship rather than succumb to it. The book reminds us that Congress must provide the ultimate check against one-man rule, as our founders intended.” -- Madeleine K. Albright, former United States Secretary of State

“Ira Shapiro has written a riveting, unsparing description of the Senate’s long decline and a frank assessment of its performance during the first year of the Trump presidency. His book reminds us that the Senate has the power, the special responsibility, and the potential to rise above the partisan wars. The question facing today’s Senate is can it and will it act to reclaim its proud history.” -- John Podesta, Chief of Staff to President Clinton, Counselor to President Obama, Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Founder of the Center for American Progress

“[A]n important new volume on the contemporary Senate, flaws and all — and in fact the sad story is that the flaws have become the defining characteristics of the chamber.” -- David Schribman, Executive Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pulitzer Prize winning political columnist

About the Author

Ira Shapiro, author of The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis (Public Affairs, 2012) has worked in senior positions in the U.S. Senate and served as a leading U.S. trade negotiator, ultimately earning the rank of ambassador. He resides in Potomac, Maryland.

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