Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: How Congressmen Decide

Title: How Congressmen Decide
Author: Aage R. Clausen
Date: 1973
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: none; Amazon page here
Length: 239 pages with index
Quote: “[T]he news media are giving headline attention to a confrontation between the Presidency and Congress. That confrontation is dramatically referred to as a ‘constitutional crisis.’”
Clausen went on to assert that the congressional investigation of Watergate was “little more than an unusually interesting page in the annals of congressional-executive conflict, rather exciting new political phenomenon.” With this perspective,he analyzed the ways policy questions had been decided in the years preceding Watergate. The “five major policy dimensions” in the 1960s were “Civil Liberties, International Involvement, Agricultural Assistance, Social Welfare, [and] Government Management.”
Clausen’s language is scholarly and evasive rather than writerly and incisive, but high school and college readers should be able to understand this book well enough to get a good term paper out of it. Simply compare the behavior of Congress since 1973 with the behavior Clausen had observed by 1973, then discuss the extent to which Clausen had correctly predicted, as he believed he had, how Congress would continue to behave. Some changes in the pattern will have become obvious; some elements in the pattern haven’t changed much.
Reading this book for personal benefit, other than writing term papers, should be admissible as evidence to support the claim that the reader is a Real Washingtonian. Anybody can memorize all the stops on the Red Line but if you read this book on the Metro you’ve made the big emotional commitment: the Beltway encircles your home, and you may identify yourself publicly as a wonk.

Though Clausen died in 2011, copies of How Congressmen Decide are still selling on Amazon for prices fast approaching the collector range. If you buy a copy here, as of today, the price is still $5 for the book + $5 for shipping. Next week, who knows. And it's not even eligible to be sold as a Fair Trade Book. The only way I can recommend in good conscience that you buy this book from salolianigodagewi @ is to buy a Fair Trade Book and add How Congressmen Decide to the package. But I'd be delighted if you did buy this one; it was among the one percent of the books, in what had been a substantial private library, that my husband chose to keep to the end of his life.