Does American Democracy Still Work? (The Future of American Democracy Series)

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9780300108590: Does American Democracy Still Work? (The Future of American Democracy Series)
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The past few decades have brought a shift in the nature of American democracy an alarming shift that threatens such liberal democratic values as respect for pluralism, acceptance of the separation of powers, and recognition of the rights of opposition parties. In this insightful book, political scientist Alan Wolfe identifies the current political conditions that endanger the quality of our democracy. He describes how politics has changed, and he calls for a democracy protection movement designed to preserve our political traditions not unlike the environmental protection movement’s efforts to safeguard the natural world.

Voters who know little about issues, leaders who bend rules with little fear of reprisal, and political parties that are losing the ability to mobilize citizens have all contributed to a worrisome new politics of democracy, Wolfe argues. He offers a brilliant analysis of how religion and morality have replaced political and economic self-interest as guiding principles, and how a dangerous populism promotes a radical form of elitism. Without laying blame on one party or ideology and without claiming that matters will improve with one party or the other in office, Wolfe instead suggests that Americans need to understand the danger their own indifference poses and take political matters more seriously.

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From the Author:

A conversation with Alan Wolfe
Q:  In the past you argued that there is no culture war in America’s heartland, and that polarization and ideological warfare are largely "inside-the-beltway" phenomena. In this new book, you explain how "inside-the-beltway" politics are now becoming dangerous to our public life. What factors have contributed to this disturbing transformation?
A:  Americans think seriously about moral issues, tend to be moderate in their political views, and dislike sharp-edged political conflict. Yet their political system simplifies morality, exacerbates extremism, and relies on negative attacks. Americans are paying a serious price for a lack of attention to politics, a refusal to hold politicians accountable for what they do, and a widespread distrust of politicians that paradoxically encourages politicians to become ever more cynical.
Q:  Is one party or the other responsible for the poor condition of democratic life in America?
A:  No. Culture war polarization, issue simplification, partisan redistricting all of these have bipartisan roots. Yet in recent years Republicans and conservatives have proven far more competent at using some of the less attractive features of American politics than Democrats and liberals. Liberal democracy has been seriously threatened by the administration of George W. Bush, but Mr. Bush is building upon procedures and processes that have been in existence for some time.

Q:  What can be done?
A:  I suggest that we need a democracy protection movement along the lines of the environmental protection movement. Like clean air and healthy forests, liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted. Americans need to improve their political literacy as well as their cultural literacy. Politicians should challenge, rather than flatter, conventional wisdom. Matters will not improve much if we just replace Republicans with Democrats. We need instead to drive the culture warriors out of business so that we can draw on the common energy of all rather than the partisan energies of the few.

About the Author:

Alan Wolfe is professor of political science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College.

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