The Founding Fathers designed a system of government that was innovative, both for its separation of power into the three branches and for the checks and balances it put in place on each branch. For over 200 years, the result was a system of government that was not only functional, but a model for the rest of the world.

Recently, however, gridlock and dysfunction have come to define American government. While numerous political commentators and analysts have sought to explain this development, almost all of them have placed the blame on current issues – ranging from the increased influence of money in politics to the people we elect to represent us. In his new book The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans, former congressman Mickey Edwards makes the convincing argument that the current level of dysfunction has been years in the making, a direct result of the two political parties that dominate the political landscape in America today.

Edwards traces the development of the two-party primary system from its inception in the early 1900s, when reformist movements began advocating for a “closed primary” system as a way to reduce the frequency of back-room political deals, to their present day state in our political process. At some point during their historical development, Edwards argues, closed primaries evolved from useful progressive checks on the power of party bosses into rigid organizations that promote candidates favored by extreme ideologues. They give disproportionate power to the small vocal minority of voters at the far edges of the political spectrum – resulting in candidates from both parties whose views reflect their respective supporters hard-line views.

As political parties have become more powerful they have increasingly been able to determine the boundaries of congressional districts. Concerned solely with increasing their own partisan majorities, the political parties routinely gerrymander districts for their own political gain. The result has left most districts either very conservative or very liberal, carving out the political middle from which much legislation has historically come.

After identifying the root of the problem, Edwards draws upon years of congressional experience to offer clear and straightforward solutions to fix the dysfunctional in Congress today, including: adopt open primaries regardless of party affiliation; give redistricting authority to non-partisan citizens commissions; base congressional committee appointments on seniority and experience, not party loyalty; and abolishing restrictive rules governing bill amendments.

Edwards acknowledges the primary challenge to his proposed reforms: that resistance from within Congress is likely to be very strong, and the power that Congress wields in the electoral process, and the power we citizens have ceded to the parties, is immense. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic that citizen action can indeed reform the broken legislative branch. He points to citizen initiatives in California and other states, along with the success of the Tea Party and Occupy movements, to argue that citizens can mobilize to create change in our government. Edwards also discusses a number of new groups in Washington, including No Labels, which are focused on tackling the current level of gridlock in our government.

By not only explaining the root of the problems in Washington, but also offering concrete solutions, Edwards gives his readers both hope and tangible steps to take if they hope to help change the system. In this way, Edwards’ book is not only a guide to what’s wrong the with current system, but a blueprint for how to change our government in the future.

No Labels has a special promotional offer for Edwards’ book. Enter the discount code PVPNL in the Promo Code box online, or by simply giving to the operator if ordering by phone, your members will receive a 15% discount. Click here to order it online or call 1-800-405-1619.