Deadlock or Decision: The U.S. Senate and the Rise of National Politics

Synopsis

No one understands the U.S. Senate better than Fred Harris. A professor of political science, author of a number of books on government, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a former United States Senator from Oklahoma, he has both experienced and studied the political process for forty years. Now he distills his understanding into a lively, informative account of the present Senate and its problems. In Deadlock or Decision, Harris provides a far-reaching look at the Senate's history, traditions, and operation as he explains the emergence of today's frequent deadlocks. He traces the growth and change of the chamber from its earliest days (when the first senators made a point of looking down on the House of Representatives) through the days of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, to the height of its prestige as the "citadel of democracy" in the 1950s (under the firm leadership of Lyndon Johnson). Harris shows how the efficiency of the senate in Johnson's era was tied to its inward-looking, undemocratic practices: the body had firm traditions, and an emphasis on seniority, that concentrated power and aided decisive action. Today, he writes, power has become fragmented, with greater partisanship, less cooperation, and more individuality as the specialization norm has eroded and senatorial staff has expanded dramatically. Harris links these trends to the "advocacy explosion" in American politics, with the multiplication of lobbying organizations (which now dish out huge campaign contributions). American society and politics in general, he argues, has become less regional and more nationally unified; senate campaigns have become events of national significance, and senators are now expected to be national advocates for issues that affect the entire country. As a result, senators are now much more vulnerable to outside pressure. The irony of today's Senate, Harris writes, is that as the body has become more responsive, it has become less responsible--and more prone to inaction as it has become more democratic in its own procedures. Harris lays out an agenda for change that includes campaign finance reform, changes in senate rules, and a reshaped budget process to restore efficiency while preserving the trend toward responsiveness and democracy in the senate. With clear, compelling logic and fascinating details, Deadlock or Decision gives us a fresh understanding of what is wrong in Washington, and what can be done to make it right again.

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1993