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Fight Club Politics

How Partisanship is Poisoning the U.S. House of Representatives

Juliet Eilperin

The House of Representatives—the "people's House"—is supposed to be the body of government closest to ordinary citizens, reflecting their needs and desires. But it has drifted from its roots in recent years, as lawmakers have become deaf to voters and fixated on maintaining their power inside the Beltway.

Just over a decade ago Republicans wrested control of the chamber from Democrats, who had ruled uninterrupted for four decades. They promised to make the House more open and responsive to voters, and these GOP revolutionaries instituted several reforms that did make the House less corrupt. But over time they have lost this heady spirit of reform, as they've punished members who buck the party line and relegated Democrats to the legislative sidelines.

Even as Republicans were revamping the House in Washington, party operatives across the country were changing it by redrawing the political maps that decide who gets elected to Congress and who doesn't. Redistricting - the traditional decennial rite in which the country divvies up citizens into voting blocs and maps out new congressional seats in all 50 states - is an inside game that gets little attention outside academia and a tight circle of political pundits. But it is key in understanding why men and women on the far right and far left now control the levers of power in Washington.

House members now hail from overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican districts, which means that they spend most of their time catering to their party's base. And once they win their first race they are virtually assured of reelection for as long as they wish, giving them little incentive to focus on what their constituents want, or need.

We are now facing a national divide, in which lawmakers are less accountable to the public and more beholden to party leaders. Fight Club Politics will show how our current political system has silenced the average American voter, and how ordinary citizens can reclaim the institution that claims to represent them.

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers / Hoover Inst Press Post Copub
Pages: 192Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7425-5118-3 • Hardback • March 2006 • $24.95 • (£15.95)
978-0-7425-5119-0 • Paperback • March 2007 • $19.95 • (£13.95)
Juliet Eilperin has been a Washington Post reporter since 1998. She was a contributor to Deadlock: The Inside Story of America's Closest Election (2001) about the 2000 presidential election. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she was born and raised.
Chapter 1 Introduction: Revolution and Redistricting
Chapter 2 1. Revamping the House of Representatives
Chapter 3 2. Tearing Washington's Social Fabric Apart
Chapter 4 3. Legislating without a Partnership
Chapter 5 4. House Centrists Disappear
Chapter 6 5. Reshaping America's Political Map
Chapter 7 6. The Road to Redistricting Reform
Chapter 8 7. How to Restore Civility to the House
Chapter 9 Appendix A: Key Congressional Players
Chapter 10 Appendix B: Congressional Speeches
Eilperin adds to our understanding of Congress, and as a short history of the House Fight Club Politics should be required reading for political-science students, news editors and reporters, as well as [political] junkies.
Jonathan E. Kaplan; The Hill

Partisanship and incivility are hardly novel phenomena in American politics. The new ingredient seems to be ideological polarization. Among politicans, there are fewer and fewer conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans, and "centrists" are a disappearing breed. In Fight Club Politics, Juliet Eilperin investigates the relationship between polarization, partisanship, and incivility in contemporary politics and explores its consequences for the day to day workings of the House of Representatives. Neither Democrats nor Republicans will agree with everything she says on controversial questions such as redistricting, but anyone who reads the book carefully will find in it important insights as well as provocative suggestions for restoring civility in "the people's House."
Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton Un

It would be difficult to be more fair and balanced than Eilperin has been. . . . While she finds both Republicans and Democrats at fault for the current state of affairs, her journalistic analysis of the 'dysfunctional' House hold Republicans responsible, in particular, for failing to honor their promises.

Today's House of Representatives is a more brittle, rigid and combative institution than anything earlier generations could have imagined—or the Founding Fathers desired. Juliet Eilperin, who knows the place well, tells what has transformed it—and what the costs and consequences have been. You'll understand the House much better when you see it through her eyes.
David S. Broder, The Washington Post

If you hate the left-right rancor of American politics, this book compellingly tells you how it came about—and what it will take torecreate a civil House of Representatives dedicated to solving America's problems.
Morton Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call newspaper and co-host of FOX's Beltway Boys

The Washington Post embedded Juliet Eilperin on Capitol Hill for the embattled first years of the on-going Republican so-called revolution. Fight Club Politics is a distillation of her dispatches from the trenches of the House of Representatives, giving many gruesome details about who did what to whom. Readers can learn here why Congressional politics these days is not for sissies, and only occasionally for the minimally civil.
Nelson W. Polsby, professor of political science, University of California, Berkeley; author of How Congress Evolves

In this lucidly written and thoroughly researched first book, Washington Post reporter and D.C. native Eilperin posits that, beginning with Newt Gingrich's nomination as House Speaker in 1994, war-like tactics, manipulation and strategic takeovers have replaced compromise within the House of Representatives, consequently polarizing America's two major parties and leaving the views of its ordinary citizens underrepresented. Eilperin portrays Gingrich as an intimidating, conflicted and sometimes disturbing figure who consolidated Republican power early in his tenure, strong-arming committee chairmen and even soliciting political advice from friend Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach. To maintain control, the Republican leadership uses loopholes in the system, such as introducing bills so late that representatives don't have time to review them before voting. And the Democrats are shown responding in kind, sticking with their own and ranting bitterly about the Republican House majority. Eilperin's years of experience as a House reporter show in her well-chosen and insightful quotations from lawmakers and commentators, her buoyant prose and the wide scope of her argument. Her portrayal of the fallen House is utterly convincing, but Eilperin ends hopefully, with a look toward what's necessary to restore balance. This exemplary volume is a good bet for anyone wanting an insider's view of America's corridors of power.
Publishers Weekly

In her years reporting on the House, Eilperin discovered many of [Congress's] dysfunctions, maladies that she describes accurately and admirably.
The Instrumentalist

Fight Club Politics is a nice complement to much of the academic work in recent years on the causes of declining electoral competition and increasing party polarization and the effects of these changes on the U.S. House. The book is a kind of ethnography of the transformations in the House over recent years, with accounts from many insiders and viewed through the lens of a journalist who has covered the House for many years. I happily recommend it.
Richard Pildes, New York University School of Law

... a terrific book. I have not seen a more cogent explanation of the current problems facing the so-called Peoples' Branch.
Ray Smock, President of the Associations of Centers for the Study of Congress and former historian to the U.S. House of Representatives

...a skillfully concise treatment of House politics since the early 1990s.
John J. Pitney Jr., Claremont McKenna College; National Review

Now in paper with a new afterword that discusses the Democratic takeover of the House