It's Even Worse Than It Looks

  • by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein
  • Narrated by William Hughes
  • 6 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.


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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- Rob

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?


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.

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- gene

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-04-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.