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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

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Matt United States 09-06-12
    Matt United States 09-06-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Required"

    This book should be required reading in every civics class in America. The authors do an amazing job of laying out the history of our government and explaining why it has become so ineffective.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Irene Keller, TX, United States 07-11-12
    Irene Keller, TX, United States 07-11-12 Member Since 2005
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    "Timely and Great Content"
    Where does It's Even Worse Than It Looks rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    It was very good to hear a book written by a bipartisan pair. It kept my attention and I wanted to continue listening until each chapter was complete.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I liked that is was timely - I had seen the authors on a talk show and saw the topic as one that was current. It scared me to think that it was worse that it looked. They seemed to be people who, at one time, were from either side of the aisle and now were on the same side of the issue. That is truly what drew me to the book. How did we get here? How can we see our way out of the mess? Or really - CAN we see our way out.


    Which character – as performed by William Hughes – was your favorite?

    ?


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

    That the GOP has fractured and is having a hard time recognizing their own party at times. It is interesting that the Speaker has been unable to get things done because the "Young Guns" have tied his hands; so many things being done contrarily are done for the sole purpose of keeping President Obama a one term President not for the good of a country.


    Any additional comments?

    This was an excellent book.

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debra Olympia, WA, United States 11-22-12
    Debra Olympia, WA, United States 11-22-12 Listener Since 2005
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    "Great if you’re a Democrat; otherwise a waste."

    I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican but have voted for both on numerous occasions. I am simply an American that is looking for constructive ways for the two parties to find common ground, work together, and move us forward as a country. Since calling people racist is all the rage these days, I would like to point out that I am also a minority so that you won’t dismiss what I’m saying as “racial code speak”.

    This book assumes that Democrats represent the truth and light and spends the majority of the book using real word examples of misbehavior to demonize Republicans while mostly ignoring the same behavior in Democrats. The book then goes on to explain that Fox news is evil, direct democracy is superior to a representative republic and citizens may have too much liberty for their own good. Sadly, the book never acknowledges the values differences that are the root cause of our highly polarized nation and misses the opportunity to suggest ways to find common ground upon which we can build a stronger America.

    If you’re looking for a book to affirm your inner partisan Democrat and offer ways to bring about the 1984 you crave, this is the right book for you. If you’re looking for a book that offers ways to help unite us as a country while preserving your rights, keep looking because this book is NOT it.

    6 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    lisa Burns, OR, United States 06-23-13
    lisa Burns, OR, United States 06-23-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "No wake up calls and a Democratic lean"

    The prologue makes a statement to the effect that the public's outrage and tendency to vote out long standing politicians when angered, thereby making the political situation worse (Americans, get out of the way and let the professionals handle this) is in direct conflict with the next statement that republicans voted down their own bill because the president liked it - McCain being one of them. McCain is far from being a junior member of Congress who was newly voted in and creating havoc due to inexperience.

    The problem is simple: Politics has become a self-serving job for those involved, not a public service. They're in office to support their party, not the American people. While the authors of this book definitely understand how this dysfunctional system works (or doesn't), they're too close to that system to offer a real solution. The fingers are still pointing. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to see how the author feels about those troublesome people who keep quoting the Constitution. The American public is in the way - they just don't understand what the democrats are trying to accomplish.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John TORRINGTON, CT, United States 06-13-13
    John TORRINGTON, CT, United States 06-13-13 Member Since 2011

    JB

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    "Independent View of Audible Book"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I think anyone who wants to hear the Democratic view of the current state of things should listen to this.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    The writers tend to be a bit biased. They point out how party politics dominates Republican decisions yet seem to gloss over how Democrats are guilty of the same. However, the description of the book made it clear that this was coming from a Democratic party perspective and never pretended to be objective so I can't fault them for it. As long as you are aware of the bias intrinsic to the book I think it conveys some good information as to how the Republicans seem to operate. Just keep in mind that Republicans assuredly have a different view of their own motives as well as the motives of the Democratic party. Both have their rhetoric and try to demonize their opposite.


    Have you listened to any of William Hughes’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Nope. He has a clear, soothing voice for this topic. Very easy to listen to.


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

    I would say that it is interesting how it appears that many in the Republican party are willing to let the country crash and burn for the sake of their political party. I have long suspected this on my own, especially when Obama became president for the second term. However, to be given concrete reasons makes the reality of this more alarming.


    Any additional comments?

    This book shows just how polarized our country has become. Most Independents tend to be silent but I feel that it is important to voice an opinion. Though I believe that what is said about the Republican party in this book is true, I have also read a conservative-leaning book called A Patriots History of the United States and it was just as effective at demonizing the Democratic party while glorifying the Republican party. Ultimately I think it wise to believe the worst in both parties while being skeptical of their self-proclaimed best. This allows us to be skeptical of our leaders and not allow them to blind us with their attempts at dissimulation.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt SANTA FE, NM, United States 11-19-12
    Matt SANTA FE, NM, United States 11-19-12
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    "Too Short"

    This book has some great information as to why our government is disfunctional and how we got to this point. I didnt look at how short the book was which feel the price is steep for such a short book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    webtraverser Northern Virginia 11-12-12
    webtraverser Northern Virginia 11-12-12 Member Since 2001

    kevjenn

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Still a good read even though election is over."
    Would you consider the audio edition of It's Even Worse Than It Looks to be better than the print version?

    Not sure.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Not applicable.


    What about William Hughes’s performance did you like?

    He was good reader.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No extreme reaction but it did help with focusing my ideas and thoughts on how politics works today.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a worth a read by anyone interested in learning about why our political system is so screwed up. Spolier Alert: one party is more to blame than the other and yes that would be the Republican party.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aaron E. Michel 06-22-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Left Wing Socialis Will Love It"
    This book wasn???t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    This book is the left wing version of what I was saying in my review of The Amateur. Rather than taking a long hard look at substantive issues facing our community, its main contribution is to make ad hominem attacks on the Republican Party. The book provides good source information for an academic study of left wing authoritarianism using the methods and procedures developed by Professor Altemeyer in his book The Authoritarians about right wing authoritarianism to develop questions that measure the degree of excess submission to left wing authorities, the degree of excess in aggressiveness on behalf of those authorities, and the degree of excess in conventionalism.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein again?

    no


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    good delivery by the reader


    What character would you cut from It's Even Worse Than It Looks?

    none


    Any additional comments?

    no

    9 of 50 people found this review helpful
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