Reviewed 7/19/2014

Do Not Ask What Good We Do, by Robert Draper

Inside the U.S. House of Representatives
Robert Draper
New York: The Free Press, April 2012




ISBN-13 978-1-4516-4208-7
ISBN-10 1-4516-4208-3 327pp. HC $28.00

Following on the success of his best-selling 2007 book probing the administration of George W. Bush, Robert Draper here provides a deep look at the workings of the 112th Congress of the United States.

He seems to devote a lot of space to freshman Republican candidates beloved by the Tea Party, such as Jeff Duncan from South Carolina. However, this is a balanced account; it includes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, veteran Michigan Democrat John Dingell as well as Sheila Jackson Lee, Anthony Weiner — indeed, a host of political figures both present and past.

"The moment represented an astonishing turnaround from the year before, when the House Republicans seemed paralyzed by the new president's ability to find support from among private insurers, the American Medical Association, and doctors for a comprehensive solution to the nation's health care problems. But by August 2009, the health care debate had ceased to be an honest disagreement over policy. It was now an ugly snarl of fear, loathing, and cynicism blaring through a Tea Party microphone."

Pelosi's task was a hopeless one. The progressives wanted universal coverage. The Blue Dogs wanted lower health care costs. Rural members wanted higher Medicare reimbursement rates for rural hospitals. Bart Stupak of Michigan wanted a stipulation that none of the federal funds would be used to pay for abortion. President Obama wanted at least one Republican vote from the Senate.

– Page 66

Indeed, this is the takeaway message from the book: that despite efforts to work across the aisle, intransigent ideologies aborted almost all attempts at passing legislation.1

Books by Robert Draper

  1. Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History
    May 1990ISBN 9780385260602
  2. Hadrian's Walls (A Novel)
    April 1999ISBN 9780375403699
  3. Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush
    September 2008ISBN 9780743277297
  4. Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives
    April 2012ISBN 9781451642087
  5. When the Tea Party Came To Town Inside the U.S. House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History
    May 2013ISBN 9781451642094
  6. Pope Francis and the New Vatican (with David Yader)
    August 2015ISBN 9781426215827
  7. To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq
    July 2020ISBN 9780525561040
  8. Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind
    October 2022ISBN 9780593300145

Beneath the screeching, the posturing, and the stalemates, there had in fact been scores of congresssmen quietly working with the other side in an effort to achieve results. Archconservatives Jason Chaffetz and Raul Labrador were huddling with archprogressive Luis Gutierrez over a comprehensive immigration reform package. Fellow Missourians Jo Ann Emerson and Emanuel Cleaver would, by December, Succeed in directing funds to aid communities bedeviled by persistent poverty. Democrat Rosa DeLauro and Republican Don Manzullo had coauthored legislation that would incentivize manufacturers to dedicate monies to a community bank. Blue Dog Jim Matheson and GOP deputy whip Kevin Brody had teamed on a bill that would lower tax barriers to encourage American businesses to reinvest overseas earnings back home. Against the raging currents, Democrats and Republicans continued to paddle together, now and again. But these were renegade efforts ones that the House leaders from both parties did not openly advertise and did nothing to encourage.

To no surprise, then, the "people's House" had become a leper colony.

– Pages 266-7

The book reports these proceedings in almost microscopic detail, with abundant verbatim conversations. It is an excellent window into the mechanics and machinations of modern politics. While I found it depressing, I give it top marks and consider it worth reading. It has extensive end-notes and a good index. However, I rate it a keeper only for political junkies.

1 So much for federal funding not being used for abortions.
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