Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

A House Divide

Draper also profiles some Democrats, although their connection to his broader story often seems tenuous. He shows the steady work habits of  Rep. John Dingell, dean of the House, on behalf of his Detroit-area district, as well as the lawmaker’s disdain for many of the young GOP revolutionaries. Even with his “not-undeserved reputation for being cantankerous, he got along with almost everybody.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) receives less flattering attention for her obsession with intervening in virtually every debate, with an “imperious style [that] tended to grate on others.” 

And Draper focuses on the media obsession of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) prior to his June 2011 resignation after he posted compromising photos of himself on Twitter. “He stuck out in the House chamber like an extended middle finger,” the author writes.

Dearth of Even-Handedness

Draper’s colorful profiles make for an easy read. But even with his claim of more than 300 interviews, he barely skims the surface of how the House does its business. Thomas Mann and Roll Call contributing writer Norman Ornstein, by contrast, do not appear to have spoken with any of the 87 GOP freshmen for their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.”

Relying instead on news clips, earlier political science writing and their own views and activities as Washington insiders, they describe the threats posed to the nation by “the new politics of extremism.”

Despite their book’s title and promotion, which suggest a “pox on both houses” approach, the longtime collaborators pointedly describe House Republicans as chiefly responsible for what they consider to be a sorry state of affairs. 

The authors characterize House Republicans as engaging in “an appalling spectacle of hostage taking,” especially during the lengthy debate last summer on the debt-ceiling increase. In their introduction, they write that the new majority is “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.” And the narrative goes downhill from there.

Mann and Ornstein offer cursory criticism of Democrats for their contribution to the political mess — chiefly, the strident attacks on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987. But they contend, unconvincingly, that there is no comparison in the culpability. “Democrats in Congress became more homogeneous and drifted left,” they write, while “Republicans became more homogenous and veered sharply right,” a dubious (at best) assertion.

The political scientists offer various villains — none of them Congressional Democrats — for what they term the “seeds of dysfunction.” They start with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who left Capitol Hill more than 13 years ago, and proceed to other oft-discussed ailments such as partisan polarization, fractious and fragmented news media, the Supreme Court and the undue influence of money in politics. 

The mainstream media receive harsh criticism for joining what Mann and Ornstein define as “asymmetric partisan polarization” in describing the two parties. Rather than take the conventional course of “giving equal time to opposing groups and arguments,” they contend, reporters and editors should show how Republicans “have driven both the widening of the ideological gap between the parties and the strategic hyper-partisanship” on many issues. 

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