The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

By Richard M. Pious | Go to book overview

Direct Participation in Politics

JAMES W. CEASER

Minor events often signal major changes. In late 1980 the Democratic party caucus in the House met in closed session, reversing its recently adopted practice of holding open meetings. Asked why this break with the spirit of the last decade's reforms had taken place, House Majority Leader Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., replied that "the reform pendulum swings back." In the same week, the Democratic party's national chairman, John White, proposed a revision in the party's rules that would give Democratic governors and members of Congress automatic seats as delegates at the national convention. Pressed to explain the apparent contradiction between this proposal and the democratic trends of recent party reforms, White would only concede that the time for certain "corrections" was at hand. 1 Even more revealing, however, than what was done or said on either of these occasions was the reaction — or the lack of reaction — that followed. Although some of the most cherished reform principles of the last decade were being openly questioned, there was no ground swell of indignation. If a tone could be discerned in the brief press accounts that described these events, it was one of bemused irony that precepts recently treated with reverence were now being dismissed.

By the beginning of 1981, the general climate of American politics had changed; the "reform" era had come to an end. Its governing precepts, if not discredited, no longer held sway as unassailable doctrine. A period of questioning the legacies of the reform era has since commenced, much as a similar period of reaction and eventual retrenchment had followed the reforms of the Progressive Era.

Movements as broad as reform defy simple characterization. During periods when such movements are dominant, various political forces often attempt to identify with them and march under their banner. Only in retrospect is it possible to sort out all the currents and crosscurrents that make up the flow of an entire movement. Yet in spite of this complexity, these movements usually begin with a single impulse that provides the theme around which people organize and justify their activities before the general public. Viewed in this light, the

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1
Washington Post, Dec. 9, 1980, Dec. 10, 1980.

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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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