Sunday, September 24, 2006
The following editorial appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Wednesday, Sept. 13:
Two leading political scientists, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, came to the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs on Monday to decry the dysfunction that has infected the nation's first branch of government, Congress.
We know of no more patriotic way for these two scholars to have observed the fifth anniversary of 9/11. The danger in the trends they described may not be as dramatic as a terrorist attack. But it is as threatening in the long run to Americans' ability to govern themselves well as would be a plot hatched in an al-Qaeda cave.
Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Mann, of the Brookings Institution, are worth heeding on the subject. Each has spent more than three decades in relationship with Congress, becoming an expert in its history and function. Neither is a partisan nor an alarmist.
So it's significant for these two to say, as they do in their book, "The Broken Branch," that in the last six years, the exertion of partisan power in Congress has become extreme. As a result, they wrote, Congress has "lost the transparency, accountability and deliberation that are at the core of the American system." They point with disapproval at the erosion of congressional oversight of the executive branch, the exclusion of minority-party members from meaningful participation in lawmaking, the ethically dubious interplay between politicians and lobbyists bearing campaign cash.
Those aren't just Washington intramurals. Ornstein and Mann argue that these political games have contributed to a bloody quagmire in Iraq, chaos and destruction in New Orleans, a soaring federal deficit and a spate of unaddressed concerns about Americans' health care, education and retirement security.
Mann and Ornstein offered more description that prescription on Monday. But they voiced their faith that democracy's ills are best cured by more democracy _ that is, more attention, critical thinking and careful voting by more of American citizens. It's a faith we share.
(c) 2006, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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