In 1964, as the polarizing Civil Rights Act made its way through the House and Senate, and Congress navigated one of the most tumultuous eras in American history, a Harris Poll put the institution's approval rating at 60%. Why then, 50 years later, has the public's approval of Congress eroded to an all-time low of 10%? Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens seeks to isolate the reasons for Congress's staggering decline in public opinion, and to propose remedies to reverse the grave dysfunction in America's most important political institution.
Aided by the input of retired members of Congress from both major parties, editor Robert Mann and his fellow contributors identify paralyzing partisan rancor as perhaps the most significant reason for the American public's declining support of its main representative body. The lack of mutual trust within Congress reflects (and creates) the suspicion and animosity of the great majority of Americans. Working Congress argues that members of Congress must find a path to cooperation if they are to function as the representative institution the founders intended.
Trenchant chapters by Mickey Edwards, Ross K. Baker, Frances E. Lee, Brian L. Fife, Susan Herbst, and Mark Kennedy analyze the problems and challenges facing Congress and suggest solutions to counteract partisan gridlock. Though these scholars and former members share a conviction that men and women of good will can and should work together, they do not assume that their solutions will herald a bipartisan utopia. Instead, they recognize that Congress is, and will always be, a work in progress.
The book is published by Louisiana State University Press.
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Ideas worth hearing
There are numerous reasons why I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. First, I appreciate that it was written with contributions from both Republicans and Democrats who offered shared points of view as well as different perspectives. This book represents what I would hope to see in functional government - people with different political perspectives contributing different ideas and identifying common ground between the perspectives. Second, this book identifies a variety of structural and procedural weaknesses in the Congressional system, which help explain hyper-partisanship and the continuation of the status quo (the book was copyrighted in 2014). In other words, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the organizational culture of Congress; a simple fix isn't easy to identify. Third, I was delighted to read about the importance of rhetoric, argumentation, and persuasion. I'm suffering from partisan propaganda fatigue, so whenever I encounter objective or bi-partisan political discourse I feel refreshed and optimistic. Finally, I appreciated the reminder that politics can be as rude and violent as WWE wrestling. I recall one of the early chapters of Shelby Foote's first volume on the civil war, where he describes how a Senator (Sumner?) was brutally attacked with a cane by a fellow politician (Brooks?) on the Senate floor prior to the Civil War. I read more recently (in the magazine called 'Canada's History') that one of the reasons why Canadian women were not allowed to vote was because of the violence and drunken chaos that often occurred during the voting process. The history of decorum in politics is vastly interesting and it's helpful to be reminded that, although things could be better, things could definitely be worse!
I encourage anyone who wants a good distraction from the sensationalism of current political events to read this book. It's a relatively short audiobook, but I suggest that you listen to it one chapter at a time in multiple sittings rather than all at once.
As with most of the other non-fiction audiobooks that I've enjoyed in the past, I regret that I don't have access to references and source material, in case I wanted to explore these topics further.
The narration is excellent, no complaints whatsoever!
I provided my opinion in exchange for a complimentary copy of the audiobook from the author, narrator, or publisher.
- Christine Newton
Politic experts give thoughts on fixing politics