A Washington insider draws on decades of experience to deliver a blistering critique of the state of American government.
"I've never been so concerned about the destiny of our democracy," writes Califano Jr. (The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, 2015, etc.), who has served in a wide variety of roles in the federal government. In simple, clear language, he sets out a catalog of readily recognizable woes that he contends have caused all three branches of government to lose their constitutional bearings and their capacity to provide coherent and unifying leadership. Among these are a relentless concentration of power in the presidency and an abandonment of responsibility by a "crippled and cowardly" Congress; the politicization of the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court; the extent to which fundraising has usurped the energy of legislators; a loss of independence in the states; and a take-no-prisoners partisanship that has made cooperation and compromise all but impossible. Califano is doggedly bipartisan in his criticism, leaving no doubt that there is ample blame to go around for what are ultimately systemic faults that have been building for half a century. The author's concerns about the executive and legislative branches are particularly well-informed, persuasive, discouraging, and sometimes frightening; his discussions of the courts and such issues as gerrymandering and various political and cultural "fault lines" are less so. The situation Califano describes is so dire that his conclusion is disappointing. It appears that what "we the people”—a phrase he tiresomely overuses—must do is form ourselves into a better informed and thoughtful electorate, elect a better class of statesmen, and hold them firmly accountable. If he is right about that, then perhaps we are only getting the government we deserve.
A blunt diagnosis of how our federal government has run so badly off the rails that offers little realistic hope of reform.