It's Even Worse Than It Looks

It's Even Worse Than It Looks

How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

Book - 2012
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Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America's two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime. In It's Even Worse Than It Looks , congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress--and the United States--to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our 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. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare,both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call "asymmetric polarization," with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost. With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no "silver bullet" reform that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well asthe public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger.

Publisher: New York : Basic Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9780465031337
Characteristics: xiv, 226 p. :,ill. ;,22 cm.
Additional Contributors: Ornstein, Norman J.


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Sep 29, 2017

I read this book because so many others referenced it and because I happened to see it on the shelf while browsing at my local library. While interesting, it’s not nearly as stimulating as something on the same subject by Thomas Frank or E. J. Dionne. Nor has it the rabble-rousing hilarity of an Al Franken exposé of Republican Party duplicity. However, it does lay the responsibility for above-board legislating on the leaders of both parties, media pundits and reporters, and the people themselves. Voters have to become more informed and demand solutions to problems, not just throw the bums out every election. The media has to provide that information through constant, courageous fact checking and truthfulness, without some wimpy attempt to be equal-handed where one side is clearly wrong. Party leaders with integrity have to stand up to the baser elements that would subvert our form of representative democracy to self-interest obscured by myths and slogans. “America needs parties that can function constructively in a government system that requires an unusual degree of consensus to act.” (p. 132) The authors show what prevents constructive functionality---big money, hostage taking, disrespect for opponents and institutions---and how we could restore order.

Apr 04, 2015

Since its publication in 2012, time has proven the diagnosis offered here to be spot on, and, yes, it IS even worse than you think. Cogent analysis for today.

Jan 29, 2014

It's called "good cop, bad cop" with the dems the good coppers and the neocons obviously the bad ones, but either way we end up in the same condition. If I were pathetically ignorant and uneducated I would pay attention to the official status quo messengers from the American Enterprise Institute (originally, and perhaps still is, financed by the du Pont family) and the Brookings Institution, home of Robert Rubin's "Hamilton Project" for the privatization of everything (a perversion of Alexander Hamilton's name since anyone aware of who he was and what he stood for knows this, plus the fact that first Hamilton's son, then Hamilton, were essentially assassinated, wiping out his genetic family). Reframing reality is what these two do and get extremely well compensated for doing. [Much better to read, online,, and their report on monies paid to congress by Wall Street and the weekly columns by financial journalist Pam Martens at .]

Aug 02, 2012

Excellent in identifying the causes of our current political dysfunction. Also shows why many proposed cures (term limits, full public financing of elections, third party, constitutional amendment to balance the budget) will do little or no good, and in many cases further harm. Has some good suggestions on how to fix the problem, not all of them realistic. The graphs on party polarization and liberal-conservative voting averages across US history (pp. 45, 57) are very revealing. So is the excellent discussion of the problem with the Senate filibuster rule, individual holds, and the new nullification (pp. 84-101).

Jul 23, 2012

A quick, rather depressing summary of the current state of the American political system, focusing heavily on congressional dysfunction.

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