Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress

Princeton University Press
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From the 1910 overthrow of "Czar" Joseph Cannon to the reforms enacted when Republicans took over the House in 1995, institutional change within the U.S. Congress has been both a product and a shaper of congressional politics. For several decades, scholars have explained this process in terms of a particular collective interest shared by members, be it partisanship, reelection worries, or policy motivations. Eric Schickler makes the case that it is actually interplay among multiple interests that determines institutional change. In the process, he explains how congressional institutions have proved remarkably adaptable and yet consistently frustrating for members and outside observers alike.

Analyzing leadership, committee, and procedural restructuring in four periods (1890-1910, 1919-1932, 1937-1952, and 1970-1989), Schickler argues that coalitions promoting a wide range of member interests drive change in both the House and Senate. He shows that multiple interests determine institutional innovation within a period; that different interests are important in different periods; and, more broadly, that changes in the salient collective interests across time do not follow a simple logical or developmental sequence. Institutional development appears disjointed, as new arrangements are layered on preexisting structures intended to serve competing interests. An epilogue assesses the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich in light of these findings.


Schickler's model of "disjointed pluralism" integrates rational choice theory with historical institutionalist approaches. It both complicates and advances efforts at theoretical synthesis by proposing a fuller, more nuanced understanding of institutional innovation--and thus of American political development and history.

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About the author

Eric Schickler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jun 27, 2011
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Pages
376
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ISBN
9781400824250
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Some groups participate in politics more than others. Why? And does it matter for policy outcomes? In this richly detailed and fluidly written book, Andrea Campbell argues that democratic participation and public policy powerfully reinforce each other. Through a case study of senior citizens in the United States and their political activity around Social Security, she shows how highly participatory groups get their policy preferences fulfilled, and how public policy itself helps create political inequality.

Using a wealth of unique survey and historical data, Campbell shows how the development of Social Security helped transform seniors from the most beleaguered to the most politically active age group. Thus empowered, seniors actively defend their programs from proposed threats, shaping policy outcomes. The participatory effects are strongest for low-income seniors, who are most dependent on Social Security. The program thus reduces political inequality within the senior population--a laudable effect--while increasing inequality between seniors and younger citizens.


A brief look across policies shows that program effects are not always positive. Welfare recipients are even less participatory than their modest socioeconomic backgrounds would imply, because of the demeaning and disenfranchising process of proving eligibility. Campbell concludes that program design profoundly shapes the nature of democratic citizenship. And proposed policies--such as Social Security privatization--must be evaluated for both their economic and political effects, because the very quality of democratic government is influenced by the kinds of policies it chooses.

No legislature in the world has a greater influence over its nation's public affairs than the US Congress. The Congress's centrality in the US system of government has placed research on Congress at the heart of scholarship on American politics. Generations of American government scholars working in a wide range of methodological traditions have focused their analysis on understanding Congress, both as a lawmaking and a representative institution. The purpose of this volume is to take stock of this impressive and diverse literature, identifying areas of accomplishment and promising directions for future work. The editors have commissioned 37 chapters by leading scholars in the field, each chapter critically engages the scholarship focusing on a particular aspect of congressional politics, including the institution's responsiveness to the American public, its procedures and capacities for policymaking, its internal procedures and development, relationships between the branches of government, and the scholarly methodologies for approaching these topics. The Handbook also includes chapters addressing timely questions, including partisan polarization, congressional war powers, and the supermajoritarian procedures of the contemporary Senate. Beyond simply bringing readers up to speed on the current state of research, the volume offers critical assessments of how each literature has progressed - or failed to progress - in recent decades. The chapters identify the major questions posed by each line of research and assess the degree to which the answers developed in the literature are persuasive. The goal is not simply to tell us where we have been as a field, but to set an agenda for research on Congress for the next decade. The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics are a set of reference books offering authoritative and engaging critical overviews of the state of scholarship on American politics. Each volume focuses on a particular aspect of the field. The project is under the General Editorship of George C. Edwards III, and distinguished specialists in their respective fields edit each volume. The Handbooks aim not just to report on the discipline, but also to shape it as scholars critically assess the scholarship on a topic and propose directions in which it needs to move. The series is an indispensable reference for anyone working in American politics. General Editor for The Oxford Handbooks of American Politics: George C. Edwards III
Since the Second World War, congressional parties have been characterized as declining in strength and influence. Research has generally attributed this decline to policy conflicts within parties, to growing electoral independence of members, and to the impact of the congressional reforms of the 1970s. Yet the 1980s witnessed a strong resurgence of parties and party leadership—especially in the House of Representatives.

Offering a concise and compelling explanation of the causes of this resurgence, David W. Rohde argues that a realignment of electoral forces led to a reduction of sectional divisions within the parties—particularly between the northern and southern Democrats—and to increased divergence between the parties on many important issues. He challenges previous findings by asserting that congressional reform contributed to, rather than restrained, the increase of partisanship. Among the Democrats, reforms siphoned power away from conservative and autocratic committee chairs and put control of those committees in the hands of Democratic committee caucuses, strengthening party leaders and making both party and committee leaders responsible to rank-and-file Democrats. Electoral changes increased the homogeneity of House Democrats while institutional reforms reduced the influence of dissident members on a consensus in the majority party. Rohde's accessible analysis provides a detailed discussion of the goals of the congressional reformers, the increased consensus among Democrats and its reinforcement by their caucus, the Democratic leadership's use of expanded powers to shape the legislative agenda, and the responses of House Republicans. He also addresses the changes in the relationship between the House majority and the president during the Carter and Reagan administrations and analyzes the legislative consequences of the partisan resurgence.

A readable, systematic synthesis of the many complex factors that fueled the recent resurgence of partisanship, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House is ideal for course use.
War--or the threat of war--usually strengthens states as governments tax, draft soldiers, exert control over industrial production, and dampen internal dissent in order to build military might. The United States, however, was founded on the suspicion of state power, a suspicion that continued to gird its institutional architecture and inform the sentiments of many of its politicians and citizens through the twentieth century. In this comprehensive rethinking of postwar political history, Aaron Friedberg convincingly argues that such anti-statist inclinations prevented Cold War anxieties from transforming the United States into the garrison state it might have become in their absence. Drawing on an array of primary and secondary sources, including newly available archival materials, Friedberg concludes that the "weakness" of the American state served as a profound source of national strength that allowed the United States to outperform and outlast its supremely centralized and statist rival: the Soviet Union.

Friedberg's analysis of the U. S. government's approach to taxation, conscription, industrial planning, scientific research and development, and armaments manufacturing reveals that the American state did expand during the early Cold War period. But domestic constraints on its expansion--including those stemming from mean self-interest as well as those guided by a principled belief in the virtues of limiting federal power--protected economic vitality, technological superiority, and public support for Cold War activities. The strategic synthesis that emerged by the early 1960s was functional as well as stable, enabling the United States to deter, contain, and ultimately outlive the Soviet Union precisely because the American state did not limit unduly the political, personal, and economic freedom of its citizens.


Political scientists, historians, and general readers interested in Cold War history will value this thoroughly researched volume. Friedberg's insightful scholarship will also inspire future policy by contributing to our understanding of how liberal democracy's inherent qualities nurture its survival and spread.

Few transformations in American politics have been as important as the integration of African Americans into the Democratic Party and the Republican embrace of racial policy conservatism. The story of this partisan realignment on race is often told as one in which political elites—such as Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater—set in motion a dramatic and sudden reshuffling of party positioning on racial issues during the 1960s. Racial Realignment instead argues that top party leaders were actually among the last to move, and that their choices were dictated by changes that had already occurred beneath them. Drawing upon rich data sources and original historical research, Eric Schickler shows that the two parties' transformation on civil rights took place gradually over decades.

Schickler reveals that Democratic partisanship, economic liberalism, and support for civil rights had crystallized in public opinion, state parties, and Congress by the mid-1940s. This trend was propelled forward by the incorporation of African Americans and the pro-civil-rights Congress of Industrial Organizations into the Democratic coalition. Meanwhile, Republican partisanship became aligned with economic and racial conservatism. Scrambling to maintain existing power bases, national party elites refused to acknowledge these changes for as long as they could, but the civil rights movement finally forced them to choose where their respective parties would stand.

Presenting original ideas about political change, Racial Realignment sheds new light on twentieth and twenty-first century racial politics.

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