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Congress is broken.  Republicans have embraced new levels of extremism, cynicism and absurdity as they adopt their kidnappers, the Tea Party.

What if this is not just a recognition here at DKos and the left but becomes recognized and promoted by two well respected political scientists who have worked for 4 decades studying the function and dysfunction of Congress?

What if these authors make a solid case that Congressional polarization and dysfunction haven't been this bad since before the Civil War and that the Republicans are chiefly to blame?

There is an excellent book that just came out and it may have an impact on the 2012 campaign.  It criticizes Republican extremists and the media who tolerate them with self serving "split the difference" excuses.  It identifies the problems and proposes some thoughtful solutions.

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein bring decades of knowledge from their work as political scientists to their new book, It's Even Worse Than it Looks:  How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Yes, those guys.  The ones who wrote that outstanding editorial, "Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem" in the Washington Post as diaried by Kossacks Upper West and Jank2112 as well as getting a mention by DemFromCT and Georgia Logothetis in Abbreviated Pundit.

These two (one a Republican, one a Democrat) have written a book that should be read by every progressive.  It's not going to change many progressive minds, but it deepens our perspective on the history of this and the political science perspectives involved.  The timing of the book launch for today is amazing timing for the November 2012 election.  I believe this book has some solid facts and memes that can help win over independent voters and even some non-TP Republicans.

I noticed that some progressive bloggers gave the WaPo editorial a somewhat dismissive review as in, "Duh, we already know that".  But perhaps those bloggers didn't know a book was also coming out and that the book has some real progressive meat in it.

For example, we all can recount anecdotal evidence about how extremist and how uncooperative Republican House members have become, but it is fascinating to see a graph on page 43 that shows how based on roll call votes, party polarization hit an all time high in 2005 and it has increased since then.  And by "all time" I mean from the start of the graph's data:  1879.  That date is not a typo.  That second digit is an eight.

That is one of the keys to the brilliance of this book.  It isn't just about a current events squabble, the kind that can arise between two pundits on Sunday morning.  This is a study that cites the work of other political science scholars and puts it in the context of our nation's history.  And their verdict is that things really are bad.  The crisis in Congress is really that extreme.  The impact for the country is really that dire.

Check out their longitudinal perspective via Ornstein (the conservative one) as interviewed on a nicely done NPR piece yesterday:

Mann and Ornstein recognize that many people will likely be skeptical of the argument that things in Congress today are so much worse than they used to be.

Last year, Ornstein wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine about the 112th Congress titled "Worst. Congress. Ever." He says a lot of people wrote to him and said, "Oh, come on, what about the period right before the Civil War?"

"And I said, 'I'll grant you that. Do you really want to be compared to the period right before the Civil War?' You know, maybe we are better than we were in the period leading up to the Civil War, but that left us with a virtual fracture in our society. We don't want to see that happen," Ornstein says.

The events that finally drove these two authors to their conclusion were the farcical antics the Republicans used to create the debt ceiling crisis.  They also lay a lot of the responsibility for current politics on Gingrich, Norquist, and the Roberts Court among others.

The second half of the book which focuses on solutions is fascinating even as some recommendations seem politically impossible.  I believe they need to be taken seriously.  If ever a citizens protest movement wanted a cause, they could do worse than use this as a focus on demands for change.

Two more reactions:

E. J Dionne:

The phrase ‘essential reading’ does not begin to get at the importance of this passionate warning by two of our very best political scientists about our nation’s capacity to govern itself. Mann and Ornstein sweep aside the timid conventional wisdom to inform Americans that our problems are even worse than we think they are. It is absolutely vital that this book’s findings and message enter the consciousness and consciences of journalists, politicians and citizens who care about the future of our republic.
Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post, clearly likes the book:
And now, as Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: Our situation really is even worse than it looks.
...even as he notes his wish that it broaden a bit to include this:
Mann and Ornstein chose not to explore the history of today’s voters’ cynicism, a powerful ingredient in the poisonous brew they describe. Doing so would have given them a chance to add some even-handedness to their story. In 1964, on the eve of the disastrous Vietnam War, 77 percent of Americans expected their government do “do the right thing” always or most of the time, according to opinion polls. Ten years later, after Vietnam and Watergate, 77 percent had become 36. Today it is less than 20 percent who have that confidence in the government. The Vietnam War, largely the work of Democrats, and Richard Nixon together destroyed Americans’ confidence in their governing institutions. It has never been restored. Several generations have grown up since reflexively distrusting their government.
Buy the book. Pass it around.  Spread the word.  Our nation has a crisis in Congress worse than anything we've seen in 150 years.  The sooner more of us recognize that, the sooner we can get to work on solutions that are appropriate to the problem.

Originally posted to Satya1 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:52 AM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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