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American politics tend to be treated with dismissive humour by the ill-informed, or at best as some sort of soap-opera, a dip into this book should shake some of the compliancy out. Mr Brownstein, experienced reporter for the Los Angeles Times has worked hard and used all of his accumulated skills to chart and inform us of the history of the US political scene since the 1860s to the present date, its trends, tides and shifts in response to the growth and development of America. We read of a time when of a hundred plus years ago, when still raw from the military civil war there was an adjustment in loyalties between those who supported The Republicans and Democrats, settling through the years of the mid 20th century when both parties had their shares of radical, conservatives, liberals and mavericks, thus consensus was necessary to get anything done. In the wake of the tumult of the Vietnam War, and The US loss of confidence there began what Mr Brownstein prosaically calls great `sorting out', in the vanguard Republicans in an endeavour to solidify their base support. From here he chronicles how this was intensified throughout the Bush years, ensuring the republican base would not only remain rock-solid loyal but ensure those they voted into to Congress or Senate would keep in line. Just in case you might think the Republicans are the villains, his account of the polarisation of the Democrats is equally fascinating, though this seems to have been more bottom up, but equally intense. Mr Brownstein's intention is quite clear, to show how without consensus the American political system is in danger of becoming somewhat stagnant, while managing to be a turbulent shouting match with no proper discourse. Now as this book was brought out in 2008 the Tea Party movement does not come within its scope, but from Mr Brownstein's meticulous attention to detail and clarity of account you can understand how this movement evolved and why it has such a hold on the current body politic. The book ends with the writer's own conclusions and suggestions as to how to get out of this morass, I hope these wise words sink in somewhere amongst Republicans and Democrats. Naturally because this was written in and for the USA it will require a bit of effort to understand from a UK perspective, as there are procedures and circumstances which Americans take for granted which at first read will seem odd; I was bemused by the statement how Congress had become parliamentary. So? Was my brit-reaction, but there again, thinking about the clarity of the account, you realise how different the US system of democracy is to the UK's. I found this book so very informative and instructive, I have always had an interest in the US's politics; this has advanced my knowledge and also perception, I earnestly recommend it, if you truly want to know how the US reached the stage where the president's birth certificate became an issue.
The Second Civil War is a book about hyper-partisanship in American politics, how (and why) it got to be the way it is, and what might be done about its problematic consequences. In 2020, no matter your political persuasion, we can all agree that American politics is hyper-partisan. But Mr. Brownstein isn't speaking of Donald Trump (#45), or Barack Obama (#44), but George W. Bush (#43)! The book ends in 2008 before the election of Obama!
A well researched and well-written book is mostly about the relation between the American presidency and Congress, House and Senate. It begins back at the last election of the 19th century and moves rapidly forward, giving us more detail through the presidencies of the mid to late 20th century ending with Clinton and Bush #43. There were partisan periods in American politics before, but also a long period from the early 20th century through roughly the Carter presidency when the parties were so diverse that one could not tell, by policy preferences, who was a Democrat and who a Republican.
All of this began to change in the late 1970s with various rule changes adopted by the House and Senate. The parties became more distinct and disciplined. In 1995 under Clinton, Newt Gingrich who, using the new rule-base established in the prior generation, crystalized the combative partisan style that still characterizes the political parties today.
In parallel with the evolution of the parties in Congress, there was (according to Brownstein) a great political "sorting out" of the American electorate into more rigid conservative and liberal camps. Brownstein covers this shift in popular focus from bread-and-butter issues to cultural issues that define the parties' difference today, especially Republican conservatives. He does not give us reasons for this shift (except to say that it was cultural) but focuses on its effect, the acceleration, and solidification, of partisanship in Congress. It was Gingrich who most took advantage of this cultural change.
Back in the day when the parties were indistinct, it was painful for a president to get anything done, especially in domestic programs. In today's hyper-partisan environment, it is also difficult for a president to get anything done unless his party has a significant majority in both houses, something that hasn't happened since the partisan divide began! In his last chapter, Brownstein suggests what might be done to result, eventually, in a congress and administration empowered to pass significant legislation while each party retains its distinct character. I do not know if the Obama administration made any attempts at easing the partisan divide, but they were not particularly successful if it did. Clearly, Donald Trump has made the divide even more profound than it was under Bush #43.
Two things are missing from this book. First, everything that has happened since 2008 (for which the author cannot be faulted). Second, the history and socio-cultural factors that drove the development of hyper-partisanship within the electorate. Partisanship in Congress evolved and sharpened steadily over 30 or so years from 1970 to 2000. This evolution could not have occurred (particularly on the conservative side) without electoral support, and the electorate, over that time, was happy to give it. I will deal with both of these issues from a 2020 perspective in my blog.
i have to say that this book is extremely well documented. it is well written. it offers hope and pragmatic possible solutions for many of the problems our nation faces in the next 20 years. it is also one of the driest books that i've read in the past year or two, falling asleep or shifting to something different after a dozen pages or so ... it's captivating, but, well, simply dry. well worth the read and the price, new. it is an excellent book that, i wish, more politicians and decision-makers would read, especially the last half of the book. thank you for this masterpiece!
Ron Brownstein does a masterful job of describing the nature of partisanship and bipartisanship in the US Congress from 1896 to the present. He describes the situations and attitudes that led to the extreme partisanship from 1896 to 1932. He consistently lauds bipartisanship in the making of public policy but he also describes the splits in the majopr parties that made bipartisanship both possible and necessary. I disagree with his present analysis of the need for, and desirability of, bipartisanship today. Nonetheless he does a masterful job of describing the present basis for the present extreme partisanship which he decries. His recommendations for a more bipartisan approach to policy making makes a lot of sense. I just think that the country is moving more to a realignment than he thinks. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the present, unhealthy gridlock read this book.
A great book that is rather right down the middle. It does a great job of covering the history of politics back to the early 1900s while still focusing on the recent dynamics. Clearly a lot of Bush and Clinton references but it does a good job of removing bias.