Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process

Brookings Institution Press
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The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign has provided a lifetime's worth of surprises. Once again, however, the nomination process highlighted the importance of organization, political prowess, timing, and money. And once again, it raised many hackles. The Democratic contest in particular generated many complaints—for example, it started too early, it was too long, and Super Tuesday was overloaded. This timely book synthesizes new analysis by premier political scientists into a cohesive look at the presidential nomination process—the ways in which it is broken and how it might be fixed.

The contributors to Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process address different facets of the selection process, starting with a brief history of how we got to this point. They analyze the importance—and perceived unfairness—of the earliest primaries and discuss what led to record turnouts in 2008. What roles do media coverage and public endorsements play? William Mayer explains the "superdelegate" phenomenon and the controversy surrounding it; James Gibson and Melanie Springer evaluate public perceptions of the current process as well as possible reforms. Larry Sabato (A More Perfect Constitution) calls for a new nomination system, installed via constitutional amendment, while Tom Mann of Brookings opines on calls for reform that arose in 2008 and Daniel Lowenstein examines the process by which reforms may be adopted—or blocked.

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About the author

Steven S. Smith is the Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, where he directs the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy. His many books include Party Influence in Congress (Cambridge, 2007). Melanie J. Springer is an assistant professor of political science at Washington University, where she is a fellow in the Center on Political Economy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Nov 1, 2009
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Pages
205
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ISBN
9780815703495
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Executive Branch
Political Science / American Government / National
Political Science / Political Process / Political Parties
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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With its rock-bottom approval ratings, acrimonious partisan battles, and apparent inability to do its legislative business, the U.S. Senate might easily be deemed unworthy of attention, if not downright irrelevant. This book tells us that would be a mistake. Because the Senate has become the place where the policy-making process most frequently stalls, any effective resolution to our polarized politics demands a clear understanding of how the formerly august legislative body once worked and how it came to the present crisis. Steven S. Smith provides that understanding in The Senate Syndrome.

Like the Senate itself, Smith’s account is grounded in history. Countering a cacophony of inexpert opinion and a widespread misunderstanding of political and legislative history, the book fills in a world of missing information—about debates among senators concerning fundamental democratic processes and the workings of institutional rules, procedures, and norms. And Smith does so in a clear and engaging manner. He puts the present problems of the Senate—the “Senate syndrome,” as he calls them—into historical context by explaining how particular ideas and procedures were first framed and how they transformed with the times. Along the way he debunks a number of myths about the Senate, many perpetuated by senators themselves, and makes some pointed observations about the media’s coverage of Congress.

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Is American democracy being derailed by the United States Senate filibuster? Is the filibuster an important right that improves the political process or an increasingly partisan tool that delays legislation and thwarts the will of the majority? Are century-old procedures in the Senate hampering the institution from fulfilling its role on the eve of the 21st century?

The filibuster has achieved almost mythic proportions in the history of American politics, but it has escaped a careful, critical assessment for more than 50 years. In this book, Sarah Binder and Steven Smith provide such an assessment as they address the problems and conventional wisdom associated with the Senate's long-standing tradition of extended debate.

The authors examine the evolution of the rules governing Senate debate, analyze the consequences of these rules, and evaluate reform proposals. They argue that in an era of unprecedented filibustering and related obstructionism, old habits are indeed undermining the Senate's ability to meet its responsibilities. Binder and Smith scrutinize conventional wisdom about the filibuster—and show that very little of it is true. They focus on five major myths: that unlimited debate is a fundamental right to differentiate the Senate from the House of Representatives; that the Senate's tradition as a deliberative body requires unlimited debate; that the filibuster is reserved for a few issues of the utmost national importance; that few measures are actually killed by the filibuster; and that senators resist changing the rules because of a principled commitment to deliberation. In revising conventional wisdom about the filibuster, Binder and Smith contribute to ongoing debates about the dynamics of institutional change in the American political system. The authors conclude by suggesting reforms intended to enhance the power of determined majorities while preserving the rights of chamber minorities. They advocate, for example, lowering the number of votes required to end debate while increasing the amount of time for senators to debate controversial bills. Reform is possible, they suggest, that is consistent with the Senate's unique size and responsibilities.

Events in Russia since the late 1980s have created a rare opportunity to watch the birth of democratic institutions close at hand. Here Steven Smith and Thomas Remington provide the first intensive, theoretically grounded examination of the early development of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Federation's parliament created by the 1993 constitution. They offer an integrated account of the choices made by the newly elected members of the Duma in establishing basic operating arrangements: an agenda-setting governing body, a standing committee system, an electoral law, and a party system. Not only do these decisions promise to have lasting consequences for the post-communist Russian regime, but they also enable the authors to test assumptions about politicians' goals from the standpoint of institutional theory.

Smith and Remington challenge in particular the notion, derived from American contexts, that politicians pursue a single, overarching goal in the creation of institutions. They argue that politicians have multiple political goals--career, policy, and partisan--that drive their choices. Among Duma members, the authors detect many cross currents of interests, generated by the mixed electoral system, which combines both single-member districts and proportional representation, and by sharp policy divisions and an emerging party system. Elected officials may shift from concentrating on one goal to emphasizing another, but political contexts can help determine their behavior. This book brings a fresh perspective to numerous theories by incorporating first-hand accounts of major institutional choices and placing developments in their actual context.

Is American democracy being derailed by the United States Senate filibuster? Is the filibuster an important right that improves the political process or an increasingly partisan tool that delays legislation and thwarts the will of the majority? Are century-old procedures in the Senate hampering the institution from fulfilling its role on the eve of the 21st century?

The filibuster has achieved almost mythic proportions in the history of American politics, but it has escaped a careful, critical assessment for more than 50 years. In this book, Sarah Binder and Steven Smith provide such an assessment as they address the problems and conventional wisdom associated with the Senate's long-standing tradition of extended debate.

The authors examine the evolution of the rules governing Senate debate, analyze the consequences of these rules, and evaluate reform proposals. They argue that in an era of unprecedented filibustering and related obstructionism, old habits are indeed undermining the Senate's ability to meet its responsibilities. Binder and Smith scrutinize conventional wisdom about the filibuster—and show that very little of it is true. They focus on five major myths: that unlimited debate is a fundamental right to differentiate the Senate from the House of Representatives; that the Senate's tradition as a deliberative body requires unlimited debate; that the filibuster is reserved for a few issues of the utmost national importance; that few measures are actually killed by the filibuster; and that senators resist changing the rules because of a principled commitment to deliberation. In revising conventional wisdom about the filibuster, Binder and Smith contribute to ongoing debates about the dynamics of institutional change in the American political system. The authors conclude by suggesting reforms intended to enhance the power of determined majorities while preserving the rights of chamber minorities. They advocate, for example, lowering the number of votes required to end debate while increasing the amount of time for senators to debate controversial bills. Reform is possible, they suggest, that is consistent with the Senate's unique size and responsibilities.

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