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Becoming Citizens in the Age of Television
How Americans Challenged the Media and Seized Political Initiative during the Iran-Contra Debate
David Thelen
University of Chicago Press, 1996
An inspired, original argument about the nature of democracy in American society, Becoming Citizens in the Age of Television explores a political process out of touch with everyday needs and concerns of citizens. Instead of focusing on polls and election results, historian David Thelen listens to Americans through their calls and letters to congressmen in which citizens define for themselves the issues they want to raise and the ways they want to be seen and heard.

Thelen argues that the self-referential world of politics and journalism during elections excludes the concerns and voices of Americans, resulting in lower voter turnouts and increased voter apathy. Televised hearings and trials, however—from O. J. Simpson to Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas to Oliver North and Iran-Contra—have ignited storms of controversy and public debate. Focusing upon the spontaneous, unmediated reactions of American citizens to these events, Thelen discovers a new kind of political participation in which Americans shape their interventions.

Through an analysis of a remarkable documentary collection—the correspondence sent by citizens to the House Select Committee on Iran-Contra in the wake of the Oliver North testimony—Thelen explains how Americans are reclaiming the political process. Examining more than 5,000 letters and telegrams, Thelen uncovers the anger and resolve of a vocal public insulted by the media and opinion-managers who have misrepresented them as mindless supporters of "Olliemania."

Concluding with suggestions on how citizens can reclaim their voice from the opinion managing industries, this work promises to provoke the kind of public discourse on which democracy depends.

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Bending the Rules
Procedural Politicking in the Bureaucracy
Rachel Augustine Potter
University of Chicago Press, 2019
Who determines the fuel standards for our cars? What about whether Plan B, the morning-after pill, is sold at the local pharmacy? Many people assume such important and controversial policy decisions originate in the halls of Congress. But the choreographed actions of Congress and the president account for only a small portion of the laws created in the United States. By some estimates, more than ninety percent of law is created by administrative rules issued by federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, where unelected bureaucrats with particular policy goals and preferences respond to the incentives created by a complex, procedure-bound rulemaking process.
With Bending the Rules, Rachel Augustine Potter shows that rulemaking is not the rote administrative activity it is commonly imagined to be but rather an intensely political activity in its own right. Because rulemaking occurs in a separation of powers system, bureaucrats are not free to implement their preferred policies unimpeded: the president, Congress, and the courts can all get involved in the process, often at the bidding of affected interest groups. However, rather than capitulating to demands, bureaucrats routinely employ “procedural politicking,” using their deep knowledge of the process to strategically insulate their proposals from political scrutiny and interference. Tracing the rulemaking process from when an agency first begins working on a rule to when it completes that regulatory action, Potter shows how bureaucrats use procedures to resist interference from Congress, the President, and the courts at each stage of the process. This exercise reveals that unelected bureaucrats wield considerable influence over the direction of public policy in the United States.

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Biting the Hands that Feed Us
How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable
Baylen J. Linnekin
Island Press, 2016

Food waste, hunger, inhumane livestock conditions, disappearing fish stocks—these are exactly the kind of issues we expect food regulations to combat. Yet, today in the United States, laws exist at all levels of government that actually make these problems worse. Baylen Linnekin argues that, too often, government rules handcuff America’s most sustainable farmers, producers, sellers, and consumers, while rewarding those whose practices are anything but sustainable.

Biting the Hands that Feed Us introduces readers to the perverse consequences of many food rules. Some of these rules constrain the sale of “ugly” fruits and vegetables, relegating bushels of tasty but misshapen carrots and strawberries to food waste. Other rules have threatened to treat manure—the lifeblood of organic fertilization—as a toxin. Still other rules prevent sharing food with the homeless and others in need. There are even rules that prohibit people from growing fruits and vegetables in their own yards.

Linnekin also explores what makes for a good food law—often, he explains, these emphasize good outcomes rather than rigid processes. But he urges readers to be wary of efforts to regulate our way to a greener food system, calling instead for empowerment of those working to feed us—and themselves—sustainably. 


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Braking the Special Interests
Trucking Deregulation and the Politics of Policy Reform
Dorothy Robyn
University of Chicago Press, 1987
In 1980 Congress voted to eliminate the federal system of protective regulation over the powerful trucking industry, despite fierce opposition. This upset marked a rare example in American politics of diffuse public interests winning out over powerful economic lobbies. In Braking the Special Interests Dorothy Robyn draws upon firsthand observations of formal proceedings and behind-the-scenes maneuverings to illuminate the role of political strategy in the landmark trucking battle.

Robyn focuses her analysis on four elements of strategy responsible for the deregulator's victory—elements that are essential, she argues, to any successful policy battle against entrenched special interests: the effective use of economic data and analysis to make a strong case for the merits of reform; the formation and management of a diverse lobbying coalition of firms and interest groups; presidential bargaining to gain political leverage; and transition schemes to reduce uncertainty and cushion the blow to losers.

Drawing on political and economic theory, Braking the Special Interests is an immensely rich and readable study of political strategy and skill, with general insights relevant to current political battles surrounding trade, agriculture, and tax policies. Robyn's interdisciplinary work will be of great value to scholars and practitioners of politics, economics, and public policy.

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Broken Government?
Edited by Iwan Morgan and Philip D. Davies
University of London Press, 2013

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Bureaucracy in America
The Administrative State's Challenge to Constitutional Government
Joseph Postell
University of Missouri Press, 2023
The rise of the administrative state is the most significant political development in American politics over the past century. While our Constitution separates powers into three branches, and requires that the laws are made by elected representatives in the Congress, today most policies are made by unelected officials in agencies where legislative, executive, and judicial powers are combined. This threatens constitutionalism and the rule of law. This book examines the history of administrative power in America and argues that modern administrative law has failed to protect the principles of American constitutionalism as effectively as earlier approaches to regulation and administration.

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By Invitation Only
Steven Schier
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000
Steven Schier examines the shift in U.S. politics to activation—the political variant of niche marketing. This method encourages only a strategically selected few to get involved, resulting in a decline of majority rule in American politics.

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