Friday, June 20, 2014

Booknote: It's Even Worse Than It Looks

Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

ISBN: 9780465031337

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: U.S. Politics, U.S. Government

The book tries to call out things as they are, yet at times it does fall back into moments of false equivalency that both sides are to blame, i.e. falls into the thing they are denouncing at times. For me, a big failure of the book is their easy dismissal of third parties as an alternative to the current political mess, and it is a mess. I think their argument just adds to the self-fulfilling prophecy. The monopoly of the two main parties needs to be broken much as Teddy Roosevelt busted trusts and monopolies back in his day. To the authors,

". . .those advocating a third-party or independent presidential presidential candidate fail to offer any plausible scenario of how such a successful candidate should govern effectively, given the state of the parties in Congress and the supermajority hurdles in the Senate" (115). 

That sounds more like a lack of will, something seriously lacking in the United States at the moment. It is a fall back on the old canard of "since no one would choose such a candidate, why even bother?" The two major parties count on such thinking to preserve the status quo. At the end of the day, people may whine about poor choices, but they do fall in line like sheep to vote for the same two choices.  Comedian George Carlin nailed it well when he spoke of who the real owners (YouTube link) of the nation are.

At least the authors do give a set of solutions, some of which may seem pretty radical given the current mess to change things hopefully for the better. Again, implementing any of the solutions they argue for requires will and an educated electorate, two crucial elements that are not only lacking, but that the two major parties and their wealthy donors actively fight against. That is what we really need to counter. Otherwise, the authors' suggestions remain nothing more than a quixotic dream. Another strength in the book is that the authors overall do a good job to back up their claims. The book is pretty well documented throughout.

Overall, I think the book is worth a look, and I do think working for some of the reforms they present is a good start. But will people actually elect representatives who will do what it takes? I think it is an uphill battle, but if the future of the nation is to remain a democracy instead of a plutocracy, then the nation has to fight for it.

* * * * * 

Some additional notes I took as I was reading:

On people acting like sheep:

"The reality, alas, suggests otherwise. While sizeable majorities of survey respondents typically voice antiparty sentiments in response to pollsters' questions, roughly 90% of voters identify with or lean to one of the major parties. Most self-identified independents are closet partisans. Moreover, these voters view the political and policy worlds through their partisan lenses and loyally support their party's candidates at the polls" (113). 

The above also accounts for the sudden influx of Republicans who declared themselves as independents after G.W. Bush proved to be a failure as president and leader. Those folks were never really independent; they were just disgruntled Republicans who mostly stood by as their party was hijacked by very specific special interests. If they were actually independent, they could have sought an independent path. Enough independents, true independents, could add up to elect a third party or independent candidates to office, if they actually had the conviction. As they stand, the word independent does not apply to those people.

By the way, the current mess in Congress is not recent. It goes back to Newt Gingrich. You do have to give him some credit. He still has plenty of followers in spite of the damage he has done, and that is something that should scare any reasonable and compassionate person:

"He [Gingrich] crystallized the approach of crafting a cohesive, parliamentary-style minority party and using it as a battering ram to stymie and damage a president of the other party. By moving to pain with a broad brush his own institution as elitist, corrupt, and arrogant, he undermined basic public trust in Congress and government, reducing the institution's credibility over a long period" (42-43). 

Gingrich deserves a lot of blame, but those who enabled him have to be called out and held accountable as well. 

On the idea of mandatory voting (one of the solutions they suggest in addition to other measures). This would assume that the currently rampant wave of stupidity in this country were to pass:

"Mandatory voting comes with a price: a modest loss of freedom. But the revitalization of the rapidly vanishing center in American politics and the diminishment of the ideological base would more than balance the loss" (142). 

I say stupidity is rampant because you know every other libertarian and right winger will whine about their "government making them do" something, and "OMG, they are taking my freedom away." Heaven forbid there is a small requirement to actually participate in the governance of the nation they claim to be so patriotic about. And there is more. As I said in my review above, the book deserves a look.

Note: This one I borrowed from my library, Hutchins Library, Berea College.

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