- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Revised, Expanded ed. edition (April 5, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465096204
- ISBN-13: 978-0465096206
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 404 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism Paperback – April 5, 2016
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About the Author
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.
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That's the conclusion Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein reach in "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism."
They place the blame for today's dysfunctional politics squarely on the Republican Party, whose members in both houses of Congress act as a parliamentary party does in Britain's winner-take-all system-ideologically polarized but internally unified and vehemently oppositional. That puts the GOP at odds with America's checks-and-balances, separation-of-powers governing system that all but demands compromise between parties by making it difficult for a majority party to work its will.
Mann and Ornstein begin telling the history of how we got here by using the 2011 debt limit crisis, in which Republicans threatened a default on the national debt for the sake of forcing President Obama to accept massive spending cuts, to illustrate concisely yet in detail the party's contempt for its Democratic opposition and for the government itself. They then trace these attitudes back to Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich, who came to the House of Representatives in the late 1970s desiring power for both himself and his party at the expense of good government by unifying House Republicans against the chamber's Democratic majority and convincing both the public and the news media that the House was corrupt-thus encouraging the electorate to distrust government reflexively and then vote for the party that shared its disdain for government. This cynicism, they contend, has created an impediment to political reform.
The scholars also properly heap scorn upon the media, which they contend has become so fixated with appearing "fair and balanced" that it has all but ignored the GOP's transformation into a party that puts America at risk by hindering it instead of helping it. They argue that it's become easier for journalists to write stories blaming both sides than it is for them to cover the real story.
Mann and Ornstein conclude by spending four chapters exploring various ideas, both bad and good, for resolving the problem. They advocate for, among other things, moving elections to weekends and making voting mandatory; campaign finance reform, including banning contributions from lobbyists; and even creating a parallel "shadow" Congress, comprised of ex-lawmakers, to debate issues of the day. These four chapters are both less passionate and more concerned with policy details than the three-chapter indictment of the GOP preceding it, but are still very readable for the general public.
The book's lone weakness lies in their belief that Republicans can and will become a party that believes in government's ability to help society-a belief many of today's Republicans seem to reject out of hand.
This is not a book some Republicans will want to read. It will leave Democrats wondering why their leaders insist on bipartisan consensus with those who dismiss their legitimacy. It will both anger and sadden nonpartisans. But for those who wonder how and why we got here, this is necessary reading.