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The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized Americaby Ronald Brownstein
Synopses & Reviews
From one of America's most respected political commentators, an epic, shrewd, and important big-picture analysis of the forces that have made this era in American politics as divisive and bitterly partisan as any since the Civil War.
Few don't appreciate that in recent years American politics has seemingly become much more partisan, more zero-sum, more vicious, more willing to make mountains out of molehills, and less able to confront the mountains of real problems we face. And yet in poll after poll, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as either very conservative or very liberal hasn't budged in more than a generation. What has happened? In The Second Civil War, Ronald Brownstein brilliantly diagnoses the electoral, demographic, and institutional forces that have brought such change over the American political landscape, pulling politics to the margins and leaving precious little common ground for compromise.
Displaying the deep historical perspective for which he is noted, Brownstein begins with a history of the evolving climate for partisanship since the dawn of the modern political era in 1896, presenting a fresh and bold reinterpretation of American politics and the personalities who have shaped it from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Offering both sweeping analysis and intimate detail drawn from exclusive interviews with top officials and strategists in both parties, The Second Civil War captures the currents that have carried America to today's dangerous impasse, from little-understood changes in congressional rules that made it easier for parties to enforce discipline and discourage compromise to the rise of special-interest pressure groups to a vastly changed media environment that has become much more vicious and much less serious.
While there was no Golden Age, and in many respects the increasing plurality of voices that get to have a say in our politics is all to the good, the net-net is a system in which compromise and conciliation are thwarted at almost every turn and big problems that require broad consensus continue to fester ominously, unaddressed and growing more and more painful to face as we approach crisis situations. But Ronald Brownstein ends with a menu of clear and compelling ways out of our collective dilemma, largely centering on the opportunity for unifying leadership. The Second Civil War is not a book for Democrats or Republicans per se but for all Americans who are disturbed by our current political dysfunction and hungry for ways to understand it-and move beyond it.
"With this intelligent and expansive book, Los Angeles Times political correspondent and columnist Brownstein dissects the hyperpartisanship that he believes 'has unnecessarily inflamed our differences and impeded progress against our most pressing challenges.' The first half of the book examines the roots of this hyperpartisanship, beginning with the 1896 election of William McKinley, which the author argues ushered in four decades of fierce partisan division. The 1938 resurgence of the Republican Party marked the start of the 'age of bargaining,' with presidents and legislators crossing party lines to govern through consensus. The author believes both parties became more ideologically consistent during the 1960s, resulting in a 'sorting out' of the electorate that eventually led to today's partisan divisiveness. This thorough history lays the groundwork for Brownstein's incisive analysis of the contemporary Republican and Democratic parties. He resists blaming any one party or president for the state of contemporary American politics, instead attributing partisan divisions to interest groups, changes in congressional rules and practices and the realignment of the parties and electorate. This sophisticated though lengthy book lays out a complex history with lucid precision, painting a damning portrait of contemporary politics that's sure to provoke and captivate readers interested in American politics and history." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The rise of partisanship in the media, particularly nontraditional outlets, promises continued polarization. Yet Brownstein is hopeful that possible reforms, including open primaries and a viable third party, will curtail this troubling trend." Booklist
"[T]imely and compelling....In describing the history of partisanship in this country Mr. Brownstein writes with both an authoritative understanding of the political dynamics in Washington and a plain-spoken common sense." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"[An] absorbing examination of the political chasm that has characterized at least the last two U.S. elections. A natural for political junkies, it should be required reading for the 2008 presidential candidates, regardless of party." Chicago Sun-Times
"Brownstein presents both a biting critique of current political practices and an investigation into their origins." Los Angeles Times
In recent years American politics has seemingly become much more partisan, more zero-sum, more vicious, and less able to confront the real problems our nation faces. What has happened?
In The Second Civil War, respected political commentator Ronald Brownstein diagnoses the electoral, demographic, and institutional forces that have wreaked such change over the American political landscape, pulling politics into the margins and leaving precious little common ground for compromise. The Second Civil War is not a book for Democrats or Republicans but for all Americans who are disturbed by our current political dysfunction and hungry for ways to understand it—and move beyond it.
About the Author
Ronald Brownstein is national political correspondent and columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He has been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of both the 1996 and 2004 presidential elections. The author or editor of five previous books, he appears regularly as an analyst for CNN and on other television programs such as Meet the Press and Charlie Rose.
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