Four years ago, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, both resident scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, authored a book entitled “It’s Even Worse than It Looks” (1) The thrust of this text was to identify the causes of the gridlock that had begun to paralyze our Congress and prevent meaningful, problem-solving legislation from being passed.
It would serve no useful purpose at this juncture to provide a review of that book because it has been updated by the same scholars and re-titled “It’s Even Worse than It Was” (2) It is this latter tome that will be reviewed here.
While Mann and Ornstein are critical of congressional Democrats for their history of filibustering and blocking legislation across the last 10 years, this book is not an expose’ of equivalence in obstruction across the two major parties. Quite to the contrary, the authors do not shade or qualify their language when it comes to pointing at congressional Republicans as the main culprits whose use of filibusters, House and Senate rules, and arcane parliamentary maneuvers far outstrip what their colleagues across the aisle have done.
A ringing indictment is also aimed at major news outlets for their habitual use of false equivalence as in “both parties do it”. This leaves consumers of the news with the misleading impression that both parties are equally guilty of obstruction. According to Mann and Ornstein, this is a gross distortion of reality; undertaken in the media’s interest in being “fair and balanced”. As the authors point out, when the truth skews in one direction, it gets lost in the media’s attempt to be evenhanded by making the scoreboard read as though everything is “even-steven”.
As a comparison of the two book titles indicates, in the four years since the first of them was published, the obstruction has accelerated (i.e. “It’s Even Worse than It Was”) due to the steady growth of congressional Republican intransigence and obstruction. The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan is now viewed by Mann and Ornstein as a “political outlier”; one not interested in governance but in wrecking the government because it cannot be trusted.
The foregoing has hit on two central themes in the book. In the remainder, the authors offer up some ideas on how to begin the process of working around the problems identified. Some seem rather fanciful; others potentially workable. But, they offer no substitute for an informed electorate which brings them back to the role that the news media must play in truth-telling.
Finally, this is a highly readable text; well-researched and carefully documented. It is sure to raise hackles among conservatives, while cheered by Democrats, their own bad behavior notwithstanding. It is recommended to anyone who seeks a deeper and broader understanding of why our government hasn’t been working for the past 10 years and who is principally to blame.
1, Mann, Thomas and Ornstein, Norman; It’s Even Worse than It Looks.New York: Basic Books; 2012
2. Mann, Thomas and Ornstein, Norman; It’s Even Worse than It Was. Basic Books: New York; 2016.