There is widespread agreement that the United States is headed for a train wreck of massive proportions if its leaders do not address the problem of the national debt. However, the nation's leaders appear unable to agree to terms about a potential solution, a dynamic that poses fundamental concerns about the capacity of the constitutional system and ability of citizens to self-govern. The conventional wisdom holds that politicians are chiefly concerned about reelection, so they refuse to make tough choices that might offend constituencies and powerful interest groups. Of particular consequence is the growing polarization of the parties and inability to find common ground. Dan Palazzolo's analysis provides some cause for hope while offering a concise description for how the nation got into the debt crisis. Most theories of Congress predict stalemate on budget policy. Palazzolo's historical approach, using "process tracing," highlights situations in which crises, shifts in public opinion, changes in institutional procedures, and shrewd actions of leaders might lead to bipartisan outcomes. In other words, structural constraints, such as polarization and electoral incentives, do not necessarily prevent leaders from acting to solve the nation's problems. Palazzolo's case study analysis challenges theories that rely too heavily on single-factor explanations of policy outcomes. It calls for scholars to study politics with a deeper and nuanced understanding of the character of problems and ability of political leaders to move beyond the constraints of politics as usual.

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