The Transformation of American Politics

The New Washington and the Rise of Think Tanks

David M. Ricci

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October 26, 1994
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300061239
Paper

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Cloth

Washington think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation have become so large and influential in recent years that they now constitute virtually a new branch of the political system. In this engrossing and lively book, David M. Ricci brilliantly explores the parallel and convergent social, economic, and political trends within America that have transformed government in Washington and led to the development and prestige of these public policy research centers.

Ricci argues that since the late 1960s Americans have lost sight of the familiar guidelines that used to help them assess issues and have become more hospitable to think tank research and advice. He examines the flood of policy-relevant information that has resulted from the growth of expertise and the advent of big government; the confusion over national goals that comes from the decline of the Protestant ethic and the empowerment of minorities; the growing influence of television and its focus on instant testimony from experts; political changes such as the decline of parties, the move to an "open" Congress, and the growth of an independent presidency; the pervasive power of modern marketing; and much more. According to Ricci, policy ideas generated by think-tank research and commentary are helpful in providing greater objectivity and political insight, not only because of their general reliability but also because in their ideological variety think tanks generate a substantial range of policy proposals, giving voice to a healthy factional pluralism and facilitating a constant testing of ideas. In today's dissonant politics, Ricci concludes, think tanks contribute some order—and occasionally wisdom—in the ongoing battle in Washington over political ideas.

David M. Ricci is an associate professor of political science and American studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While writing this book, he was a Guest Scholar at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and a Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He is also the author of The Tragedy of Political Science.

"With Clinton's election, the war of the think tanks is expanding and heating up. We finally have a useful guide to the combatants and the significance of each. Bravo David Ricci."—Theodore J. Lowi

"Ricci's incisive volume is more than an analysis of the impact of think tanks. It places these unique American institutions into their social, historical, and political context as no book before this one has ever done. It is an important book that helps us understand how Washington works today."—Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., President, the Heritage Foundation

"I haven't read this good a book for a long time. Ricci has a great eye for the interconnectedness of things and he has many things to say that need saying."—Charles E. Lindblom, Yale University

"An incisive look at the rise of think tanks and at their impact on policy-making."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Ricci] argues that think tanks have risen in prominence as Americans seek new ways of evaluating public policy development. . . . This excellent and readable work is recommended for academic collections."—Library Journal

"Ricci has filled an important gap in our understanding of contemporary policy making, and he has given us an important normative lens through which to evaluate what goes on in these Washington policy debates."—Frank Baumgartner, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"While other works . . . have touched on the role of think tanks, Ricci's work offers an overall portrait of these groups and their collective influence. . . . [An] excellent and readable work."—Library Journal

"Ricci offers a provocative essay on the transformation of the American political system since 1960."—Donald T. Critchlow, American Historical Review

"An ambitious, audacious, and in many ways highly stimulating book. . . . [It] will be loved by the sociologists and will fascinate the theorists."—Tim Hames, The Review of Politics

The Tragedy of Political Science

Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy

David M. Ricci

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