By Nick BeJeaux
Working Congress is a funny title for a book about the current roster of representatives in the House and Senate, but LSU professor Robert Mann’s latest book focuses less on the current state of affairs in Washington D.C. and more about the devolution in American politics since the 1960s and solutions to today’s legislative gridlock.
Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens is a collection of discussions from the Breaux Symposium, named for the former Louisiana Senator John Breaux who is famed for his bipartisanship – a rare commodity these days, by all accounts. Each chapter of the book entails perspectives from former members of Congress and academics on the current situation in the Capitol and explores in depth a diverse set of solutions that could alleviate the gridlock. But this book does more than talk the talk – it definitely walks the walk.
The description of this book as a guide is spot on. Every fact is cited; pointing to this or that poll, other works by the contributors, and independent studies. So aside from offering the biting, well-constructed critiques of our political system, it isn’t so pompous as to be incomprehensible by students, journalists and even representatives that dispute the existence of climate change.
Mann edited the contributions from Mickey Edwards, Ross K. Baker, Frances E. Lee, Brian L. Fife, Susan Herbst, and Mark Kennedy, but provides a stirring introduction to the collection that more than prepares the reader for what is to come. Mann reflects on a time where representatives acted in fear of the judgment of history, rather than being reelected. He makes the sobering allegation that the 1960s was a “Golden Age” of American politics, despite it being one of the most tumultuous decades in our history. Consider the passage of the Civil Rights act in 1964, or of the Voting Rights Act a year later.
“The civil rights laws of the 1960s offer us some of the best examples of what is possible when political leaders transcend partisan political differences and consider more than just the immediate judgment of the voters,” Mann writes.
The ensuing chapters are very straightforward, hard-hitting and touch on what is specifically wrong with today’s Congress and the challenges that accompany bipartisanship. But there really is something for everyone, not just political nuts and activists. History buffs will surely enjoy Baker’s chapter, “The Ascent of Bipartisanship to the Congressional Reform Agenda,” and the advice offered by Kennedy in “Is Persuasion a Lost Art?” can undoubtedly be applied outside the realm of politics. This variety and flexibility makes Working Congress very well rounded for a book of only 120 pages and a must have for intrepid, though awkward, political science majors.
The timing of Working Congress’ publishing is perfect, or at least well done. A new Congress is set to take leadership of the United States in January, one lead by the GOP. Having read this book from cover to cover, I honestly hope that LSU and Mann can find a way to get a copy of this work into the hands of every Senator, Representative and voter, that we may learn the lessons of the past and avoid disaster in the future. Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens is available for purchase via Amazon.com.