Saturday, February 14, 2009

Naked Public Square or The Broken Branch

Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America

Author: Richard John Neuhaus

Underlying the many crises in American life, writes Richard John Neuhaus, is a crisis of faith. It is not enough that more people should believe or that those who believe should believe more strongly. Rather, the faith of persons and communities must be more compellingly related to the public arena. "The naked public square"—which results from the exclusion of popular values from the public forum—will almost certainly result in the death of democracy.

The great challenge, says Neuhaus, is the reconstruction of a public philosophy that can undergird American life and America's ambiguous place in the world. To be truly democratic and to endure, such a public philosophy must be grounded in values that are based on Judeo-Christian religion. The remedy begins with recognizing that democratic theory and practice, which have in the past often been indifferent or hostile to religion, must now be legitimated in terms compatible with biblical faith.

Neuhaus explores the strengths and weaknesses of various sectors of American religion in pursuing this task of critical legitimation. Arguing that America is now engaged in an historic moment of testing, he draws upon Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers who have in other moments of testing seen that the stakes are very high—for America, for the promise of democratic freedom elsewhere, and possibly for God's purpose in the world.

An honest analysis of the situation, says Neuhaus, shatters false polarizations between left and right, liberal and conservative. In a democratic culture, the believer's respect for nonbelievers is not a compromise but a requirement of the believer's faith. Similarly, the democratic rights of those outside the communities of religious faith can be assured only by the inclusion of religiously-grounded values in the common life.

The Naked Public Square does not offer yet another partisan program for political of social change. Rather, it offers a deeply disturbing, but finally hopeful, examination of Abraham Lincoln's century-old question—whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

Wall Street Journal

Richard John Neuhaus addresses the relationship of religion and democracy with a steadiness and vitality rare in such discussions....The Naked Public Square challenges us to consider afresh the relationship of religion and public life. This book is elegant in execution and sweeping in scope.


For those interested in the role of religion in American life, this book is a must.

New York Times Book Review

"A substantial book. It should be read by anyone concerned with the current debates over the emergence of the "new Christian right.""


This is a large-minded book, and its sophistication and intelligence advance our understanding of the religion/politics issue far beyond the confusions and incomprehensions that dominate most discussions of the subject.

Theology Today

Whether readers support or oppose his major contentions, Neuhaus has skillfully produced a lively forum for our moral discourse regarding church-state relations and democratic values.

George F. Will

The book from which further debate about church-state relations should begin.

Books about: Managing Business Relationships 2nd Edition or Economics of the Law

The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track

Author: Thomas E Mann

Congress is the first branch of government in the American system, write Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, but now it is a broken branch, damaged by partisan bickering and internal rancor. The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a much-needed blueprint for change, from two experts who understand politics and revere our institutions, but believe that Congress has become deeply dysfunctional.
Mann and Ornstein, two of the nations most renowned and judicious scholars of government and politics, bring to light the historical roots of Congress's current maladies, examining 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House and the stunning midterm election victory of 1994 that propelled Republicans into the majority in both House and Senate. The byproduct of that long and grueling but ultimately successful Republican campaign, the authors reveal, was a weakened institution bitterly divided between the parties. They highlight the dramatic shift in Congress from a highly decentralized, committee-based institution into a much more regimented one in which party increasingly trumps committee. The resultant changes in the policy process--the demise of regular order, the decline of deliberation, and the weakening of our system of checks and balances--have all compromised the role of Congress in the American Constitutional system. Indeed, Speaker Dennis Hastert has unabashedly stated that his primary responsibility is to pass the president's legislative program--identifying himself more as a lieutenant of the president than a steward of the house. From tax cuts to the war against Saddam Hussein to a Medicare prescriptiondrug benefit, the legislative process has been bent to serve immediate presidential interests and have often resulted in poorly crafted and stealthily passed laws. Strong majority leadership in Congress, the authors conclude, led not to a vigorous exertion of congressional authority but to a general passivity in the face of executive power.
A vivid portrait of an institution that has fallen far from the aspirations of our Founding Fathers, The Broken Branch highlights the costs of a malfunctioning Congress to national policymaking, and outlines what must be done to repair the damage.

The Washington Post - Robert G. Kaiser

… it is easy to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Congress, how it works and how it should work. [Dennis] Hastert would be particularly well-served by spending a few hours with The Broken Branch.

Publishers Weekly

Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that the present Congress is essentially an arm of the Bush administration, according to Mann and Ornstein, nationally renowned congressional scholars from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, respectively. Their book argues persuasively that relentless partisanship and a disregard for institutional procedures have led Congress to be more dysfunctional than at any time in recent memory. Looking back to the arbitrary and sometimes authoritarian leadership of Democratic speaker Jim Wright and the Abscam scandals of the 1980s, the authors demonstrate how they presage the much worse abuses of power committed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. In outlining more than 200 years of congressional history, Mann and Ornstein sometimes allow just a sentence or two to explain the policies and philosophies of an important politician or even an entire party, even as they catalogue deviations from obscure points of procedure in extensive detail. Their book may be useful and enjoyable to the specialist, though recent conservative pushback on issues from the Harriet Miers nomination to warrantless wiretapping and immigration will make some wish the authors had had the opportunity to add a postscript. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

The United States Congress has ceased to be a deliberative body, according to two eminent political scientists with some ideas about how to fix it. Mann (Brookings Institution) and Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute), both of whom arrived on Capitol Hill in 1969 with fellowships to study Congress, and have been doing so ever since, here review the evolution of Congress from the republic's founding to early 2006. Bipartisanship was already waning in the final years of the era of Democratic dominance, they argue. The Republican leadership, which was trying to be provocative in order to "nationalize" Congressional races, was often denied a role in drafting important legislation, while the Democrats used the rules to pass bills with little discussion. The authors note that Speaker Newt Gingrich's initiatives after the Republican landslide of 1994 were in the spirit of earlier reforms, de-emphasizing seniority and seeking to foster bipartisanship-but this attempt was abandoned. When George W. Bush won the presidency, House majority leaders saw themselves as mere agents of presidential policy. Party-line votes on important matters have since become the norm. Members of Congress now seem to feel they are in Washington to vote rather than to adequately discuss policy. Key pieces of legislation are badly written because amendments are not allowed. When they can, many Congressmen stay in Washington only three days a week, resulting in a decline in the quantity and quality of their work. Members of Congress have little interest in overseeing the executive branch or in how Congress functions; the latter neglect has occasioned a host of ethics scandals, which the authors discuss in detail. Theyalso suggest independent oversight of lobbyists and five-day congressional workweeks, while recognizing that polarization in Congress reflects polarization in the country as a whole. Most of the criticism here goes to Republicans-largely because they are in power-but the wealth of detail offered by Mann and Ornstein gives partisanship a good name.

Table of Contents:
Ch. 1Introduction1
Ch. 2The first branch of government : theory and practice14
Ch. 3The seeds of the contemporary problem, 1969-199447
Ch. 4A decade of Republican control96
Ch. 5Institutional decline141
Ch. 6The case of continuity192
Ch. 7Conclusion211

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