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The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 was clear evidence of the dangerous polarization of American politics. Heedless of the warnings of economists, a majority of Republicans in the House refused to allow the Treasury to borrow enough money to pay for spending already ordered by Congress. The government avoided a catastrophic default only by unprecedented legislative contortions. The debt ceiling fight also showed that the two parties simply don't understand each other. InDangerous Convictions, former Democratic Congressman Tom Allen, explains how beneath the surface of our political debates, the incompatible world views of the two parties have turned Congress into a dysfunctional body. "Years of listening to what seemed to me to be preposterous arguments in committee, on the House floor, or in private conversations," he writes, "changed my mind about our capacity to find bipartisan agreement on the most fundamental topics." Likewise, most Republican Members of Congress gave no credence to Democratic arguments on budget and tax issues, health care, and climate change. Allen argues that "smaller government, lower taxes" in all times and circumstances is not an economic policy, but an ideological barrier to meaningful debate and the simplest compromises. In the last thirty years, he suggests, Republicans and Democrats have been speaking different languages; GOP Members increasingly see government as a threat to personal liberty, while Democrats continue to believe it can be a vehicle to expand opportunity and serve the common good. Combining personal experience with the insights of George Lakoff, Norman Ornstein, Robert Bellah, Isaiah Berlin, and many others, Allen explains why we need to understand the ideological conflict and escape its grip--and allow Congress to work productively on our 21st century challenges.
Tom Allen is President and CEO of the American Association of Publishers. He is former U.S. Congressman representing Maine's 1st District from 1997 to 2009.