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Download It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, by Norman J. Ornstein, Thomas E. Mann Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (683 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Norman J. Ornstein, Thomas E. Mann Narrator: William Hughe Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked, and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress—and the United States—to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, together with a governance system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost.

With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture, and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no silver bullet that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein diagnose the roots of our nation’s new legislative order. In doing so, they draw attention to the forces holding back America’s future and the changes we must make in order to overcome them.”

    Bill Clinton

  • “[Mann and Ornstein] are considered straight shooters. So their key argument is striking…Things may not only be worse than they look; the worst may be yet to come.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “It is encouraging to see two longtime Washington wise men—Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, sensible, nonpartisan scholars and impeccably credentialed authors of good advice that no one ever follows—come out with a full-blown polemic against the Republicans who have steered Congress off a cliff.”

    New York Times

  • “Reading this book is a little like quaffing a double espresso on an empty stomach—it’s a jolt. For this reader it was a welcome jolt…Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have been Washington fixtures for three decades. They are two of the brightest, best informed, and most scholarly students of our politics…[As] Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: our situation really is even worse than it looks.”

    Washington Post

  • “The phrase ‘essential reading’ does not begin to get at the importance of this passionate warning by two of our very best political scientists about our nation’s capacity to govern itself. Mann and Ornstein sweep aside the timid conventional wisdom to inform Americans that our problems are even worse than we think they are. It is absolutely vital that this book’s findings and message enter the consciousness and consciences of journalists, politicians, and citizens who care about the future of our republic.”

    E. J. Dionne, National Book Award nominee

  • “What happens to a two-party political system when one party goes mad? That is the question posed in a powerful and angry new book by two scholars at two respected think tanks.”


  • “This is an exceptionally important and cogent analysis of America’s breakdown in self-governance. It is an urgent warning of the consequences of our intolerant politics and governing paralysis and ways to fix it.”

    Chuck Hagel, former US senator and distinguished professor, Georgetown University

  • “One doesn’t have to agree with every one of Mann and Ornstein’s proposals to appreciate the extraordinary contribution to improving governance that they make in this important book. We could do no better than to use it as a compelling blueprint for urgently needed reform. If every member of Congress would read just one book on the subject, my wish is that it would be this one.”

    Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader

  • “More than any time in my lifetime, the United States is challenged at home and so is our place in the world. When Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein get together to sound a loud alarm about the way our political system is being torn apart, it’s time to listen—and listen hard. Then the tough part—how do we restore some sense of common purpose, of working together to make our government work? Mann and Ornstein set out ways to rebuild political bridges, beginning right now. We’d better get to work.”

    Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

  • “Two respected centrist scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, have written a book that moves past the bland and lazy conventional wisdom. They argue, with a truckload of evidence, that the blame in Washington lies overwhelmingly with Republicans…Both fascinating and alarming.”

    New Jersey Star Ledger

  • “[A] compelling analysis of the gridlock that characterizes America’s domestic politics.”

    The Mitchell Report

  • “Fillets the traditional media for perpetuating a principle of false equivalence in its coverage of the two parties, the effect of which, they say, has merely masked the GOP’s unalloyed march toward the fringes of the right wing…Insightful.”


  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A Washington Post Bestseller
  • A 2012 Washington Post Best Book for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Sandra Spector | 2/16/2014

    " This is a wonderful look at how we got where we are today; the authors don't just analyze the situation, but they offer recommendations to fix the current stalemate in government. A must read for anyone interested in politics. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Mary | 1/29/2014

    " Such a good, eye opening read!! I was so angry with politics, I kept setting it down - only to return and be more shocked. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lncropper | 1/27/2014

    " I think this book pretty much has it right about what is wrong with our current political system. It made me furious, but I'm glad to at least understand a little bit where the inability of Congress to work together came from. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Cheryl | 1/11/2014

    " The title of this book is only too descriptive of its contents. If you want to get enlightened, reminded, and/or angry about the effect the Republican party has had on the road to present-day governmental dysfunction, then this is the book for you. If you're looking for solutions to the crisis, stay away. The authors debunk most of the commonly touted recourses citizens can take (such as "throw the bums out"). The alternatives they offer are nearly all discredited with "this has almost no chance of working". I was fascinated at first, because the writing is concise and understandable even to a non-political scientist. However, the more I read, I realized the authors were pinpointing blame and doing so too late to do anything about it. "

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