Two scholars examine how today’s hyperpartisanship has crippled our government.
In a country famous for its rough-and-tumble politics, are things really worse than they’ve ever been? Yes, wrote Brookings Institution senior fellow Mann and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Ornstein in last year’s best-seller, and the answer is still yes in this paperback edition with an updated preface and new afterword allowing the authors to factor in the 2012 election results. To explain the dynamics of the institutional dysfunction plaguing Congress, they begin with a chronicle of the 2011 fight over the debt limit. They trace the governmental breakdown to two sources: 1) the mismatch between our separation-of-powers government and an increasingly parliamentary-style of party politics that features rigid ideologies, a prioritizing of political strategies over national welfare, and an unwillingness to compromise; and 2) the asymmetric nature of the polarization—i.e., a wildly out-of-the-mainstream Republican Party. After dismissing a number of hoary “solutions” to the problem (a vigorous third-party movement, a balanced-budget amendment, term limits), the authors offer their own proposals for fixing the parties and reforming our governmental institutions, most very lofty—e.g., mandatory voting, shifting authority between and within the branches of government—few likely to be adopted. They reject the notion that we’re merely passing through an unfortunate phase and insist that we’re at an unprecedented impasse. They go on to criticize the mainstream media for its false sense of equivalence, its unwillingness to hold Republicans more properly accountable for the current dysfunction. The authors, who’ve collaborated before (The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, 2006), style themselves as straight shooters, nonpartisan analysts who’ve worked for decades in Washington with members of both parties. They say they are calling out the Republican Party only because the evidence obliges. Likely, at least half the country will disagree.
Precisely the sort of argument that causes a stir in establishment D.C. but only small waves elsewhere.