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The Parties Versus the People

The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans

Mickey Edwards
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Parties Versus the People
    Book Description:

    America's political system is dysfunctional. While this is a widely held view, it is a problem that-so far-has proved intractable. After every election, voters discover yet again that political "leaders" are simply quarreling in a never-ending battle between the two warring tribes, the Republicans and Democrats. In this critically important book, a distinguished statesman and thinker identifies exactly how our political and governing systems reward intransigence, discourage compromise, and undermine our democracy. He then describes exactly what must be done to banish the negative effects of partisan warfare from our political system.

    As a former congressman, Mickey Edwards witnessed firsthand how important legislative battles can devolve into struggles not over principle but over party advantage. He offers graphic examples of how this problem has intensified and reveals how political battles have become nothing more than conflicts between party machines. Edwards's solutions-specific, practical, fair, and original-show the way to break the stranglehold of the political party system.The Parties Versus the Peopleoffers hope for a fundamental renewal of American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18602-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  5. Part I Partisan Poison

    • ONE American Tribalism
      (pp. 3-18)

      We have strayed far from the political system the Founders envisioned. Sean Wilentz, inThe Rise of American Democracy, notes that James Madison worried that “the arts of electioneering would poison the very fountains of liberty.”¹ Madison understood that in the end, democracy is not about policy but about process—it’s about how we select our leaders, how we deliberate, how we decide—and it is the process itself that has broken down. The partisan poison that has seeped into American politics—and American governance—is not only eroding belief in the democratic process, it is proving to be a...

    • TWO The Disappearing Dream
      (pp. 19-32)

      America’s founders were well aware of the dangers inherent in a system of permanent rival factions. In theFederalist No. 10, arguing for adoption of a new constitution, James Madison cited complaints “everywhere heard” that “the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” His description of the problem seems eerily familiar today, noting that “a zeal for different opinions [and] an attachment to different leaders...

  6. Part II Reforming the Election System

    • THREE Reclaiming Our Democracy
      (pp. 35-55)

      American democracy is a hybrid, and it is in that hybrid nature that its success depends. Our system recognizes that we are by nature both protective of independence and individuality, and committed to community. It is our Constitution’s recognition of, and respect for, both facets of our nature that form the basis for how we govern ourselves; it is why we operate collectively and honor singularity. It is why our constitutional system both empowers and constrains the government, which often, but not always, pursues policies that most of us want. Despite the occasional complaints of those who wish the United...

    • FOUR Drawing a Line in the Sand
      (pp. 56-69)

      The democratic principle of choice in the selection of one’s leaders has a corollary. As pointed out earlier, the authors of America’s Constitution insisted that a legislator representing Rhode Island be an actual inhabitant of Rhode Island, not just somebody who had once passed through, or had once lived there, or had a business relationship with a Rhode Island resident. If you live in the state, you presumably know something of its patterns, its economics, its culture. In the case of Rhode Island, you might understand the importance of the maritime industry and be familiar with the state’s particular role...

    • FIVE The Money Stream
      (pp. 70-88)

      Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper, citing the more than $8.5 million spent on the most expensive U.S. House races, and the $27 million spent on the costliest Senate races, has called a new congressperson’s identifying lapel pin “the most expensive piece of jewelry in the world.”¹ He’s right: political campaigns in the U.S. have become outrageously expensive.

      But the amounts we spend on elections, and the time candidates spend fund-raising, should not be our only concerns. As opponents of campaign finance reform proposals have pointed out repeatedly, we Americans spend, collectively, less on congressional elections than we spend on snacks. Elections...

  7. Part III Reforming the Governing System

    • SIX Government Leaders, Not Party Leaders
      (pp. 91-112)

      When Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007 she told an interviewer that one of her goals as Speaker—the head of the legislative branch of government, ranking behind only the vice president in the line of succession to the presidency—was to elect more members of her own party. Regardless of the immense responsibilities inherent in chairing what may be the most powerful lawmaking body in world history, one of Pelosi’s first instincts in those years before Barack Obama’s election to the presidency was to see herself not just as the head of America’s national...

    • SEVEN Debate and Democracy
      (pp. 113-128)

      The United States House of Representatives does not operate according toRobert’s Rules of Order. It adopts its own rules, and one of them allows the Rules Committee, heavily dominated by the majority party, to determine which bills can be brought before the entire House for consideration and what amendments, if any, can be debated. No matter how many members of the minority party may support a proposal—fifty, eighty, one hundred, two hundred—the majority can simply refuse to let the bill be considered. If the majority brings a bill to the floor, the minority can be prevented from...

    • EIGHT Rearrange the Furniture
      (pp. 129-135)

      For readers who have not yet visited the national Capitol and seen the impressive chambers in which the Senate and House of Representatives conduct their business, let me offer a brief tour. (And for those of you who already have been there, let me point out a few things you may have overlooked.)

      First, the legislative process begins not in the ornate chambers of the Capitol building itself but rather in the committee and subcommittee hearing rooms that are scattered throughout the six congressional office buildings (three for the House, three for the Senate). So let’s begin there. Let’s walk...

    • NINE Rivals, Not Enemies
      (pp. 136-145)

      Every two years, at the beginning of each new Congress, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) produces a “management guide” for the new members of the House and Senate. For the most part, the guide deals with the mundane but vital details of establishing a congressional office and building an effective career in public office. Various chapters offer advice on hiring new staff members, determining which committee assignments to pursue, how to make the best use of the available technology, and how to create an office budget. But Brad Fitch, the Foundation’s president, knows the Congress as it actually operates. So...

    • TEN The Partisan Presidency
      (pp. 146-151)

      For most of this book I have concentrated on the legislative branch of government, because it is a collective institution in which groups of people have divided themselves into rival camps. The presidency, on the other hand, is singular: there are thousands of men and women in the executive branch, but only one Chief Executive. While a president may sometimes find himself of two minds about a goal or an action, he can hardly be described as at war with himself. Yet presidents are every bit as much to blame for the excessive partisanship of our time. Especially as elections...

    • ELEVEN Declarations of Independence
      (pp. 152-156)

      The title of this chapter is borrowed from Part 4 of John Avlon’s bookIndependent Nation, in which he points to American political leaders, from Margaret Chase Smith to Rudy Giuliani, whom he considers exemplars of great courage in the face of intense political pressure.¹ John F. Kennedy did the same thing in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book,Profiles in Courage, a chronicle of United States senators who stood up to the demands of their constituents when they believed the good of the nation required it.² Just as Kennedy sought examples of political courage, the Greek philosopher Diogenes reportedly spent...

  8. Part IV A New Politics

    • TWELVE Beyond Partisanship
      (pp. 159-170)

      Many of the bloggers and anonymous online posters who vent their frustrations at Congress’s performance routinely engage in hyperbole or outright falsehood about almost every aspect of congressional service (awesome pensions payable after a single term of service, health care coverage and retirement packages unavailable to “the rest of us,” etc.). One of the more common canards is that members of Congress are not well enough educated, or experienced, for the jobs they hold. At a 2011 conference of humanities scholars I attended as a panelist, one speaker asserted without challenge that the most common highest level of educational attainment...

    • THIRTEEN The Way Forward
      (pp. 171-182)

      I may not be able to look at things with the new eyes Proust recommends, but we should not assume that our federal government doesn’t work. True, it’s dysfunctional. It’s a mess. It’s a cafeteria food fight, kindergarten name-calling, a collection of whines, pouts, and threats to pick up one’s marbles and go home. Trust in government, its institutions, and its elected leaders sinks ever lower, and even the rare moments of common satisfaction—over the elimination of the leader of al-Qaeda, for example—lift our opinions of government only slightly and briefly. But the government is working just as...

  9. Appendix: Citizen Initiative Information by State
    (pp. 183-186)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-192)
  11. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 193-196)
  12. Index
    (pp. 197-208)