Thomas Mann's and Norman Ornstein's book, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" studies the state of modern governance in the American federal government. Their book looks into why governance is dysfunctional and how it came to be that way.
Currently the Republican Party in the United States is operating under absolute party discipline which previously had been a function of parliamentary systems who - by necessity - form executive government through a legislative majority. This has meant the Democratic Party has had to start acting and voting as a party bloc in order to counter the Republican Party's voting and message discipline. This has frayed the collegial nature of the US Congressional system which is a necessary component of governance in the Washington System.
The authors also identify the second major cause of governing dysfunction as the Republican Party which has become, "an insurgent outlier - ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
So how did the Republican Party become so disciplined in its operation and how did it become immune to governing for the common good? The authors point to Newt Gingrich's strategy for the Republican's gaining a House majority after forty plus years in minority status. He decided to refuse to co-operate with Democrats in votes, on the floor and in committee. This was the beginning of the absolute party discipline.
Gingrich also saw that bringing the reputation of Congress into disrepute would make voters more likely to throw the bums out and replace the incumbent Democrats with new Republican representatives. There was ample ammunition; Democrats had been in power long enough that enough Democratic representatives had ethical issues and were arrogant in their wielding of power over a now obstinate minority. However, Gingrich had little need for looking at his own hypocrisy and was comfortable creating scandals for the Democrats within the institutional norms that he participated such as over drafts with the House bank.
When the Republican Party obtained a majority in the House after the 1994 elections, under Gingrich's leadership they maintained absolute party discipline and still managed to vote as a bloc. This remained consistent with the Hastert and DeLay leadership days during George H.W. Bush's presidency and more recently with the Young Guns and Tea Party representatives which Eric Cantor appears to be leading. When discipline did look like fraying, such as under the Medicare Part D vote when it was kept open on the floor indefinitely, party leaders such as DeLay would bend house rules to bring an errant vote back into the party fold.
The party's themselves have changed to be less collegial over the years. Currently the most liberal Republican is more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. This has not always been true and in this century has been a recent phenomenon. In the current congress, "the degree of overlap between the parties [is] zero". The authors also make the point this is true for the party apparatus as well including activists, delegates, opinion leaders, donors etc.
Another point they make is that is true of the voting public wich has also become polarized. A good example of this is the so-called independent voters, who, despite claiming their fence sitting status with pride, will vote every time for same party; making the true independents a very small number of Americans.
The Republican Party has responded to this by ideological polarization by making the party more narrow by "silencing, co-opting, repelling or expelling" any position that competed with party orthodoxy. Aiding this has been the economically successful business model of Fox News that provides a consistent cultural and political view to its viewers. The downside of this business model is that it has no moral, ethical or factual mooring and will happily deceive in order to maintain the unified view point.
There are numerous websites and blogs that are dedicated to the same information delivery mechanism such as the drudge report, the breitbart sites, and op-ed writes like Jonah Goldberg and William Kristol. The older school style of this media is talk back radio which is equally as ethically and morally challenged. Rush Limbaugh is undoubtedly the biggest fish in that pond though there are many others that deliver the right wing talk back message. The authors write:
The impact of all this is to reinforce tribal divisions, while enhancing a climate where facts are no longer driving debate and deliberation, nor are they shared by the larger public.
Another area of dysfunction is the filibuster in the Senate allowing a minority to delay, obstruct and often stop any form of good governance from the majority. The holds and delays can be anonymous and the onus is on the majority to get over the hurdle rather than the other way around. This is a well known issue that is starting to get more and more media time especially as the false equivalence aspect of it is being focused on by many media commentators.
The filibuster has also been used to for nullification
. The authors write that this is; "blocking nominations, even while acknowledging the competence and integrity of the nominees, to prevent the legitimate implementation of laws on the books." This is done to stop executive branch agencies being able to implement or enforce the laws they are required too through lack of staff or funding.
So what do the authors think the solution is? Their main goal is to ensure there can be no radical party and that governance comes back to its pragmatic goal solving policy state. The authors note that the existing system will most likely fix itself. America has had bad Presidents and bad Congresses before and it did not collapse upon itself. Faith in the current constitutional arrangements and patience in the good will of the American people and politicians is necessary.
The authors do argue that making the political parties more centrist can be achieved through electoral modifications. They point to Australia's mandatory voting system, open primaries and by making campaign funding funnel through small donors.
There are some issues with those prescriptions; Americans don't like being told to do things by government such as mandatory health insurance - though hypocritically mandatory car insurance doesn't seem to be an issue - and mandatory attendance at the ballot box might be a tough sell. It was in Australia originally as well, but it has become accepted over time.
Open primaries already occur in some places. A quaint aspect of the American electoral system is that when you get your voter card you can say which party's primaries you want to vote in. This is used for the closed primaries which choose candidates. These laws differ by state as per the federal nature of the American system.
With the recent Citizen's United ruling by the Supreme Court - which incidentally over turned precedent from multiple cases - it is likely that restrictions on money into politics is a difficult component to restrict. There appears to be a distinct advantage for the Republican Party in this area as well.
It is most likely that Americans will have to rely on the constitutional system and its messy cross branch nature to correct itself and flush out the Republican Party's ideological extremism and unwillingness to govern competently in a two party system. The Washington system and its electorally clunky technologies in conjunction with democracy will most likely find its way out of the mess it is currently in.
Arizona is an outdoor state and has lots of hiking in the city and around the state. Phoenix is unusual for most cities in having several large mountains in the center of the city with great hiking. Anyone who comes to Phoenix has to do the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback
and the Summit Hike on Squaw Peak
or Piesta Peak. The views of the city, suburbs and surrounding mountains are wonderful from Camelback and Piesta Peak.
For more experienced hikers there is the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale that has several difficult and strenuous hikes in Tom's Thumb
and Bell Pass
. Alternatively, you can hike the highest mountain in Arizona. At 12,600 feet Humphrey's Peak
is a long and difficult hike.
Between 2004 and 2009 this site, southsearepublic.org
, was a constitutional blog based on scoop which focused on Australian and global constitutional issues.
One of the strongest aspects of it was the development of constitutions by those involved in the blog. These constitutions are the outcome:
The constitutions were built using principles from Montesquieu's separation of powers, the enlightnment's universal political rights and the ancient Athenian technology of sortition and choice by lot.
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.