Before making significant policy decisions, political actors and parties must first craft an agenda designed to place certain issues at the center of political attention. The agenda-setting approach in political science holds that the amount of attention devoted by the various actors within a political system to issues like immigration, health care, and the economy can inform our understanding of its basic patterns and processes. While there has been considerable attention to how political systems process issues in the United States, Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Stefaan Walgrave demonstrate the broader applicability of this approach by extending it to other countries and their political systems.
Agenda Setting and Political Attention brings together essays on eleven countries and two broad themes. Contributors to the first section analyze the extent to which party and electoral changes and shifts in the partisan composition of government have led—or not led—to policy changes in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and France. The second section turns the focus on changing institutional structures in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Canada, including the German reunification and the collapse of the Italian party system. Together, the essays make clear the efficacy of the agenda-setting approach for understanding not only how policies evolve, but also how political systems function.
Social scientists and campaign strategists approach voting behavior from opposite poles. Reconciling these camps through a merger of statistics and election experience, The American Political Landscape presents a full-scale analysis of U.S. electoral politics over the last quarter-century. It explains how factors not usually considered hard data, such as personal attitudes and preferences, interact to produce an indisputably solid result: the final tally of votes.
While pundits boil down elections to a stark choice between Democrat and Republican, Byron Shafer and Richard Spady explore the further significance of not voting at all. Voters can and do form coalitions around specific issues, so that simple party identification does not determine voter turnout or ballot choices. Deploying a method that maps political attitudes from 1984 to 2008, the authors describe an electorate in flux. As an old order organized around economic values ceded ground to a new one in which cultural values enjoy equal prominence, persisting links between social backgrounds and political values have tended to empty the ideological center while increasing the clout of the ideologically committed.
In Candidates, Congress, and the American Democracy Linda L. Fowler provides a wide-ranging examination of candidacy as a source of both stability and change in U.S. politics. An expert on political candidates, she brings a novel perspective to the topic by emphasizing that candidates are necessary instruments for popular control of government.
Fowler maintains that the ambitions of individual candidates are essential to the functioning of the nation's constitutional system and are important factors in its political history. She traces the influence of candidates in fostering electoral competition, promoting the representation of such newly mobilized groups of citizens as women and ethnic minorities, and transforming political institutions and parties. Despite the importance of candidacy, the institution is poorly understood because both scholars and voters tend to limit their focus on candidates to the narrow context of election campaigns. The author argues that a broader view reveals how candidates are linked to a variety of trends and contradictions in contemporary U.S. politics.
Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies is an impassioned call for the realization of a progressive left politics in the United States. Through an assessment of the ideologies underlying contemporary political culture, Jodi Dean takes the left to task for its capitulations to conservatives and its failure to take responsibility for the extensive neoliberalization implemented during the Clinton presidency. She argues that the left’s ability to develop and defend a collective vision of equality and solidarity has been undermined by the ascendance of “communicative capitalism,” a constellation of consumerism, the privileging of the self over group interests, and the embrace of the language of victimization. As Dean explains, communicative capitalism is enabled and exacerbated by the Web and other networked communications media, which reduce political energies to the registration of opinion and the transmission of feelings. The result is a psychotic politics where certainty displaces credibility and the circulation of intense feeling trumps the exchange of reason.
Dean’s critique ranges from her argument that the term democracy has become a meaningless cipher invoked by the left and right alike to an analysis of the fantasy of free trade underlying neoliberalism, and from an examination of new theories of sovereignty advanced by politicians and left academics to a look at the changing meanings of “evil” in the speeches of U.S. presidents since the mid-twentieth century. She emphasizes the futility of a politics enacted by individuals determined not to offend anyone, and she examines questions of truth, knowledge, and power in relation to 9/11 conspiracy theories. Dean insists that any reestablishment of a vital and purposeful left politics will require shedding the mantle of victimization, confronting the marriage of neoliberalism and democracy, and mobilizing different terms to represent political strategies and goals.
The Rudolphs' analysis reveals that Gandhi's charisma was deeply rooted in the aspects of Indian tradition that he interpreted for his time. They key to his political influence was his ability to realize in both his daily life and his public actions, cultural ideals that many Indians honored but could not enact themselves—ideals such as the traditional Hindu belief that a person's capacity for self-control enhances his capacity to control his environment. Appealing to shared expectations and recognitions, Gandhi was able to revitalize tradition while simultaneously breaking with some of its entrenched values, practices, and interests. One result was a self-critical, ethical, and inclusive nationalist movement that eventually led to independence.
Mr. Democrat tells the story of Jim Farley, Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign manager. As party boss, Farley experienced unprecedented success in the New Deal years. And like his modern counterpart Karl Rove, Farley enjoyed unparalleled access and power. Unlike Rove, however, Farley was instrumental in the creation of an overwhelming new majority in American politics, as the emergence of the New Deal transformed the political landscape of its time.
Mr. Democrat is timely and indispensable not just because Farley was a fascinating and unduly neglected figure, but also because an understanding of his career advances our knowledge of how and why he revolutionized the Democratic Party and American politics in the age of the New Deal.
Daniel Scroop is Lecturer in American History, University of Liverpool School of History.
“This is a fascinating book. It is one of the best studies of the ways that parties and politics get conducted in any American state. Masket shows that legislators can be perfectly content without parties that control agendas and does a terrific job of explaining the transition from free-wheeling legislators to rigidly partisan voting blocs.”
—Sam Popkin, University of California at San Diego
“No Middle Ground makes a significant contribution to the study of American parties and legislative politics.”
—Matthew Green, Catholic University of America
Despite concerns about the debilitating effects of partisanship on democratic government, in recent years political parties have gained strength in state governments as well as in Washington. In many cases these parties function as machines. Unlike machines of the past that manipulated votes, however, today’s machines determine which candidates can credibly compete in a primary.
Focusing on the history and politics of California, Seth E. Masket reveals how these machines evolved and how they stay in power by directing money, endorsements, and expertise to favored candidates, who often tend toward the ideological extreme. In a provocative conclusion, Masket argues that politicians are not inherently partisan. Instead, partisanship is thrust upon them by actors outside the government with the power to manipulate primary elections.
How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done. Regardless of what he’s complaining about or whom he’s attacking, a second question comes hard on the heels of the first: How on earth do we get out of this?
Alan Wolfe has an answer. In The Politics of Petulance he argues that the core of our problem isn’t Trump himself—it’s that we are mired in an age of political immaturity. That immaturity is not grounded in any one ideology, nor is it a function of age or education. It’s in an abdication of valuing the character of would-be leaders; it’s in a failure to acknowledge, even welcome the complexity of government and society; and it’s in a loss of the ability to be skeptical without being suspicious. In 2016, many Americans were offered tantalizingly simple answers to complicated problems, and, like children being offered a lunch of Pop Rocks and Coke, they reflexively—and mindlessly—accepted.
The good news, such as it is, is that we’ve been here before. Wolfe reminds us that we know how to grow up and face down Trump and other demagogues. Wolfe reinvigorates the tradition of public engagement exemplified by midcentury intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling—and he draws lessons from their battles with McCarthyism and conspiratorial paranoia. Wolfe mounts a powerful case that we can learn from them to forge a new path for political intervention today.
Wolfe has been thinking and writing about American life and politics for decades. He sees this moment as one of real risk. But he’s not throwing up his hands; he’s bracing us. We’ve faced demagogues before. We can find the intellectual maturity to fight back. Yes we can.
During the past four years, political activism has grown to a level that has not been seen in the United States since the Vietnam War. Tensions over the war in Iraq and the presidential election motivated hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the political fence to take to the streets. Politics the Wellstone Way offers a comprehensive set of strategies to help progressives channel that energy into winning issue-based and electoral campaigns.
Wellstone Action is a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing Paul and Sheila Wellstone’s fight for progressive change and economic justice by teaching effective political action skills to people across the country. Politics the Wellstone Way is a workshop in book form, providing the detailed framework needed to jump-start a new generation of activists plus plenty of helpful tools for old pros, including articulating a strong message, base building, field organizing, budgeting, fundraising, scheduling, getting out the vote, and grassroots advocacy and lobbying, illustrated by practical and inspirational examples.
From the school board all the way to the White House, Politics the Wellstone Way instructs people on becoming better organizers, candidates, campaign workers, and citizen activists, empowering them to make their voices heard.
Wellstone Action was established by the Wellstones’ two surviving sons, David and Mark. The main vehicle for this ongoing work is Camp Wellstone, a weekend training program that Wellstone Action leads regularly in locations across the country. Jeff Blodgett, Paul Wellstone’s longtime campaign manager, is the executive director of Wellstone Action. For more information visit www.wellstoneaction.org.
This wise and sensible guide to practicing democracy will be invaluable to members of community and neighborhood organizations, parent-teacher associations, local government, citizens groups, and other grass-roots organizations.
Reality and Its Dreams
Raymond Geuss Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress B65.G48 2016 | Dewey Decimal 320.01
One of political philosophy’s most trenchant and inventive critics challenges the field’s normative turn, arguing that the study of politics should focus on real politics, where normative judgments arise from concrete configurations of power. Raymond Geuss shows how this can be done without succumbing to a toxic relativism or abandoning utopianism.
Politicians and political parties are for the most part limited by habit—they recycle tried-and-true strategies, draw on models from the past, and mimic others in the present. But in rare moments politicians break with routine and try something new.
Drawing on pragmatist theories of social action, Revolutionizing Repertoires sets out to examine what happens when the repertoire of practices available to political actors is dramatically reconfigured. Taking as his case study the development of a distinctively Latin American style of populist mobilization, Robert S. Jansen analyzes the Peruvian presidential election of 1931. He finds that, ultimately, populist mobilization emerged in the country at this time because newly empowered outsiders recognized the limitations of routine political practice and understood how to modify, transpose, invent, and recombine practices in a whole new way. Suggesting striking parallels to the recent populist turn in global politics, Revolutionizing Repertoires offers new insights not only to historians of Peru but also to scholars of historical sociology and comparative politics, and to anyone interested in the social and political origins of populism.
“Imagination may be thought of as a ‘work-around.’ It is a resourceful tactic to ‘undo’ a rule by creating a path around it without necessarily defying it. . . . Transgression, on the other hand, is rule breaking. There is no pretense of reinterpretation; it is defiance pure and simple. Whether imagination or disobedience is the source, constraints need not constrain, ties need not bind.”
So writes Kenneth A. Shepsle in his introduction to Rule Breaking and Political Imagination. Institutions are thought to channel the choices of individual actors. But what about when they do not? Throughout history, leaders and politicians have used imagination and transgression to break with constraints upon their agency. Shepsle ranges from ancient Rome to the United States Senate, and from Lyndon B. Johnson to the British House of Commons. He also explores rule breaking in less formal contexts, such as vigilantism in the Old West and the CIA’s actions in the wake of 9/11. Entertaining and thought-provoking, Rule Breaking and Political Imagination will prompt a reassessment of the nature of institutions and remind us of the critical role of political mavericks.
Politics may be the art of compromise, but accepting a compromise can be hazardous to a politician’s health. Politicians worry about betraying faithful supporters, about losing the upper hand on an issue before the next election, that accepting half a loaf today can make it harder to get the whole loaf tomorrow. In his original interpretation of competition between parties and between Congress and the president, Gilmour explains the strategies available to politicians who prefer to disagree and uncovers the lost opportunities to pass important legislation that result from this disagreement.
Strategic Disagreement, theoretically solid and rich in evidence, will enlighten Washington observers frustrated by the politics of gridlock and will engage students interested in organizational theory, political parties, and divided government.
Participatory democracy calls for the creation and proliferation of practices and institutions that enable individuals and groups to better determine the conditions in which they act and relate to others. Michael Menser’s timely book We Decide! is arguably the most comprehensive treatment of participatory democracy. He explains the three waves of participatory democracy theory to show that this movement is attentive to the mechanics of contemporary political practices. Menser also outlines “maximal democracy,” his own view of participatory democracy that expands people’s abilities to shape their own lives, reduce inequality, and promote solidarity.
We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.
Polarization is at an all-time high in the United States. But contrary to popular belief, Americans are polarized not so much in their policy preferences as in their feelings toward their political opponents: To an unprecedented degree, Republicans and Democrats simply do not like one another. No surprise that these deeply held negative feelings are central to the recent (also unprecedented) plunge in congressional productivity. The past three Congresses have gotten less done than any since scholars began measuring congressional productivity.
In Why Washington Won’t Work, Marc J. Hetherington and Thomas J. Rudolph argue that a contemporary crisis of trust—people whose party is out of power have almost no trust in a government run by the other side—has deadlocked Congress. On most issues, party leaders can convince their own party to support their positions. In order to pass legislation, however, they must also create consensus by persuading some portion of the opposing party to trust in their vision for the future. Without trust, consensus fails to develop and compromise does not occur. Up until recently, such trust could still usually be found among the opposition, but not anymore. Political trust, the authors show, is far from a stable characteristic. It’s actually highly variable and contingent on a variety of factors, including whether one’s party is in control, which part of the government one is dealing with, and which policies or events are most salient at the moment.
Political trust increases, for example, when the public is concerned with foreign policy—as in times of war—and it decreases in periods of weak economic performance. Hetherington and Rudolph do offer some suggestions about steps politicians and the public might take to increase political trust. Ultimately, however, they conclude that it is unlikely levels of political trust will significantly increase unless foreign concerns come to dominate and the economy is consistently strong.
How do women strategically make their mark on state legislatures? Anna Mitchell Mahoney’s book traces the development of women’s state legislative caucuses and the influence both gender and party have on women’s ability to organize collectively. She provides a comprehensive analysis of how and why women organize around their gender identity in state legislatures—or why they do not.
Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures includes a quantitative analysis of institutional-level variables and caucus existence in all 50 states. Case studies of caucus attempts in New Jersey, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Iowa between 2006 and 2010 examine attempts at creating women’s caucuses that succeeded or failed, and why. Mahoney’s interviews with 180 state legislators and their staff explore the motivations of caucus creators and participants. Ultimately, she finds that women’s organizing is contextual; it demonstrates the dynamic nature of gender.
Mahoney also provides insights into broad questions regarding gendered institutions, collective action, and political party governance. Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures fills a lacuna in the evaluation of women in government.