- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (May 1 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465031331
- ISBN-13: 978-0465031337
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #235,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism Hardcover – May 1 2012
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The Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have been making waves with a new book acknowledging a truth that, until now, was unmentionable in polite circles. They say our political dysfunction is largely because of the transformation of the Republican Party into an extremist force that is dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” You can't get cooperation to serve the national interest when one side of the divide sees no distinction between the national interest and its own partisan triumph.” Timothy Egan, New York Times[It] is encouraging to see two longtime Washington wise men Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, sensible, nonpartisan scholars and impeccably credentialed authors of good advice that no one ever follows come out with a full-blown polemic against the Republicans who have steered Congress off a cliff.” The EconomistWhat happens to a two-party political system when one party goes mad? That is the question posed in a powerful and angry new book by two scholars at two respected think-tanks, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.” The Economist, Lexington Notebook Blog
[T]he authors know what they are talking about, lay it out clearly and are right to broadcast their concern about the health of US democracy. They are also correct and brave to emphasise the asymmetric nature of America's polarisation. . . . The book is chiefly about what ails Washington and its diagnosis is depressingly convincing. The authors are right to point out that things may be even worse than they seem. If the era of ill-tempered partisanship is here to stay, then gridlocked governance is also a fixture. So, therefore, is America's decline.” David Frum, CNN.comOrnstein and Mann offer a convincing array of explanations for the trend toward radicalism within the GOP, including changes in campaign finance and in the electorate itself. They offer too a range of proposals to work around GOP radicalism and restore the effective functioning of Congress. If those proposals have a faint wistful air to them, blame the inherent difficulty of the problem, not Mann and Ornstein. . . . [P]owerful and important.” San Ramon Express (San Ramon, CA)
[Mann and Ornstein] have been navigating the shifting currents of the Potomac for more than 40 years each; their expertise is beyond serious debate, their credentials are impeccable, their reputations firmly established. Which is why it's extremely important to take note of their recent book It's Even Worse Than It Looks.” In it, they lay blame for the current policy morass in Washington directly, unequivocally at the feet of one political party: the Republicans. . . . [A] blistering indictment.” Richard L. Hasen, Slate.com
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein offer both an insightful diagnosis of the problem of a broken Washington and a set of proposed solutions. . . . Mann and Ornstein have done a great public service in opening a dialogue on how to fix the mismatch between our political and constitutional systems of government.”
The Weekly Standard
Mann and Ornstein are the deans of the Beltway Establishment, at least its intellectual wing. For them to argue so tendentiously that the GOP is to blame for the ills of Washington offers compelling proof of how insiders view the Tea Party and modern conservatism, as well as the tactics they employ to get across these opinions.”
We now have history's first draft of the story of this Congress. There is so much political fog right now that it is hard to get a clear view of the reason for the dysfunction on Capitol Hill. But three new books take a step back to get a clear look at the fray, and all three conclude that no-holds-barred, right-wing politics is to be blamed. . . . Mann and Ornstein paint sad pictures of a House Republican Conference that is more loyal to party than to country' and intentionally crippling Congress at a time when the country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats.'” R. Garrett Mitchell, The Mitchell Report[A] compelling analysis of the gridlock that characterizes America's domestic politics.” Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, MSNBC
Two of the most sage politics watchers of our time are congressional scholars Norm Ornstein of the (mainly conservative) American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the (more Democratic than not) Brookings Institution. Together they've written and just released a book called It's Even Worse Than It Looks.” It is about our broken, dysfunctional, nonfunctioning partisan political system. . . . When and if voters learn to think strategically and reward problem solving, the American impasse might end. If they punish rather than reward obstruction, the blood of American democracy might start flowing once more.” Catherine Poe, Washington Times Ad Lib Blog
Something awful happened on the way to the 21st Century. This should have been the new American century, but by the time the Republican Party got through with us, we were a country, battered, on its knees, reeling from the body blows. . . . Just out and stirring up debate [It's Even Worse Than It Looks] confronts our uniquely American problem head on.” Tom Moran, New Jersey Star Ledger
In It's Even Worse Than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein diagnose the roots of our nation's new legislative order. In doing so, they draw attention to the forces holding back America's future and the changes we must make in order to overcome them.” Robert G. Kaiser, Washington PostReading this book is a little like quaffing a double espresso on an empty stomach it's a jolt. For this reader it was a welcome jolt. . . . Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have been Washington fixtures for three decades. They are two of the brightest, best informed and most scholarly students of our politics. . . . [As] Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: Our situation really is even worse than it looks.” Paul Krugman, New York Times
[W]hat we have here is a group of respected, credible, inside-the-beltway establishment types who are now willing to acknowledge what is plainly true: Republican extremism has no modern precedent, and it making governing and policymaking nearly impossible, even during times of crises despite the demands that Very Serious People agree that both sides” are always to blame for everything in all instances. Indeed, they're making these pronouncements in a surprising, matter-of-fact sort of way. Here's hoping other respected, credible, inside-the-beltway establishment types feel emboldened to be equally candid about reality.” The Daily Kos[An] excellent book that may have an impact on the 2012 campaign. . . . [It] should be read by every progressive. It's not going to change many progressive minds, but it deepens our perspective on the history of this and the political science perspectives involved. . . . That is one of the keys to the brilliance of this book Buy the book. Pass it around. Spread the word. Our nation has a crisis in Congress worse than anything we've seen in 150 years. The sooner more of us recognize that, the sooner we can get to work on solutions that are appropriate to the problem.” Bonnie Erbe, Scripps Howard News Service
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings are highly respected analysts. . . . Coming from them, the claim that the American system is even worse than it looks deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness. . . . Mann and Ornstein provide one of the most careful, forensic accounts so far of how Congress has worked in these conditions. They are also astonishingly frank about what they think of the Republican Party and about the media.” Eric Alterman, TheNation.comWritten by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two long-time Congressional scholars, It's Even Worse Than It Looks fillets the traditional media for perpetuating a principle of false equivalence in its coverage of the two parties, the effect of which, they say, has merely masked the GOP's unalloyed march toward the fringes of the right wing. . . . Insightful.” Juan Williams, The Hill
[T]wo respected centrist scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, have written a book that moves past the bland and lazy conventional wisdom. They argue, with a truckload of evidence, that the blame in Washington lies overwhelmingly with Republicans. . . . .Our national politics has turned a strange corner. And it is a cop-out to say that both parties are equally to blame. Strained attempts to be even-handed distort the reality we face. . . . The book is titled It's Even Worse Than It Looks and it is both fascinating and alarming." Michael Brissenden, Australian Broadcasting Corporation [It's Even Worse Than It Looks' has] blown the lid off the usually staid and predictable world of political punditry.” Barrie Dunsmor, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus (Barre-Montpelier, VT)Mann and Ornstein are among the brightest and best informed political scientists in the country. . . . [T]his book really is a must read for anyone who cares about what is happening to this country.” Ed Luce, Financial Times
About the Author
Thomas E. Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. He is a former executive director of the American Political Science Association. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.   Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a weekly column for 'Roll Call', called "Congress Inside Out." He lives in Washington, D.C. Both are fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.   They are coauthors of 'The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track'.
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“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks" is an excellent book that clarifies clearly the source of dysfunctional politics in America and what will it take to change it. Most books do a very good job of describing what ills our political system but very few excel at providing sensible recommendations like this book does. The astute analysis provides recommendations that go from the practical to a political utopia. This first-rate 274-page book includes the following seven chapters: 1. The New Politics of Hostage Taking, 2. The Seeds of Dysfunction, 3. Beyond the Debt Ceiling Fiasco, 4. Bromides to Avoid, 5. Fixing the Party System, 6. Reforming U.S. Political Institutions, and 7. Navigating the Current System.
1. Well-researched and well-written book that is accessible to the masses. The authors provide a credible and well substantiated case for their observations and conclusions.
2. The authors come from opposing political backgrounds that give the book credibility by reaching consensus on what is causing dysfunction in American politics.
3. It’s about getting to what more closely relates to reality than what is perceived to be fair and balanced. “We were told this part of our book was discussed in a number of newsrooms and provided ammunition to journalists often frustrated by the insistence of producers and editors that they give precedence to fairness and balance over reality and truth.”
4. An excellent and logical format. The first part of the book focuses on the problem while the second half on the solution.
5. An excellent Preface that captures the sentiment of this book best captured by the most enduring quote, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
6. An interesting look book at recent political history. The authors do a wonderful job of capturing as accurately as possible the chain of events based on the best information they were able to obtain based on their expertise in political science.
7. Bold conclusions backed by supporting arguments. “Republicans greeted the new president with a unified strategy of opposing, obstructing, discrediting, and nullifying every one of his important initiatives.” “Never before have cosponsors of a major bill conspired to kill their own idea, in an almost Alice-in-Wonderland fashion. Why did they do so? Because President Barack Obama was for it, and its passage might gain him political credit.”
8. The two sources of dysfunction identified. “The first is the serious mismatch between the political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Parliamentary-style parties in a separation-of-powers government are a formula for willful obstruction and policy irresolution.” “The second is the fact that, however awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier…”
9. The rise of the “Young Guns” and the politics of uncompromising conservative politics. Many great examples of their influence, “But, as Mike Allen of Politico revealed at the time: A Senate Republican leadership aide e-mails with subject line ‘Gang of Six’: Background guidance: The President killed any chance of its success by 1) Embracing it. 2) Hailing the fact that it increases taxes. 3) Saying it mirrors his own plan.” Excellent stuff!
10. Points that cut to the chase. “Partisan polarization is undeniably the central and most problematic feature of contemporary American politics.”
11. Interesting observations. “Since the late 1970s, Republicans have moved much more sharply in a conservative direction than did Democrats in a liberal direction.”
12. Some mind-blowing facts. “On Memorial Day, 2002, during George W. Bush’s administration, thirteen nominations were pending on the executive calendar. Eight years later, under Obama, the number was 108.”
13. Sensible and fair recommendations, “Bringing the Republican Party back into the mainstream of American politics and policy and return to a more regular, problem-solving orientation for both parties would go a long way toward reducing the dysfunctionality of American politics.”
14. Interesting section on actions to avoid (bromides).
15. Three avenues of electoral reform. “The first is to moderate politics by expanding the electorate. The second is to reduce the presumed bias against moderate voters and candidates by altering how votes in the election are converted into seats in government. The third avenue of electoral reform seeks to break the polarizing dynamic of the parties through changes in campaign fund-raising and spending rules and practices.”
16. Interesting suggestions that resonate. “A better and stronger reform would be to require forty-one votes to continue the debate, not sixty votes to end the debate, putting the burden squarely on the minority where it belongs.”
17. The need to restore public shame, agreed. “The country needs the remaining (if dwindling) opinion leaders from institutions like the military, churches, universities, foundations, business, the media, and public life to outspokenly denounce those who profit from bombast and lies and to denounce equally the television and radio networks and the print outlets that give them airtime and web and print space, with the legitimacy that flows from them.”
18. The politics of dysfunction reaches the absurd. “In the debate over health reform, some ideas that had originally come from Republicans and conservatives were trashed simply because Obama and Democrats had embraced them.”
19. Includes an afterword that addresses the election of 2012 and its aftermath.
20. Links to notes.
1. The main message is repeated almost to a fault but you won’t leave with any doubts with what the authors are espousing here.
2. Failed to explain in detail how Parliamentary Politics works. I can reach conclusions based on context but the suggestion merited a separate appendix. It would have kept it from affecting the excellent flow of the book.
3. To my surprise the authors did not address the religious right aspect of the extreme right.
4. No formal bibliography.
In summary, this turned out to be one of my favorite political books of the year. It covers the subject of dysfunction in the government with mastery and it does so in a succinct and lucid fashion. I commend the authors for providing the public with a much needed book on such a divisive topic and for giving it the realistic treatment that it demanded. The authors provided many good practical suggestions; excellent work gentlemen. I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History" by Robert Draper, “Rule and Ruin” by Geoffrey Kabaservice, “That’s Not What They Meant!” by Michael Austin, "The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America--and What We Can Do to Stop It" and "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class - And What We Can Do about It)" by Thom Hartmann, “The Republican Brain” by Chris Mooney, “American Fascists” by Chris Hedges, “Blowing Smoke” by Michael Wolraich, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future" by Robert B. Reich, “Act of Congress” by Robert G. Kaiser, "War on the Middle Class" by Lou Dobbs, and "Winner-Take-All Politics" by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson.
While it is not Doomsday eschatology it cites trends and bumps in the road which could derail the train of State if we don't re-write some rules and pay better attention to what happens inside the Beltway. It takes a pretty stern look at campaign contributions and PACs, a long-overdue look, in my opinion.