Lost in Washington

Finding the Way Back to Democracy in America
A trenchant critique of contemporary American politics and a prescription for future reform


Part memoir, part public policy analysis, Lost in Washington grew out of the author's experience as senior policy adviser to Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. An insider's look at "how Washington really works," the book traces the history of three major policy initiatives sponsored by Wellstone after his election to the U.S. Senate in 1990: a proposed national energy strategy, campaign finance reform, and health care reform. All three became the focus of contentious public policy debates, and a decade later they remain unresolved issues on the national political agenda. According to Barry M. Casper, the persistent failure of Congress to take action on these matters reflects not simply a lack of legislative accountability but a fundamental breakdown of American democracy. Most ordinary citizens today feel excluded from the political process, unable to exert any real influence on the issues that most affect their lives. One source of this alienation is money—more specifically, the inordinate influence exercised by well-funded special interest groups that finance American election campaigns. Another is the concentration of too much congressional power in too few hands. To break the legislative deadlock and reinvigorate the democratic process in America, Casper proposes broadly based but locally centered political action. Pointing to the success of the Clean Money Campaign Reform initiative, which has already passed in several states, he advocates a strategy of building grassroots organizations state-by-state until sufficient momentum is gained to compel federal legislation. He also proposes a National Citizens Agenda-Setting Initiative that would allow organized citizens to force policy proposals onto the congressional agenda. With these two additional tools, he believes, nationwide social movements can much more readily be constructed from the bottom up, inviting ordinary citizens in rather than shutting them out, thus creating a robust new framework for the practice of democracy in America.

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