Two former Senate majority leaders contend that American party politics has gone off the rails, and they offer suggestions on how to get back on track.
We are nearing presidential election time again, and Lott (Herding Cats: A Life in Politics, 2005) and Daschle (co-author: The U.S. Senate, 2013, etc.) offer a substantive prospectus regarding the current (dysfunctional) state of the political landscape. They address what they characterize as “a crisis of leadership,” which “isn't just about inertia; it's about embedded interests.” As the authors note, “it’s not just that we're rudderless without leaders, flailing about without a plan; it’s that the moral compass is missing as well.” This is certainly strong, heady stuff coming from one-time leaders of a culture they helped shape. As veteran Senate and Congressional warriors involved on either side of many important and deeply divided legislative debates—the Reagan tax cuts, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, 9/11 and the enabling Patriot Act, which made the Iraq War possible—the authors have much valuable insight and experience to share. They highlight what they call “social chemistry” as a potential catalyst for change within a host of institutional structures. This concept includes presidential outreach—e.g., Bill Clinton's nighttime phone calls or George W. Bush's weekly breakfasts for Congressional leaders—and the once-important but now-shuttered Senate dining room. Such social chemistry fosters dealmaking, and thus compromise-based government, beyond the glare of full-time public scrutiny. Lott and Daschle highlight the extent to which the “permanent campaign” has undermined both legislators’ presence and attention to their jobs. “These days,” they write, “there is no off season, no break from the money chase or the partisan warfare.” They also examine the increasingly low rate of voter turnout. Their shared institutional bond, grounded in a continuing history, is profound. One might hope that their solutions would be commensurate, but they may not go far enough for many readers.
An important contribution to an ongoing debate.