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 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.
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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BookTV: Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”
Congressional scholars Thomas Mann, senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, examine partisan politics in the U.S. government. The authors contend that the level of “hyperpartisanship” has resulted in a dysfunctional political process that is marked by adherence to political party platforms above all other costs. Mr. Mann and Mr. Ornstein offer several solutions to the stalemate, from expanding the voting public and promoting an active public and vigilant media to reforming the election process. The discussion, moderated by E.J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post, is followed with remarks by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for the USA Today and former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK, 1977-1992).