11/14/2014 10:42 AM
BATON ROUGE – In 1964, as the polarizing Civil Rights Act made its way through the
House and Senate, and Congress navigated one of the most tumultuous eras in American
history, a Harris Poll put the institution’s approval rating at 60 percent. Why then,
50 years later, has the public’s approval of Congress eroded to an all-time low of
10 percent? “Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens,” published by LSU Press this month, seeks to isolate the reasons for Congress’s
staggering decline in public opinion, and to propose remedies to reverse the grave
dysfunction in America’s most important political institution.
Aided by the input of retired members of Congress from both major parties, editor
Robert Mann, Manship Chair in Journalism at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication,
and his fellow contributors identify paralyzing partisan rancor as perhaps the most
significant reason for the American public’s declining support of its main representative
body. The lack of mutual trust within Congress reflects (and creates) the suspicion
and animosity of the great majority of Americans. Working Congress argues that members
of Congress must find a path to cooperation if they are to function as the representative
institution the Founders intended.
Trenchant chapters by Mickey Edwards, Ross K. Baker, Frances E. Lee, Brian L. Fife,
Susan Herbst, and Mark Kennedy analyze the problems and challenges facing Congress
and suggest solutions to counteract partisan gridlock. Though these scholars and former
members share a conviction that men and women of good will can and should work together,
they do not assume that their solutions will herald a bipartisan utopia. Instead,
they recognize that Congress is, and will always be, a work in progress.
Mann is the author of “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American
Politics”; "When Freedom Would Triumph: The Civil Rights Struggle in Congress, 1954–1968”;
and many other books. He is also a political columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2014