Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Drawing the Line"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Drawing the Line"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Alan Rosenthal is one of the few Political Science professors who primarily studies state legislators. Probably no one else has examined state legislatures from an academic perspective more intently than Alan Rosenthal. Therefore, any Alan Rosenthal book has profound impacts on state legislatures.

Alan Rosenthal’s book "Drawing the Line" examines legislative ethics. We learn from Mr. Rosenthal’s knowledgeable observations that legislators generally are honest and the legislative process is basically ethical. Unfortunately, he warns legislators may not been heeding warnings that the public is demanding ethical standards higher than the ones they now set for themselves.

The public historically has held skeptical views of politicians. The past generation of political leaders, including those involved in Watergate as well as legislative scandals resulting convictions in several states, has lowered public confidence. An Eagleton Institute survey found over one third of those surveyed assume over half of all legislators receive bribes. While Alan Rosental believes there was more corruption amongst legislators in the historic past, increased media scrutiny and criticisms of legislators have weakened the legislative image.

Ironically, legislators today, compared to the 1960s, better respond to public demands, are more attentive to overseeing administrative functions and curtailing government abuses, are more independent of powerful political forces, are more competent as they have improved access to staff and information, and are more proportionally representative of the public with more women and racial minorities serving as legislators. Alan Rosental argues legislators accomplish more today than in the 1960s. Still, he warns "the institution fabric of the legislature is unraveling".

When legislative scandals occur, legislative bodies often react by passing increased ethical requirements. Unfortunately, ethics becomes a political weapon. Challengers raise ethics issues in political elections against incumbents. Alan Rosenthal sees these debates creating more tense divisions amongst those legislators who are elected.

The climate of hostility and scrutiny is discouraging people from running for the legislature, Alan Rosenthal warns. He further offers his opinion that some of the better legislators have left legislative careers to escape the increasingly bitter legislative climates.

While the media and political campaigns have been unfair to legislators, Alan Rosenthal notes, there is room for ethical improvements. He does not believe legislators are less ethical than other occupations. There has been increased prosecution of legislative improprieties. One result of the Watergate crisis was the creation of a Public Integrity Section within the U.S. Justice Department. Prosecutions of public officials increased ten fold.

Another result of improved legislative abilities and increased legislative attention is more outside concerns are being impacted by legislative actions. The late 1980s saw a 20% increase in the number of lobbyists. Increased lobbying enhances settings for more illegal legislative lobbying activities.

Legislators are not blameless for their ethical lapses, Alan Rosenthal scolds. Some legislators have developed an arrogant disregard for the proper use of power. Some less powerful legislators have been convicted for accepting bribes of as small as $400, not because they needed the money yet because they wanted the feel that someone else thought they were powerful and influential. Legislators need to retain their sense of propriety.

Alan Rosenthal believes it is very important that legislators follow ethical standards. He observes that legislators place their own values and their constituents’ values before those of contributors. On the other hands, he warns that legislators who argue contributions have no effect on them live in denial. Contributors are apt to receive greater attention.

This is another book of fascinating observations from Alan Rosenthal. The strength of his personal deductions from years of studying legislators is also this book’s weakness. Little empirical data is ever presented to back up his claims. Still, as Alan Rosenthal practically is the only political scientist watching legislators, his experiences make him the best qualified field observer of legislators and his field guides to the legislative processes are the best available. This book is highly recommended to students of state legislatures.


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