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The Future of American Democratic Politics

The Future of American Democratic Politics: Principles and Practices

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Future of American Democratic Politics
    Book Description:

    In this book, fifteen major scholars assess the current state of American democracy, offering a spirited dialogue on the future of democratic politics. Contributors focus on three principles fundamental to democracyequality, liberty, and participation. They examine these principles within the context of the basic institutions of American democracy: Congress and the state legislatures, the president, political parties, interest groups, and the Supreme Court. They raise questions regarding the checks and balances among formal governmental institutions as well as the role of political parties and interest groups.

    Topics discussed include the incomplete mobilization of the electorate, the debates over campaign finance reform and term limits, the Supreme Courts activist role in the Florida recount, the dangers of teledemocracy and state initiatives, the separation of political participation from residential location, "identity politics," the clash of "negative" and "positive" liberty, and the prospects for personal freedom in an era of terrorist threats.

    This timely collection covers the issues relevant to the future of American democracy today not only for lawmakers, students, and historians, but for any concerned citizen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5922-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A Dialogue on American Democratic Politics
    (pp. 1-8)

    At the beginning of the twenty-first century, democracy is both triumphant and troubled, caught in an ambiguity that provides an opportunity for innovative scholarly analysis. Using that opportunity, the authors of this volume engage in a spirited dialogue on the future of democratic politics, particularly in America. The democratic future will inevitably parallel the future of the United States, the world’s most influential democracy. These discussions illuminate those twinned prospects.

    Democracy appears triumphant. The United States led the world’s democracies in the defeat of the totalitarian doctrines of Nazism and Fascism. The ensuing cold war ended with the disappearance of...

  6. Part I The Fundamental American Political Principles

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 9-10)

      Using as a set of lenses three basic principles of democracy—equality, participation, and liberty—the authors in this section assess the current state of national politics.

      Jennifer L. Hochschild begins the discussion by applying James Madison’s political philosophy to the contemporary United States. Relying primarily on national survey data, she finds some evidence for the traditional pluralist framework, based on the American “melting pot” and cross-cutting, overlapping social cleavages. In contrast, she finds considerable conflict along lines of ethnic and racial identity. The emerging resolution, she suggests, may be intergroup coalitions, in which ethnic identities are maintained but also...

    • Chapter 1 Pluralism, Identity Politics, and Coalitions: Toward Madisonian Constitutionalism
      (pp. 11-28)

      James Madison thought he had an answer to Rawls’s question, which lies at the core of democratic theory and constitutional design. Madison sought to create a political system that would control the “impulse” of “opinion, passion, or interest” by channeling citizens into relatively small factions spread across a wide territory and focused mainly on material interests. Arguably all of the separation of powers, checks and balances, veto points, layers of federalism, multiple systems of representation, and other features of American constitutional design that we were taught in high school were aimed at this kind of “equilibrium,” which Madison thought could...

    • Chapter 2 Equality’s Troubles: Madison in Modern America
      (pp. 29-38)

      In her chapter, Jennifer Hochschild describes an America that has made major gains in affording equal political access to hitherto disadvantaged groups. Our politics has achieved a broad measure of inclusiveness, offering a more general eligibility for civic membership. Identity politics is “robust,” but so are the “overlapping cleavages of pluralism,” and coalition politics, working to reconcile the two, edges our public life away from a politics of passion and doctrine and toward a politics of interests.

      Our institutions, in other words, finally—after a history of damning exclusions and exceptions—seem to be delivering on James Madison’s promise in...

    • Chapter 3 The Majoritarian Impulse and the Declining Significance of Place
      (pp. 39-54)

      Political participation is Janus-faced. It is simultaneously an instrument with which citizens influence government and an academy in which democracy develops citizens. In examining political participation we look both forward to its effects on the political system and back to its effects on the political community.

      Democratic participation in the United States has reached an interesting state of affairs, one that is likely to carry forward into the new century. It is most accurately characterized as a detachment of political activity from place. People write checks rather than engage in associations; people support rather than participate in election campaigns; people...

    • Chapter 4 The Future of Democratic Participation: The Significance of Immigration, Race, and Class
      (pp. 55-72)

      Declining rates of voting and participation have recently become something of an obsession among analysts of U.S. politics. These negative trends in civic engagement have been interpreted as signaling a demobilized and apathetic electorate, an evasive and unresponsive government, or perhaps both. Various theories attempt to explore this participatory anemia: weakened political parties and civic associations fail to mobilize like they once did; corruption and political scandals make politics seem uglier today than in earlier decades; even television and working mothers have been identified as culprits. The nationalization of the political spectacle, covered on network news and driven by an...

    • Chapter 5 The Future of Liberty in American Democratic Politics? Or the Future of Democracy for the Politics of Liberty?
      (pp. 73-90)

      In the most wrenching way, the events of September 11, 2001, raise fundamental questions about liberty in democratic politics.

      We can find one easy and straightforward response: a key purpose of democracy is to protect individual liberty. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were characterized by President George W. Bush as “an attack on freedom” against one of the world’s historically most successful democracies. And the military campaign launched in response was aptly (if ambiguously) named Operation Enduring Freedom. Certainly the thousands of people who died in these attacks were, in part, casualties of the United...

    • Chapter 6 The Rhetoric of Democratic Liberty
      (pp. 91-110)

      Liberty is one of the most important and—in one form or another—persistent notions in the political vocabulary of the West. Especially in times of crisis and conflict, our freedom is a central part of the incorporating and integrating story we tell ourselves and the rest of the world about who we are and what defines us. To see its future, we must first understand its past. That is the subject of this chapter.

      We all believe in freedom and are dedicated to its preservation, but after more than two thousand years of discussion, we still do not agree...

  7. Part II The Practices of American Democratic Institutions

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 111-112)

      In this section, contributors examine the institutions that embody the fundamental political principles of liberty, equality, and participation. The primary concern of these six chapters is the dynamic effects of our current institutions on the future of American democratic politics.

      Nelson Polsby initiates the discussion by tracing the simultaneous growth of federal executive power and the concomitant expansion of the legislature. He argues that Congress and most state legislatures are robust institutions, not severely threatened by their corresponding executives nor by the “less proximate annoyances” of teledemocracy, the increased use of initiatives, and term limits. Polsby is confident that American...

    • Chapter 7 The Future of Legislatures in Democratic Politics
      (pp. 113-125)

      A discussion of the future of legislatures in democratic politics requires a few preliminary words about the idea of the future, which, in the first place, takes up an indeterminate amount of time (see Kahn 1975). Thus we must ask: Do we want a model of the future that is reliable for the next three or four days, as would be necessary for a television weather forecast? Do we want to talk about the next year or few years, in which we can guess that, on average, the winters will be cold and the summers will be hot? Do we...

    • Chapter 8 Legislative Politics: Institutional Democracy and Public Disaffection
      (pp. 126-140)

      Predicting the future of legislatures is a job for the foolhardy. As far as American legislatures are concerned, it is difficult enough to predict the past. The present, let alone the future, of the United States House and Senate and the ninety-nine legislative bodies in the fifty states will vary from one body to another. Nevertheless, we will risk generalization while allowing for exceptions. As for the future, the best we can do is try to get a handle on present tendencies and project ahead cautiously.

      In trying to determine whether legislatures can adapt to what is ahead, Nelson Polsby’s...

    • Chapter 9 The Impact of Bush v. Gore on Future Democratic Politics
      (pp. 141-160)

      The Supreme Court’s decision to end the election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore generated two kinds of reactions among scholars and other commentators. First, there was widespread belief that because it avoided having any election dispute decided by the United States Congress, the Supreme Court’s intervention into the 2000 election saved the country from a constitutional crisis or, at the least, a disruptive descent into political chaos.

      Not surprisingly, those who support the outcome inBush v. Gorelaud the Court for working so hard to avoid a disaster. For example, Richard Posner argues that had the...

    • Chapter 10 The Supreme Court and Bush v. Gore: Resolving Electoral Disputes in a Democracy
      (pp. 161-176)

      In December 2000, with the presidential election of the previous month at an impasse over Florida’s electoral votes, the Supreme Court took, heard, and decidedBush v. Gore(2000). By doing so it effectively decided the election. Perhaps not surprisingly, that decision garnered a tremendous amount of attention and an enormous scholarly reaction.¹ Most of the assessments of the case, particularly by legal academics and constitutional scholars, focused on the litigants’ constitutional law arguments and the Court’s legal reasoning. Some of these efforts sought to assess the motivations of the justices, the mechanics of state election law, and the fit...

    • Chapter 11 Democratic Ends and Political Parties in America
      (pp. 177-196)

      Contestation and participation are the keys to the democratic process.¹ As an intermediary agency, political parties are the exemplary vehicles of contestation and participation. They forge the most vital and, simultaneously, the most vulnerable link between the mass electorate and the governing elite.

      Democratic party systems build on the conflicts and cleavages natural to any social grouping. To win control of government, parties mobilize and promote these divisions and facilitate the peaceful resolution of conflict. Contestation exists both among and within parties. As an organization, each political party is a complex institution—a series of overlapping, intersecting, and even independent...

    • Chapter 12 Contentious Democracy: Presidential-Interest Group Relations in a Madisonian System
      (pp. 197-216)

      American presidential power has grown dramatically, if unevenly, over the past century. Economic crises, international relations, national security imperatives, and the advent of television as the ultimate bully pulpit have contributed to the drift of power from legislative to executive hands, a trend only reinforced by the terrorist assaults of September 11. Despite the philosophical tensions between executive leadership and democratic politics, ordinary citizens have increasingly viewed the U.S. presidency as a popular office capable of making the government responsive to democratic needs (Lowi 1985; Tulis 1987; Stuckey 1991; Genovese 2000). During these same years, an unprecedented array of organized...

  8. Conclusion: Perspectives on the Future of American Democratic Politics
    (pp. 217-228)

    Pendelton Herring’s observations of an age of crisis are no less true now than almost sixty years ago. The immediate and intense salience of terrorism in the post–9/11 era highlights rifts in our day-to-day partisan policy contests, bringing to the fore concerns for civil liberties, issues of racial classifications, and other manifestations of liberty and equality in American democratic politics. These, however, are but evidence of underlying disagreements in place well before September 11.

    Since the close of the Second World War, America has seen interim crises—some long-lived, some brief but intense. The last fifty years have witnessed...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 229-244)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 245-270)
  11. Index
    (pp. 271-280)