How Congress Evolves: Social Bases of Institutional Change

Apr 16, 2004



Featuring:Dr. Nelson Polsby
Professor of Political Science
University of California, Berkeley



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In Conjunction with The Center for National Policy

Since the New Deal ended nearly sixty years ago, political observers have complained that Congress hasn't really changed.  Since the 1930s, for example, Congress was dominated by a conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats that thwarted the policy initiatives of the dominant political party (Democrats). Today Congress is dominated again by a similar coalition which is also thwarting the attempts of the dominant party (Republicans) to pass initiatives.  Underneath these superficial appearances, however, Congress has undergone rather significant changes during the past sixty years, and it could be argued that air conditioning had a lot to do with it...
This evolution (and the rest of the air conditioning story) is the subject of leading political scientist Nelson Polsby’s latest book, How Congress Evolves: Social Bases of Institutional Change, a new work of scholarship that many astute observers are already calling the definitive work on the modern evolution of the U.S. House of Representatives.

As Polsby notes, in the life of a robust human institution like the Congress, the last sixty years of congressional history may not seem like such a long time.  Yet in the United States, sixty years marks off over a quarter of the history of our nation under the Constitution.  Congress sixty years ago sits just on the receding horizon of living memory, and it is at this horizon that he begins his account, starting at the effective end of the New Deal, roughly in 1937, to the present. 

So set aside any ongoing budget and other policy battles, and come enjoy Dr. Nelson Polsby’s ‘big picture’ perspective on how you (and your boss) fit into the modern evolution of Congress. 
Nelson Polsby is Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught American politics and government since 1967.  He is one of the nation’s most influential political scientists and a close observer of Congress for over 40 years.  In addition to his latest work, he is the author of, among many others, Congress and the Presidency, Presidential Elections, and New Federalist Papers.  He is editor of the Annual Review of Political Science and writes often for the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post