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How Congress Works and Why You Should Care Paperback – February 26, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A passionate and eloquent defense of the essential role Congress plays in the American constitutional system and a reasoned call for citizens to engage more actively in their representative democracy. Like Hamilton himself, this volume is scrupulously honest, fair-minded, and accessible to a wide audience." ―Thomas Mann, W. Averell Harriman Senior Fellow in American Governance, The Brookings Institution
"Lee Hamilton's new book... should be required reading for any American contemplating writing a ‘Letter to the Editor’ or calling into (or hosting) a radio talk show, or for that matter, stepping into a voting booth. It is an owner’s manual for citizens interested in their Congress." ―Charlie Cook, Editor and Publisher, The Cook Political Report
"Lee Hamilton’s book not only describes the Madisonian vision of what Congress is supposed to be and assesses how it measures up to that vision today, it also serves the same function of educating and edifying the American public that the Federalist papers did.... Every student of Congress, and every American, can benefit from this book." ―Norman J. Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
"Americans cannot be faulted for having a deeply jaundiced view of their Congress, says Hamilton (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars); he ought to know, because he served as a Representative for Indiana from 1965 to 1999. But he argues that people can and should fix it rather than give up on it completely." ―SciTech Book News, February 2010
Top Customer Reviews
Hamilton provides a good sense of the usually messy process involved in a bill becoming law, explaining how powerful members can often circumvent the normal process, and sometimes even avoid bringing a bill into committee.
After reading this book, I came away with a better operational sense of politics---the compromise, listening, and coalition building that are essential in our democracy. I also learned more about how power affects the system---in the House, for example, the party in the majority can set the rules for debate, and thus controls a lot of the legislative process. Power shifts as well---over the years, speakers have become less powerful, committee heads more so. Some members can command more national attention than others, which adds weight to whatever issue or initiative they are pushing.
But more significant than the how is the why. Hamilton makes a great case for the average citizen getting civically involved, and he explains the positive impact government can have in our lives. He doesn't mince words in acknowledging government's faults. But he also explains that some common criticisms people have of government---that politicians compromise too much, and that the process is too slow---are actually misplaced because these types of things are part of the democratic process itself. Autocracies tend to work quickly. Democracies are more complicated, often more messy, but ultimately more represenative.
From the first page of the book, Hamilton tackles the public's "far less grand view of Congress" and the lack of trust they have in the institution. He systematically addresses each of the public's main concerns, and although it is a bit repetitive and his defense of certain topics (most specifically "pork" spending) is not convincing, he is overall successful in his arguments. Hamilton hammers home the importance of Congress's role in balancing the power of the three branches of the federal government and lists many of its major accomplishments (ie the federal highway system and civil rights legislation). A representative democracy requires debate and compromise, which can appear to be slow and messy to an outsider, but is necessary to build consenus and ensure that no one branch of government becomes to powerful.
The author does not blindly support institution of Congress and points out several key areas of reform. He calls upon members of Congress to be more civil (something that declined significantly during his tenure), more willing to tackle the tough issues, and have a more strategic, longer term mindset with an eye towards the impact on the greater public good. Hamilton acknowledges that money has too much influence on campaigning and further ethical reforms are still needed.Read more ›
It's light on technical detail (eg. passage of a bill) and partisan political viewpoints, fortunately, and is sprinkled with interesting anecdotes. The writing style is way more engaging than I would have expected about a book of this nature and it's slim enough that it gets to the point without unnecessary padding. Highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Lee Hamilton is a good, clear writer who effectively leads the reader through a hit parade of American public complaints about congress, the source of the dissatisfaction.... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
I was expecting to learn the day in and day procedures of Congress. Instead, I only discovered a superficial view of how Congress works, incorporated with some small, but present,... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Joseph Dougherty