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Thinking About Political Reform

How to Fix, or Not Fix, American Government and Politics

John R. Johannes

Publication Date - 03 August 2015

ISBN: 9780199937998

328 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

This book has one goal: to stimulate thinking about how to make American government and politics function better


Thinking About Political Reform: How to Fix, or Not Fix, American Government and Politics offers the most comprehensive and highly accessible analysis of reform proposals available. It treats both the causes and consequences of structural, procedural, and behavioral problems, assessing a wide variety of reform proposals from the perspectives of political science, economics, law, journalism, and politics.

Author John R. Johannes places reform proposals in the context of seven key standards for sound democratic government. He applies those standards and an up-to-date review of the scholarly literature and current events to the reform agenda, suggesting several approaches to evaluate, for example, the tensions between Congress and the presidency, election systems, or political parties. Johannes reminds students that reforms in one area are bound to have consequences in others, thereby advocating a system-wide approach to reform and a wariness of ad hoc reforms prompted by political events.

About the Author(s)

John R. Johannes is Professor of Political Science at Villanova University. He is the author of To Serve the People: Congress and Constituency Service and Policy Innovation in Congress and coeditor of Money, Elections, and Democracy: Reforming Congressional Campaign Finance.


"There is nothing else out there on the market today that attempts to tackle the subject of reform in American politics in such a comprehensive and sweeping way."--John P. Forren, Miami University

"This book's competitive advantage is that it is more complete in its coverage of reform ideas across traditional course topics. It includes chapters appropriate for all three parts of the American government course: foundations, politics, and institutions. There are no gaps."--Rodd Freitag, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

"If you want to read a text that makes a pretty grand attempt at uncovering and explaining a huge array of political and electoral reforms and challenges established conventions, you should read this one."--Rick D. Henderson, Texas State University

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1. A Framework for Reform
    1.1 Reforms: What and Why?
    1.2 Guiding Principles
    1.3 Goals, Values, and Criteria for Evaluating Institutions
    1.4 The Need for Limits and Controls: Safety
    1.5 Goals, Values, and Criteria for Evaluating Popular Sovereignty
    1.6 Complications
    1.7 How to Think About Reform
    Chapter 2. Radical Reform
    2.1 Parliamentary Government in Washington: With or Without a King?
    2.2 A Flag Without Fifty Stars? Unitary Government Rather than Federalism
    2.3 Implications
    Chapter 3. The People's Role
    3.1 The Problem: Low Turnout and Participation
    3.2 Enhancing Participation: Problems and Reforms
    3.3 Securing the Vote
    3.4 Conclusion
    Chapter 4. Election Processes and Systems
    4.1 Basic Electoral Rules
    4.2 Reforming Electoral Rules
    4.3 Direct Democracy
    4.4 Alternatives
    4.5 Conclusion
    Chapter 5. Political Parties
    5.1 What Parties Can Do
    5.2 What Kind of Parties?
    5.3 Reforms
    5.4 Alternatives and Prospects
    5.5 Conclusion
    Chapter 6. Choosing the Candidates: Nominations
    6.1 Caucuses and Conventions: Congress
    6.2 Primary Elections
    6.3 Which Are Better: Conventions or Primaries?
    6.4 Presidential Nominations
    6.5 Reforms
    6.6 Conclusion
    Chapter 7. Campaigns and Campaign Finance
    7.1 The Problem: Campaign Messages
    7.2 Debates
    7.3 The Media Sometimes is the Message
    7.4 Competition
    7.5 Let's Buy an Election: Campaign Finance
    7.6 Reforms
    7.7 Conclusion and Prospects
    Chapter 8. How to Think about the Policy Makers
    8.1 A Framework for Analyzing Reforms
    Chapter 9. Congress
    9.1 What's Wrong with Congress?
    9.2 Blame the Members
    9.3 Structures Cause Problems
    9.4 Committees and Subcommittees Bring Complexity
    9.5 The Parties
    9.6 Procedures: How Does Anything Get Done?
    9.7 Fixing the Problems: Reforming Congress
    9.8 Are Reforms Possible?
    Chapter 10. The Presidency
    10.1 The Matter of Power
    10.2 Accountability: Hiring and Firing Presidents
    10.3 The Electoral College
    10.4 The Two Term Limit
    10.5 Effectiveness in Governing the Executive Branch
    Chapter 11. President, Congress, and the Policy Process
    11.1 Problems of Shared Policymaking Call for Reforms
    11.2 Improving Fiscal Policy and the Budget Process
    11.3 Reforming National Security Policymaking
    11.4 Solving Governmental Deadlock
    Chapter 12. Unelected Policymakers
    12.1 The Judiciary: Protector of or Threat to American Democracy?
    12.2 The Executive Bureaucracy
    Chapter 13. Conclusion: Thinking About Reform
    13.1 The Lessons of Reform: What is Involved?
    13.2 Is Reform Possible?
    13.3 Conclusion