Cover image for Democracy in the mirror : politics, reform, and reality in grassroots America
Democracy in the mirror : politics, reform, and reality in grassroots America
Ehrenhalt, Alan, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Congressional Quarterly, [1998]

Physical Description:
ix, 197 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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JS323 .E37 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this collection of over fifty thought-provoking essays reprinted from Governing magazine, Alan Ehrenhalt examines the complications of government and politics in states and localities across America. Touching on topics both current and diverse, Ehrenhalt shows that we not only have the government we deserve, but that that government is us: a mirror of ourselves, with all the requisite strengths and weaknesses.

Grouped into sections and woven together with an overall Introduction and short section introductions, the essays touch on topics such as leadership and legitimate authority in politics, the movement to devolve government power down to the state and local level, and the obsession with rooting out corruption. In one section, the author dissects the fallacies of the "reinventing government" movement and explains why it has not produced the results once promised. In another, he writes about the painful efforts to define and recreate "community" in localities all over America, after thefragmentation of social and political lives over the past generation.

An insightful observer and writer on state and local matters, Alan Ehrenhalt is Executive Editor of Governing, a monthly magazine on state and local government and politics. The author of The United States of Ambition and The Lost City, he has worked for the Associated Press, the Washington Star, and Congressional Quarterly.

Author Notes

Alan Ehren half is executive editor of Governing, a monthly magazine on state and local government and politics.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 The Government We Deservep. 5
Will Term Limits Do Anything about Microwave Government?p. 6
Redistricting and the Erosion of Communityp. 9
If Term Limits Are the Answer, What's the Question?p. 12
Let the People Decide between Spinach and Broccolip. 16
The Court That Forgot about Politicsp. 19
American Politics: The Last Refuge of Poor Qualityp. 22
2 Leaders and Followersp. 27
The Virtue of Modest Accomplishmentsp. 28
The Remarkable Resilience of "Politics as Usual"p. 31
The Debilitating Search for a Flabby Consensusp. 34
The Need for a Few Good Hacksp. 38
3 Who Speaks for the City?p. 43
The Modern Urban Dilemma: Who Speaks for the City?p. 44
I'll Match Your Nine Lobbyists and Raise You Twelvep. 47
The Underclass and the Suburban Solutionp. 50
The Bitter Costs of Municipal Sibling Rivalryp. 54
The Unraveling of a Local Governmentp. 57
Are Developers Still Invincible in Local Politics?p. 60
The Consequences of Public Compassionp. 64
4 The Search for Communityp. 69
Up Against the Wal-Martp. 70
Looking for the Latte Lifep. 73
Village Signs and Veto Powerp. 76
Fast Horses and Strong Neighborhoodsp. 80
Neotraditionalism and the Corner Storep. 83
The Dilemma of the New Urbanistsp. 87
5 Reinvention and Realityp. 91
The Urge to Measure Everything That Movesp. 92
Can We Repeal the First Law of Civic Griping?p. 95
To Innovate, You Have to Know How to Multiplyp. 98
Performance Budgeting, Thy Name Is . . .p. 102
In Search of a World-Class Mission Statementp. 105
6 Devolution Feverp. 109
The Locust in the Garden of Governmentp. 110
Mandating from Above: The Irresistible Impulsep. 113
Out in the States, It's not the 1930s Anymorep. 116
The Devil in Devolutionp. 119
The Increasing Irrelevance of Congressp. 123
7 The Semi-Reformed Legislaturep. 127
The Political Virtue of Partisan Deadlockp. 128
Twilight of the Bubba Erap. 131
The Ethical Conflicts That Won't Go Awayp. 134
Legislatures and the Salary-Mismatch Syndromep. 137
8 The Corruption Obsessionp. 143
The Big Numbers That Government Can't Bring Downp. 144
The Costly Medicine of Corruption Fightingp. 147
The Utter Uselessness of 1990s-Style Corruptionp. 150
The Unaccountable Institutionp. 154
Is the Age of Entrapment Coming to an End?p. 157
9 The Follies of Liberalismp. 161
Newspaper Crusades and Dangerous Illusionsp. 162
The Temptation to Hand Out Irrelevant Entitlementsp. 165
The Radical Idea of Neighborhood Schoolsp. 168
Lucky Winners in the Housing Sweepstakesp. 172
The Intellectual Regalia of Thirty Years Agop. 175
10 The Mysteries of Economicsp. 179
The Most Misleading Question in Government: "How Much Does It Cost?"p. 180
Will Moral Responsibility Keep the Local Factory Open?p. 183
When Politicians Get That Free-Market Religionp. 186
The Dangers of Making Sin Scarcep. 190
Why We're So Hooked on Credentialismp. 193
Books Cited in the Textp. 197