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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House

My PhD class again made me read a 200-page scientific book in a day and I know this sounds kind of sadomasochistic but I enjoyed it. Somehow this intense pressure of doing things, leaves one satisfied. David W. Rohde in this book - Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House - talks about ... well, read the title. Basically, Democrats - who were the majority party in the House for about 50 years before 1994 - changed the rules in the House during the early 70s, resulting in a more parliamentarian system not based on consensus building but majority dominance. Rohde argues that this was due to - or possible in the first place because - increases in homogeneity in the Democratic caucus - which in turn was brought about through racial legislation during the 60s, which eliminated Dixiecrats to some extent - and the willingness by leaders to take advantage of these new measures. The result of all this was an increase in polarization (party-unity voting, distinctiveness...).

All in all a highly interesting book, even if some of his chapters are a little on the long side and become too detailed. Yet it gives an interesting recount of the committee governance of the House which was implemented in 1910 to counter the Speaker's dominant position of power. Then with Southern Democrats blocking liberal legislation due to their dominance of committee chairmanships which they obtained through seniority due mainly to a less than democratic South, the Democrats decided to abolish the power of these committees and instead empower the Speaker (as an expression of the whole caucus this time though) and the subcommittees.

Again, highly interesting, if you care about institutional politics and have some time to spare, read it.

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