The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

By Richard M. Pious | Go to book overview

Prospects for Reform

RICHARD M. PIOUS

Americans have a basic political instinct to transform their institutions and processes of government. While operating for almost two hundred years under one constitution, the United States has had five party systems, at least three fundamental changes in its federal system, and several cycles of legislative to executive supremacy, while the suffrage, nominating, and electoral systems have evolved from elite to mass politics.

Americans have no choice but to be reformers. They are part engineers with blueprints and designs for good government, but they are also practical tinkerers with the machinery, not averse to giving it a good swift kick when necessary to set things right.

To conquer and tame a continent, to channel the energies of waves of immigrants into productive enterprise, Americans have relied on a federal system for territorial organization and a system of separated powers and checks and balances to contain the ambitions of ruling elites. Broad currents of discontent have been successfully managed by one or both of the major parties in ways that moderate extremist positions and provide for practical accommodations. Reform measures too insignificant to be dealt with through the electoral system have been promoted by public and private interest groups or entrepreneurs: a mix of careerist ambitions, profit motives, and the public interest has provided a heady, if not always healthy, brew.

Reforms often have unanticipated consequences. They may be taken to excess. The cure for the ills of democracy may not always be more democracy. The paradox of reform is that the direct method of relating means to ends may be less preferable than an indirect method. Sometimes machine politics will produce a more representative ticket than an open primary. Balance of power advocates may keep the peace better than those whose policies rely on international legalisms. A small White House staff may provide a president with greater control over the bureaucracy than a large apparatus with councils and counsels ad infinitum.

Reformers must work in the context of the American political culture, and as a result, their reforms work best when structured to conform to certain

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The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • Contributors *
  • Prospects for Reform *
  • The Evolving Federal System *
  • The Intergovernmental System *
  • Reassessing the "Imperial Presidency" *
  • Congressional Power *
  • Developing Fiscal Responsibility *
  • Legislative Delegation to Regulatory Agencies *
  • The Changing Federal Courts *
  • Women in Politics *
  • Direct Participation in Politics *
  • The Presidency in the Age of Television *
  • The Impact of Government Employee Unions *
  • New Elites and Pluralism *
  • Formulating Foreign Policy *
  • The Revolution in Communications and Diplomacy *
  • Defining the National Interest *
  • The Impact of Population Shifts *
  • Cities of the Future *
  • The Politics of Scarcity *
  • The Power to Govern *
  • Index *
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