The growing importance of Congressional staffs in national politics is a much-discussed subject given its first book-length...


UNELECTED REPRESENTATIVES: Congressional Staff and the Future of Representative Government

The growing importance of Congressional staffs in national politics is a much-discussed subject given its first book-length treatment here; too bad, then, that Malbin--a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former reporter--takes such a narrow, sterile view of it. He provides journalistic case studies, but the imbedded interpretation is that the Congress, in expanding its role in national life, has created a monster in the form of the staffs needed to keep tabs on its multifarious undertakings. As in any bureaucracy, the staff members manage to acquire control over the issues and the means by which they're pursued. Malbin lays most of the blame on liberals, since they are more ""activist,"" and thinks that the staffers are themselves out to change the world by Congressional fiat. Because they control information, the staffers are able to control what the Congresspeople know, and Malbin tries--unconvincingly--to show that they wind up knowing less than they did before. His most critical charge, however, is that Congressional staffs have undermined the deliberative function, and hence the representativeness, of the Congress: deliberation, he claims, is replaced by negotiation--i.e., discussion of goals is sidelined by bartering of interests between staff constituencies--as if the Congress were not already interest-laden and negotiation-prone. The explicit conclusion is that for the Congress' representative character to be restored it must ""limit its agenda,"" which is one way of saying that there is no constituency for anti-pollution measures and the Congress should stop interfering with business. What Malbin hasn't done is try to connect the growth of staffs with the general trend toward technicization and formalized knowledge in the society as a whole, or approach any other larger issue. By limiting his focus, he comes out with a doctrinaire demonstration of the evils of Congressional enterprise.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1980