Is Congress Broken?: The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock

Brookings Institution Press
Free sample

Making Congress Work, Again, Within the Constitutional System

Congress for many years has ranked low in public esteem—joining journalists, bankers, and union leaders at the bottom of polls. And in recent years there's been good reason for the public disregard, with the rise of hyper-partisanship and the increasing inability of Congress to carry out its required duties, such as passing spending bills on time and conducting responsible oversight of the executive branch.

Congress seems so dysfunctional that many observers have all but thrown up their hands in despair, suggesting that an apparently broken U.S. political system might need to be replaced.

Now, some of the country's foremost experts on Congress are reminding us that tough hyper-partisan conflict always has been a hallmark of the constitutional system. Going back to the nation's early decades, Congress has experienced periods of division and turmoil. But even in those periods Congress has been able to engage in serious deliberation, prevent ill-considered proposals from becoming law—and, over time, help develop a deeper, more lasting national consensus.

The ten chapters in this volume focus on how Congress in the twenty-first century can once again fulfill its proper functions of representation, deliberation, legislation, and oversight. The authors offer a series of practical reforms that would maintain, rather than replace, the constitutional separation of powers that has served the nation well for more than 200 years.

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About the author

William F. Connelly, Jr., is the John K. Boardman Politics Professor at Washington and Lee University. He is also founder and director of the university’s Washington Term Program.

John J. Pitney, Jr., is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College. He previously served on the staff of Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) and the House Republican Policy Committee.

Gary J. Schmitt is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he directs the Program on American Citizenship. He previously served as the Democratic staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Mar 21, 2017
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780815730378
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Public Affairs & Administration
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.
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