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Off Center

Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy

Jacob S. Hacker
Paul Pierson
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Off Center
    Book Description:

    The Republicans who run American government today have defied the normal laws of political gravity. They have ruled with the slimmest of majorities and yet have transformed the nation's governing priorities. They have strayed dramatically from the moderate middle of public opinion and yet have faced little public backlash. Again and again, they have sided with the affluent and ideologically extreme while paying little heed to the broad majority of Americans. And much more often than not, they have come out on top. This book shows why-and why this troubling state of affairs can and must be changed.

    Written in a highly accessible style by two professional political scientists,Off Centertells the story of a deliberative process restricted and distorted by party chieftains, of unresponsive power brokers subverting the popular will, and of legislation written by and for powerful interests and deliberately designed to mute popular discontent. In the best tradition of engaged social science,Off Centeris a powerful and informed critique that points the way toward a stronger foundation for American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13066-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    When President George W. Bush took the stage to deliver his State of the Union Address in 2005, he had plenty of cause to celebrate. To begin with, he was on the podium, having emerged victorious in a bitterly fought election that saw him escape the embarrassing fate of his father, who had been defeated after a single term. Yet the larger reason for celebration was all around him—in the regal House chamber he faced. Flanking Bush were Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush’s conservative policy czar, and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the head of the Republican-controlled House...

  4. Part I: Abandoning the Middle

    • 1 OFF CENTER
      (pp. 25-44)

      The elected leaders who run our government today are very conservative. On a left-right ideological spectrum in which the left champions a strong role for government in protecting the environment, regulating business, and providing economic security and the right supports a more limited role for government in these areas and champions private property rights, they are generally quite far to the right. They are not just far to the right of the Republican leadership of a generation ago.

      They are also far to the right of the programs and policy ideals established in the past three to four decades of...

      (pp. 45-68)

      Republicans like tax cuts. The party that emphasized fiscal discipline in the face of the Great Depression now touts tax cuts no matter the budgetary consequence. Tax cuts are Republicans’ all-purpose policy tonic, a solution perpetually in search of a problem. If the economy is doing poorly, taxes must be cut to promote growth. If the economy is roaring like a late-night party, the government needs to “open the doors and windows and invite everybody in.” As the United States prepared to invade Iraq, Tom DeLay felt moved to declare that it was Congress’s patriotic “duty” to cut taxes. “Nothing...

      (pp. 69-106)

      The Republican tax-cut crusade makes clear that our vaunted system of representation has shifted off center and that the normal guardians of democratic accountability have not been up to the task of bringing it back. For more than a decade, conservatives have wanted to slash taxes on the well off and shove American government back into the painful vise of fiscal scarcity. With the arrival of George W. Bush and the perfection of sophisticated techniques for circumventing hostile public opinion, the antitax movement finally got up and running. Now some of our most fundamental policies are careening off the centrist...

  5. Part II: Broken Checks and Balances

      (pp. 109-134)

      When Republican Marge Roukema of New Jersey was swept into Congress on the wave of Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, she became one of only nine Republican women in the House of Representatives. In most other ways, however, she was emblematic of the moderate Northeastern “gypsy moths” who formed a decisive voting bloc within the congressional GOP—a fiscal conservative who was broadly supportive of tax cuts yet favorable toward social programs and generally moderate on social issues. Roukema made waves in the late 1980s when she spearheaded efforts to pass a family leave bill, which Congress eventually enacted under...

      (pp. 135-162)

      More than ever, American politics is being driven from the top. And because the increasingly coordinated efforts of these elites are so central to off-center governance, it makes sense to start at the top of the top: the New Power Brokers in American politics. The New Power Brokers—men like Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, and Karl Rove—are colorful figures. But this is not just a story about interesting personalities. Who rises to power and how power is exercised are ultimately grounded in political institutions and processes. At root, the growing sway of the New Power Brokers reflects the transformed...

      (pp. 163-184)

      The “center” is the lodestar of American politics, the ultimate destination of all politicians who want to get things done. In virtually every election or policy debate, political deal-makers eventually head for the center. They do so for a simple reason. In American politics, power rests in the middle—with swing voters in the electorate and with moderates in Congress. To flee the center is not to forge a new trail. It is to rush headlong over a cliff.

      Or so the conventional image of American politics suggests. In fact, Republicans have blazed an off-center trail while keeping their feet...

    (pp. 185-224)

    They met over the course of four years, in places as far apart as New York and Seattle: a dozen or so political scientists—some with extensive government experience, others pure academics—drafted to examine the state of American politics. They disagreed on much, but they knew something was wrong. “In an era beset with problems of unprecedented magnitude at home and abroad,” they argued, American government was adrift. The responsibilities of the state had exploded; the number of interest groups pressuring politicians had skyrocketed. But the nation’s democratic institutions were not up to the challenge. “Coherent public policies do...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 225-246)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 251-261)