Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment, Revised Edition

Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This highly readable book makes a strong case that a Washington establishment does exist and that members of Congress are responsible for it. Fiorina's description of the self-serving interconnections that have developed between Congress, bureaucrats, and citizens with special interests leads to provocative and disturbing conclusions about the way our political system works. First published in 1977, this greatly enlarged second edition discusses the new developments that have occurred over the past twelve years, provides supportive data through the 1988 election, and reveals Fiorina's current thoughts on Congress and American politics.Reviews of the first edition:"A stimulating indictment of the role of Congress in perpetuating a triangle of self-interest: constituents want benefits at someone else's expense; Congressmen, seeking reelection, try to oblige; bureaucrats want growth for their agencies and accordingly provide favors for Congressmen. The general welfare is ill-served."-Foreign Affairs"A fascinating book . . . on the factors which keep members of Congress in office . . . . A tract that no student of Congress can afford to neglect."-Eric M. Uslaner,American Political Science Review"Written with insight, originality, and verve."-WashingtonMonthly

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16181-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 3-6)

      The presidential campaigns of 1976 offered a curious spectacle: serious candidates for national office ranforWashington office by runningagainstWashington.¹ They asked us to believe that the seat of national government is (choose): (a) immobile, (b) corrupt, (c) dangerously out of touch, (d) all of the above. The critics charged that the country is misgoverned by a Washington establishment, a Washington inner circle, or a group of Washington insiders. Such charges apparently carried a ring of truth; even Gerald Ford—twenty-eight years a member of the ruling circles—could not resist the temptation to attack Washington.

      Wild charges...

    • Chapter 1 The Case of the Vanishing Marginals (with apologies to David Mayhew)
      (pp. 7-13)

      Throughout the postwar period we have heard jokes about the length of congressional careers. Most of these come in connection with discussions of the congressional seniority system, which purportedly elevates ancient southern congressmen to chairmanships of the standing committees of Congress.¹ Behind the jokes there stand hard facts. Congress today is occupied by career politicians. Generally speaking the only congressmen who do not intend to spend the rest of their careers in Congress are those senators who hope to move up to the presidency. Since World War II nearly 90 percent of all incumbents have sought reelection in any given...

    • Chapter 2 The Marginal District: Some Brief Remarks about the Victim
      (pp. 14-16)

      Upon casual consideration of the lot of a marginal district congressman, we are likely to feel a touch of sympathy. Here is a would-be statesman elected by 52 or 53 percent of the vote who lives in mortal fear for his political life. One mistake on a roll-call vote, one slip of the tongue, one touch of scandal, an unpopular presidential candidate put forward by his party or a popular one by the opposition—any such factor might return him to the law office in the county seat. He lives insecurely with the knowledge that ambitious members of both district...

    • Chapter 3 The Vanishing Marginals: Who Done It?
      (pp. 17-28)

      Is there any basis for arguing that the disappearance of the marginals stems from the increasing socioeconomic homogeneity of congressional districts? On the face of it the charge is dubious. Socioeconomic change tends to be gradual; it takes decades to show up. The decline of the marginals, however, has been fairly rapid. In the late 1950s everything looked normal. By 1970 something had happened.

      Could it be that socioeconomic cleavage lines have become less politically relevant? Again, the suggestion is doubtful. Dormant religious differences were awakened in 1960. The New Deal class cleavages were sharpened and reinforced in the 1964...

    • Chapter 4 A Tale of Two Districts
      (pp. 29-36)

      Each of us has had the experiences of searching very hard for something only to find it right under our noses. After reading and pondering the studies on which the preceding chapter is based, I began to wonder whether some analogous oversight was occurring in the search for the cause(s) of the vanishing marginals. Could there be some obvious factor that our search was overlooking, some major change that would be apparent to anyone who took a detailed look at a few selected congressional districts rather than a gross look at all districts? Believing the effort to be worth the...

    • Chapter 5 The Rise of the Washington Establishment
      (pp. 37-47)

      I assume that most people most of the time act in their own self-interest. This is not to say that human beings seek only to amass tangible wealth but rather to say that human beings seek to achieve their own ends—tangible and intangible—rather than the ends of their fellow men. I do not condemn such behavior nor do I condone it (although I rather sympathize with Thoreau’s comment that “if I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life”).¹ I...

    • Chapter 6 Back to the Vanishing Marginals: Some Loose Ends
      (pp. 48-52)

      As I suggested in the previous chapter, the marginals disappeared as the Washington system developed. Congressmen elected from marginal districts found it increasingly possible to base their reelection on their noncontroversial activities—their casework and success in procuring the pork—rather than on their lawmaking activities, which divided their districts. As Congress created a government ever larger and more far-reaching, it simultaneously increased the opportunities for its members to build up political credit with their constituents. In effect, I am proposing a behavioral change theory. Burnham, Erikson, and Ferejohn are correct: voting behavior in congressional elections has changed. But I...

    • Chapter 7 Some Circumstantial Evidence Surrounding the Rise of the Washington Establishment
      (pp. 53-66)

      In chapter 5 I discussed the kinds of activities favored by congressmen oriented toward reelection and how the mix of those activities has changed as the federal government has grown. The discussion was relatively theoretical. Congressmen, after all, do not keep public records of the time they spend in various activities. In this chapter I will discuss several ways in which congressmen have altered their institutional surroundings in order to facilitate the performance of electorally profitable activities. In this area more evidence is available, although it is of a circumstantial nature. It takes on significance when examined in light of...

    • Chapter 8 Alternative Views
      (pp. 67-75)

      In discussing the concept of a Washington establishment two distinct types of questions arise. First, does one exist, and, if so, what exactly is it? Second, is the system undesirable, and should it be changed? I have argued in the preceding pages that there is an identifiable Washington system, composed of Congress and the federal bureaucracies operating in a seemingly antagonistic but fundamentally symbiotic relationship. To recount briefly, by working to establish various federal programs (or in some cases fighting their establishment) congressmen earn electoral credit from concerned elements of their districts. Some federal agency then takes Congress’s vague policy...

    • Chapter 9 What Lies Ahead?
      (pp. 76-80)

      The Washington system grew up as the public sector expanded. At first the system was an unforeseen by-product of genuine attempts to legislate in the general interests of the American citizenry. Today the system has become an end in itself. It enables congressmen and bureaucrats to achieve their most dearly held goals by giving the appearance of satisfying the goals of the American people. In reality, public policy in this country is hostage to the personal goals of congressmen and the bureaucracy.

      What lies ahead? Will the system continue to operate as presently or even degenerate into the bureaucratic state...


    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 83-84)

      The first edition ofKeystonewas an attempt to describe and evaluate some little-noted aspects of a transitional era in the history of Congress. What was changing and how is much clearer today than it was twelve years ago, though it is still far from transparent. In the first place, the 1970s was a period in which the committee-centered institution of the mid-century gave way to the more floor-centered institution of the 1980s. One subsection of chapter 7, “The Continued Decentralization of Congressional Power,” describes the proliferation of subcommittees and speculates about the implications of that proliferation for congressional policy-making....

    • Chapter 10 Some More-than-Circumstantial Evidence
      (pp. 85-97)

      This book began with a simple empirical finding: the average margins of House incumbents rose by 5–10 percent during the postwar period. In chapter 2 I discussed the potential significance of this shift in election outcomes. Depending onwhymember margins were increasing, larger margins could dampen the responsiveness of individual representatives to constituency sentiments, and the responsiveness of the collective Congress to changes in national sentiments. Chapter 3 examined several proposed explanations for the vanishing marginals, concluding that none of them was well supported by available evidence. Finally, chapters 4–6 developed another hypothesis—that government expansion had...

    • Chapter 11 Confusions and Clarifications
      (pp. 98-111)

      In public, authors graciously take responsibility for the misunderstandings of readers. In private, they complain about careless reading or even malicious misreading. Over the years I have encountered a number of common misunderstandings of the arguments inKeystone. Some of these are primarily the fault of the reader, while others are primarily my fault.

      On several occasions critics have offered examples of elections they believe were determined by presidential coattails, money, issues, a TV commercial, or some other factor than constituency service. Certainly, that is so: many factors affect the voting in House elections.Keystonenever suggested otherwise. As explained...

    • Chapter 12 Underemphases and New Developments
      (pp. 112-129)

      This chapter deals with topics not discussed adequately or at all in the first edition. The progress of research has revealed things that were not apparent twelve years ago, and the passage of time has thrust new developments upon us.

      The 1970s and 1980s saw the development of an extensive literature on the decline of American political parties. The facts are too well known to need much summary. In the 1960s opinion surveys documented a sharp jump in the number of self-identified independents.¹ Election results indicated that ticket splitting was on the rise. The influence of party professionals on nominations...

    • Chapter 13 Looking Back and Looking Ahead
      (pp. 130-142)

      The first edition of this book ended on a pessimistic note. The incentives that had supported the particularistic, disorganized national policy-making process of the 1970s seemed stronger to me than any countervailing incentives, existing or easily imaginable. Without high hopes I did mention two possible avenues for improvement. First, there was the possibility that congressmen would find their new, more electorally secure but more locally oriented life less personally satisfying than an electorally riskier but more nationally oriented life. Having swung the electoral pendulum to the extreme that it had reached in the late 1970s, perhaps congressmen themselves would swing...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 143-166)
  9. Index
    (pp. 167-169)