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It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism | [Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein]

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism

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. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

Here, 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, with a governance 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 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 as the 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.

©2012 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"The phrase 'essential reading' does not begin to get at the importance of this passionate warning by two of our very best political scientists about our nation’s capacity to govern itself. Mann and Ornstein sweep aside the timid conventional wisdom to inform Americans that our problems are even worse than we think they are. It is absolutely vital that this book's findings and message enter the consciousness and consciences of journalists, politicians, and citizens who care about the future of our republic." (E.J. Dionne, National Book Award nominee)

"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 New York Times)

"Reading 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." (The Washington Post)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 09-03-12
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 09-03-12 Member Since 2006

    Don't you just love a great story well told?

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    "A No-Nonsense Look at our Current Political Crisis"

    If you REALLY care about this country, regardless of party affiliation you should get this book. Filibusters and secret "holds" are being put on perfectly decent Senate legislation just to gum up the works by both parties. It is all for partisan or personal gain and has already caused a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history.
    It's not all doom and gloom. The authors offer some powerful ideas to get us out of this mess including ways to get MORE of us to vote, not less. Required reading for anyone who puts country before party as they should.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rob Madison, WI, United States 07-01-12
    Rob Madison, WI, United States 07-01-12 Member Since 2004
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    "Even the well-informed will learn something here"

    Mann and Ornstein have done the country a great service with this book. I follow politics relatively closely and there were some eye-openers for me in this thoughtful and well-written book. While it is not a surprise that both Mann and Ornstein (a liberal and conservative) share a common view about just how seriously dysfunctional the federal government is, what is a surprise is that they place most of the blame squarely on the extremism in the Republican party. They note that Republican extremism is not directed toward advancing their policies so much as toward advancing personal interest of their leaders or the political (not ideological) interests of their party. Multiple examples of how Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster and other parliamentary tools to delay votes on bills or on appointments - taking up huge amounts of valuable time that should be spent on the important business of the country - that ultimately passed with votes along the lines of 95-2. What could the point of this be? Only to make the government and the majority party look ineffective. Shame on the Republicans.

    Mann and Ornstein offer a variety of ideas to address the problems.They look for ideas that have been tried around the world but they have been in this business for a long time and have a clear-eyed view of what is likely to fly in the U.S. and what probably won't. They propose a range of ideas that can at least begin to counter the Republican's "gum up the works" efforts.

    16 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gene POWELL, OH, United States 07-21-12
    gene POWELL, OH, United States 07-21-12 Member Since 2012
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    "About What You Expected"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    As a moderately involved political individual, I could have written the book. For me, no real revelations about conservative strategy, motives, etc. For a conservatives to write this book along with others expressing similar ideas about the current group of conservatives like David Fromm is quite revealing. I have almost zero confidence in any of the suggestions at the end of the book being adopted, worthy and necessary as the are. The money now makes the rules and the rich have it. If I were younger I'd head for Canada! The middle class will be gone in twenty years and the vast majority of society will mirror India.

    Nice try by Mann and Ornstein. The observations are spot on.


    What other book might you compare It's Even Worse Than It Looks to and why?

    Passage of Power by Robert CaroThe legislative comparrisions are striking. Since the ' 60s, things are so vastly different. Politicians talked back then, now just talking past one another. Deal making was possible then.....not really so much now. Kennedy got nothing done legislatively, then Johnson steps in, takes feeling for Kennedy and passes most of Kennedy's programs. Could that happen today.......doubt it!


    What three words best describe William Hughes’s voice?

    Excellent


    Could you see It's Even Worse Than It Looks being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    It kind of is......It's on Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sat Nite Live and Bill Maher all the time.


    Any additional comments?

    It makes me sad that even conservatives are even saying this stuff. It validates my pessimistic feelings toward US and it's future.

    12 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine Bryn Mawr, PA, United States 10-12-12
    Catherine Bryn Mawr, PA, United States 10-12-12 Member Since 2005
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    "but better than the title makes it sound"

    two old hands at political observation and analysis present a detailed story of what those of us who follow politics with interest and increasingly with despair have noticed. their analysis is cogent and convincing. despair is mitigated by their suggestions for reform, most of which would only take a congress where the republicans agree to cooperate to implement (!!!). a very pleasing narration by William Hughes helps the medicine go down.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aaron Whitehall, OH, United States 09-25-12
    Aaron Whitehall, OH, United States 09-25-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Great story, even better Narration"
    Where does It's Even Worse Than It Looks rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Among political nonfiction it is one of the best.


    Has It's Even Worse Than It Looks turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Not at all. It has actually made me want to learn more.


    What about William Hughes’s performance did you like?

    Just about everything. I have heard him read other books and he is one of the best!


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    There was a lot to process, so I found it helpful to break it up in order to think about what I'd been hearing.


    Any additional comments?

    Enjoyed this very much and plan on a second listen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 08-14-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 08-14-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "Getting past toxic politics (or not)"

    The US political system ain't working, and -- guess what -- it's being undone by excessive partisan politics, with a creamy frosting of corruption and hypocrisy on top. Rather than compromise, the current game in Washington DC is to sabotage, delay, obstruct, defund, and undermine the initiatives of the opposing party, to make it seem as though its members are responsible for everything bad. Contributing to this dysfunction are partisan news outlets, which have discovered that a lot of Americans pay more attention when the "news" is presented in as inflammatory a manner as possible.

    Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two long-time Washington observers (from the liberal Brookings Institution and the conservative American Enterprise Institute), put most (but not all) of the blame on the current Republican party, which, in their view, has traded in much of its former moderation for Gingrich-style attack politics and the idea that making federal programs fail is a valid tactic if it hurts the Democrats (even programs once supported by Republicans). Coming from a family that once used to support that party, I don't think this assessment is all that biased. The authors show the ways in which the GOP has seized the tools of vindictive politics, misleading rhetoric, apocalyptic language, manufactured controversy, and constant filibustering create unnecessary gridlock and amped-up anger, even over fairly non-controversial issues. How can we hope to have rational debate in an atmosphere where one side's politicos tacitly encourage tin foil hat beliefs such as that the President isn't actually an American, that climate change is just a myth, and that gun control is really a plot to disarm citizens in preparation for some totalitarian New World Order?

    Some Republican readers may be moving their cursors towards the "dislike" button right now, but hang on. I thought the authors were pretty fair about keeping their criticism focused on toxic politics, and not on actual ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.

    To me, the latter half of the book, which offered potential solutions, was interesting, even if the solutions didn't seem politically realistic. Rather than jump on board with popular sentiment ("we need a third party!", "term limits!", "throw all the bums out!", "starve the beast!"), the authors point out the problems with these knee-jerk impulses -- for example (they argue), a strong third party wouldn't do much except siphon votes away from one of the two major parties, leaving the other more powerful. Starving the beast, meanwhile, hasn't been shown to make the government smaller, just more in debt. Instead, they explore ways to tweak the system so that political minorities don't hold legislation and public services hostage, the money behind Super PACs is more transparent to the public, individual Congressmen feel more empowered to dissent from their own parties, and public debate is truly debate.

    I wouldn't hold my breath, but if both red and blue can agree that playing a giant game of Prisoner's Dilemma with government is bad for both sides, especially when the future problems confronting the US (and therefore much of the world) are massive, there may be hope. A relatively quick read (listen), and makes points worth thinking about.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kyle Washington, DC, United States 11-12-12
    Kyle Washington, DC, United States 11-12-12
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    "Wow! A must read!"

    Anyone who has an interest in politics should read this book, especially those of us who have found ourselves exasperated by US politics in the recent past. This book sheds light on the political process, its disfunction, and the reasons and remedies for that disfunction.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RAS MI 10-01-12
    RAS MI 10-01-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Important and Excellent"
    If you could sum up It's Even Worse Than It Looks in three words, what would they be?

    Anyone concerned with the future of governance must read/listen to this book.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of It's Even Worse Than It Looks?

    The solutions section at the end is thoughtful and pragmatic, showing how change can be accomplished.


    What about William Hughes’s performance did you like?

    His was a steady reading appropriate for nonfiction.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    There is clear evidence that gridlock is not caused equally on both sides of the aisle.


    Any additional comments?

    Importantly, these two authors represent think tanks, one that leans left and one that leans right. It is not a partisan rant.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dave Hedley San Mateo, CA United States 09-24-12
    Dave Hedley San Mateo, CA United States 09-24-12 Member Since 2012
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    "A book not bound by false "balance""

    I like this which puts the current situation in a historical context. I appreciate the comparison to parlamentary democracy where we seem to have taken the worst of our two party system and imported the worst of parlamentary politics. I do hope we move to reform. Well read. Had trouble setting this aside.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jerry Minneapolis, MN, United States 09-18-12
    Jerry Minneapolis, MN, United States 09-18-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Enlightening, but not the final answer"
    What made the experience of listening to It's Even Worse Than It Looks the most enjoyable?

    The book gave a good, reasoned explanation for the gridlock in Washington. It did take a specific position towards the GOP, but it did not appear to be a polemic: the position taken truly seemed to be the result of research and not an emotional tirade.

    While the explanation of the historical background and the description of the specific tolls used to create the current tension between Congress and the Presidency clarified a lot for me, I still wound up feeling a bit hopeless about the situation. My reason for saying so was that the authors' proposals for dealing with the situation while well presented and logically pleasing in many respects, would appear to me to have a snowball's chance in hell of ever being put in place - an admission the authors often made themselves.


    Would you listen to another book narrated by William Hughes?

    I might - depending on the book. I noticed some mispronunciations of proper names and perhaps less-than-commonly-used words, but maybe that is the director or editor's problem more than Mr. Hughes.


    Any additional comments?

    It was a very thought provoking listen and inspired some interesting discussion around he house.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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