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On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences, 1948-2000 Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 22, 2004
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"Zelizer offers a broad yet detailed analysis of the causes and consequences of the five decade evolution that changed Congress from a committee-based institution to the current partisan structure. This book should be read..." R.E. Dewhirst, Northwest Missouri State University, Choice
"On Capitol Hill deserves to become a landmark in the current revival of the study of American political history. It is a lucidly written, sensible, and wide-ranging survey of Congressional reform in the post World War II era and will provide nourishment for many a stimulating seminar, especially among readers who are eager to enlarge their perspectives beyond the presidential synthesis of American politics." Nelson W. Polsby, University of California, Berkeley, author of How Congress Evolves
"On Capitol Hill asks a crucial question: why does Congress appear less purposeful and effective than in the past? Julian Zelizer's persuasive answer should engage- and trouble- everyone concerned with the future of American democracy. With its massive research base and its fair-minded, cogent analysis, this book will remain a landmark in the history of American government." Michael B. Katz, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
"A truly magisterial work, On Capitol Hill situates pivotal shifts in Congressional procedures within the panorama of twentieth-century U.S. history. Analysts of Congress learn how broader social movements and political reorganizations contributed to Congressional reforms of the 1970s, and pushed their consequences in unintended directions. Students of social movements learn why they cannot afford to ignore governing elites and institutional rules of the game. This book deserves a wide and enduring readership within and beyond academia. Bravo, Julian Zelizer, on a landmark achievement!" Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology and Director of the Center for American Political Studies, Harvard University
"With a sure touch, Julian Zelizer offers a comprehensive account of congressional reform during the last half century. It is all here: the Democratic Study Group, Common Cause, various outrages and scandals, the drive for civil rights, the packing of the House Rules Committee in 1961, the liberals' empowerment of the House Speakership, the structural moves by Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaign finance reform. The referencing is prodigious. Nothing like this impressive work has ever been done." David Mayhew, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University
"Steeped in detailed research and sensitive to the Big Picture, Zelizer tells a gripping story, full of large characters, innovative arguments, and savvy judgments. Zelizer not only analyzes the history of Congressional reform and the political paradigm shifts in Congress, he also reinterprets the history of reform politics in twentieth-century America. Nobody has really explained what happened to the good government, mugwump tradition in American politics after World War II. Zelizer changes all that." Bruce Schulman, Boston University
"Zelizer's work is an important contribution to the literature on Congress. Besides being informative, it also is a highly entertaining read." Perspectives on Political Science
"Julian Zelizer's remarkable book offers us nothing less than a hidden history of our times, a parallel universe that explains why Congress was able to enact some of the most APSA Legislative Studies Section Newsletter, and why other equally popular bills were consigned to the dustbin. If the action takes place well within the beltway, Zelizer demonstrates that the impact of procedural reform in the Congress has had enormous consequences all across the land. This book is essential reading, not just for policy historians, but for all those concerned with American labor, race, media, and political culture during the last half of the 20th century." Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
"All members of the Legislative Studies Section should read this book.... When asked, 'Where can I find a good narrative history of the modern Congress?' we now have an answer." APSA Legislative Studies Section Newsletter
"Should be required reading in graduate courses on Congress in political science both its methodology and its substance are necessary for future congressional scholars. It easily could be used in undergradute courses, depending on the faculty member's approach to the course. Finally all serious scholars of Congress should have this book on their book shelves. It will quickly become the standard source for those seeking a history of the modern Congress." APSA Perspectives on Politics
" On Capitol Hill expertly mines archival and published sources to describe efforts to reform Congress during the second half of the twentieth century and relate institutional change to the struggle for political power in the United States. This is not a narrow organizational study of Congress, but a rich historical narrative set in the broad context of social and political developments of the era." - Allan J. Lichtman, American University
Thirty years after the "Watergate Babies" promised to end corruption in Washington, Julian Zelizer offers the first major history of the demise of the committee-era Congress and the rise of the contemporary legislative branch. Based on research in more than a hundred archival collections, this book tackles one of the most enduring political challenges in America: barring a wholesale revolution, how can we improve our representative democracy so as best to fulfill the promises of the Constitution? Whereas popular accounts suggest that major scandals or legislation can transform government institutions, Zelizer shows that reform is messy, slow, and involves many institutions coming together at the right time. The short period of reform in the 1970s -- one that rivaled the Progressive Era -- revolved around a coalition that had worked for decades, a slow reconfiguration of the relationship among political institutions, shifts in the national culture, and the ability of reformers to take advantage of scandals and elections. Zelizer presents a new look at the origins of the partisanship and scandal warfare that characterize today's politics. The book also offers a warning to the next generation of reformers by showing how a new political environment can radically transform the political impact of government reforms, as occurred when the conservative movement -- during its rise to power in recent decades --took advantage of reforms that had ended the committee era.
Top customer reviews
The book explains how Congress got to where it is today. It shows that Congress was a very, very different place in the 1950s, and how liberals tried to change the way Congress worked. But in the end, conservatives proved to be much better at thriving in the new system.
Zelizer shows why scandal has become so important in modern politics, and why Congress seems to be unable to accomplish much these days. It also does a great job showing how changes in the media changed the way the House and Senate were.
This is terrific, read it, enjoy it and learn. Much better than most books out there.
The book is filled with good stories, like Hubert Humphrey pissing off southern colleagues when he comes to the Senate and this guy Richard Bolling whose reforms go down in flames. I also learned lots about why liberals lost out to conservatives on Capitol Hill.
I highly recommend this.
The impenetrable style of this book goes out of its way to turn off all but the most committed reader - reading it is like an uphill slog. Why do political scientists write only for one another? No student without an already extensive background in the U.S. Congress and its history would be able to glean much from it: the dense writing presumes far too much knowledge in reducing complicated episodes to catch phrases without explanation, like "the subcommittee era". I had thought I might use this book in the classroom -- but far too much advance knowledge and prep work would be required to get students [even graduate students] ready to read this rambling work.
The author uses terms often that differ from their usual meaning - perhaps he builds on his earlier books in so doing - but that presumes a lot on the part of the reader and is guaranteed to sow confusion. For example, the phrase "the committee process" is used repeatedly when the inferred meaning is really the "seniority system." The committee process - a differentiation of legislative workload though panels and subpanels with distinct jurisdictions - is what most readers would understand that phrase to mean. Yet the author makes repeated statements such as that on p. 94 which says ". . . large numbers of Democrats [were elected] into Congress who did not feel loyal to the committee process." Tell that to the Freshmen scrambling for favorable committee assignments and the incumbents lobbying for switches to even more powerful panels!
Another significant problem is the lack of clear lines between the House and the Senate. The subject of reform should take into account the different nature of the rules of procedures and internal norms of behavior of two distinct institutions. Yet the author continually merges them within the same paragraph, as if the Congress were acting as a unit, trusting that the reader will know that the two institutions comprising that unit are not working in concert, but at different paces, with different players, different agendas, and different outcomes.
The author takes pride in explaining his approach to reform is different because it is chronological rather than topical. Sadly, it is chronological at the expense of the reader. For example, as one wag put it, the best reform Congress could undertake, is to "stop having scandals." Yet, scandals are covered unevenly because they occurred unevenly over time in the 50 year period studied. The author never does the work of drawing together for the reader the enormous impact the public's reaction to scandal had to the moment when the enactment of an actual reform became possible.
The result is an enormous unevenness in his narrative about what drove reform. He repeatedly emphasizes the contributions of an undefined "reform coalition," without noting how that coalition changed in composition over time. And, most importantly, he leaves out the role of the public - the constituents' response to headlines, which paved the way for reform faster than years of off and on collegial persuasion. While he spends plenty of text on all the juicy details of the sexual harassment charges against Senator Robert Packwood, he barely mentions the House Post Office, House Bank, and House patronage scandals which led directly to an enormous outcry that enabled the new Republican House majority to totally revamp the administrative structure of the House of Representatives.
Inexplicably, the author also omits signficant reforms of the Speaker Gingrich era - the creation of THOMAS to make legislative information accessible to the general public, and not just available to paid lobbyists and special interest groups in the know - and he barely mentions the new term limits on committee chairmanships and omits totally Gingrich's policy of appointment of freshmen to key committees like Ways and Means and Appropriations - committees that had only been earned by seniority before. These are significant omissions when discussing congressional reforms in the 1990's.
The author mischaracterizes some of the congressional media: the newspaper, Roll Call's coverage, he writes on p. 249, was expanded to cover the "social scene in Washington." And The Hill, its competitor, also expanded to cover the same. In truth, both publications expanded away from social news and gossip years ago to concentrate on the politics of legislative considerations and the leadership strategies behind them. In fact, "Roll Call" has broken some important stories about Congressional activities, and become the trough from which the New York Times and the Washington Post have fed. In addition, the reach of C-SPAN is attributed to millions of viewers when the number given is that of households at the time that subscribed to cable TV, and not households actually watching that network.
This, and other passages in the book, reveal the author's academic focus is just that - too isolated from the realities of life on Capitol Hill and its dynamics. The book has very little by way of real voices in it - a significant flaw which contributed to making it the lifeless and droning narrative that it is.