Saturday, September 21, 2019


     There are two major political parties in these United States: major being used here in the conventional sense of “a party with guaranteed ballot access whose candidates have a non-wishful-thinking chance to win their electoral contests.” As the positions espoused by those parties – not the candidates but the parties themselves, in their “platform” documents – have changed over the years, it’s given me cause to inquire into what’s required of a citizen to declare himself a Democrat, or a Republican, and thereafter to be taken as one by other partisans.

     The matter admits of no simple, policy-centered answer. My first wife, a lovely woman whose heart bled for all, near and far, was of the opinion that to be a Democrat meant “you put the people first.” (In fairness, I must also include that she was unutterably brilliant. That we disagreed politically should not be taken as countervailing evidence.) That requirement elevates one’s intentions to the highest priority.

     Psychologist Peter Breggin once referred to the Democrats as “the party of good intentions,” so at least one other very intelligent person concurred with my first wife. The problems coupled to good intentions are of course those that arise from results. If your results fail to match your intentions, you confront a crossroads: either you must admit that you’ve been wrong, strive to discover why, and correct your course, or your intentions – and your overall honesty – will be compelled to face investigation.

     No one I know has submitted an intentions-based criterion for membership in the Republican Party. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, of course. I can’t think of one myself, and, as I remain resolutely outside all groups, including all political parties, it would be wrong of me to propose one. Given the great diversity of views to be found inside the Republican tent, no other criterion seems plausible enough for discussion. Certainly the old notion that a Republican must favor small or limited government fails when it confronts the Bushes, the Rockefellers, or any Republican candidate for high office in New York.

     Where, then, should we look for the requirements for being one or the other sort of creature?

     In connection with this topic, two names from the relatively recent past come to mind: Jim Jeffords and Arlen Specter. Both were United States Senators, the highest elective office in the land save for the presidency. Both changed parties – in Specter’s case, more than once – in pursuit of personal advantages. Neither appeared a “good fit” to either the Democrats or the Republicans on policy. In this might lie a strong clue to the true requirement for being a member of either tribe.

     In David Friedman’s book The Machinery of Freedom, he describes the major parties as “vote-maximizing machines.” There’s a glimmer of insight here. The overt function of a political party is to put candidates for office before the public, and to support their campaigns as appropriate. Both major parties do so, of course. Yet there have been occasions when one or the other has advanced a “token” candidate, regarded as having little or no chance to win the contested office. Wendell Willkie in 1940, Adlai Stevenson in 1956, and George McGovern in 1972 are good examples of such candidacies.

     The existence of “token” candidacies suggests that the support of the party’s candidates for public office isn’t the only criterion for party membership. Indeed, it might not matter all that much when compared to other factors. Consider that there are self-styled Republicans, including several with prominent positions in the world of political commentary, who denigrate and oppose the GOP’s current standard-bearer: President Donald Trump. Yet no authoritative voice has been heard to declare that such persons cannot be Republicans. Indeed, the existence of a person or group with that authority is itself doubtful.

     It begins to seem that there are no firm criteria for party membership. So how does John Q. Public, America’s celebrated man in the street, choose one or the other party to join? If he’s at all inclined toward partisanry, that is.

     Have a rather long passage from a book I’ve cited before, concerning the “new political history” of 19th Century America, and the presidential election of 1896:

     Characteristic of both party systems was that each party was committed to a distinctive ideology clashing with the other, and these conflicting worldviews made for fierce and close contests. Elections were particularly hard fought. Interest was high since the parties offered a “choice not an echo,” and so the turnout rate was remarkably high, often reaching 80 to 90 percent of eligible voters. More remarkably, candidates did not, as we are used to in the 20th century, fuzz their ideology during campaigns in order to appeal to a floating, ideologically indifferent, “independent voter.” There were very few independent voters. The way to win elections, therefore, was to bring out your vote, and the way to do that was to intensify and strengthen your ideology during campaigns. Any fuzzing over would lead the Republican or Democratic constituents to stay home in disgust, and the election would be lost. Very rarely would there be a crossover to the other, hated party....
     How did all this relate to the economic issues of the day? Simply that the leaders of each party went to their voting constituents and “raised their consciousness” to get them vitally interested in national economic questions. Thus, the Republican leaders would go to their rank-and-file and say: “Just as we need Big Paternalistic Government on the local and state level to stamp out sin and compel morality, so we need Big Government on the national level to increase everyone’s purchasing power through inflation, keeping out cheap foreign goods (tariffs), or keeping out cheap foreign labor (immigration restrictions).”
     And for their part, the Democratic leaders would go to their constituents and say: “Just as the Republican fanatics are trying to take away your liquor, your beer parlors, and your parochial schools, so the same people are trying to keep out cheap foreign goods (tariffs), and trying to destroy the value of your savings through inflation. Paternalistic government on the federal level is just as evil as it is at home.”...
     In the meanwhile, an upheaval was beginning to occur in the Democratic Party. The South, by now a one-party Democratic region, was having its own pietism transformed by the 1890s. Quiet pietists were now becoming evangelical, and Southern Protestant organizations began to call for prohibition. Then the new, sparsely settled Mountain states, many of them with silver mines, were also largely pietist. Moreover, a power vacuum, which would ordinarily have been temporary, had been created in the national Democratic Party. Poor Grover Cleveland, a hard-money laissez-faire Democrat, was blamed for the Panic of 1893, and many leading Cleveland Democrats lost their gubernatorial and senatorial posts in the 1894 elections. The Cleveland Democrats were temporarily weak, and the Southern-Mountain coalition was ready to hand. Seizing his opportunity, William Jennings Bryan and his pietist coalition seized control of the Democratic Party at the momentous convention of 1896. The Democratic Party was never to be the same again.
     The Catholics, Lutherans, and the laissez-faire Cleveland Democrats were in mortal shock. The “party of our fathers” was lost. The Republicans, who had been moderating their stance anyway, saw the opportunity of a lifetime. At the Republican convention, Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge, representing the Morgans and the pro-gold standard Boston financial interests, told McKinley and Hanna: Pledge yourself to the gold standard-the basic Cleveland economic issue—and drop your silverite and greenback tendencies, and we will all back you. Refuse, and we will support Bryan or a third party. McKinley struck the deal, and from then on, the Republicans, in 19th-century terms, were a centrist party. Their principles were now high tariffs and the gold standard, and prohibition was quietly forgotten.

     [Ron Paul and Lewis Lehrman, The Case For Gold. ]

     With the elections of 1896 through 1928, the transformationaway from ideology would be completed. The last pre-New Deal Republican president, Herbert Hoover, was openly a Big Government / inflationist president. Hoover sought to have Washington’s fingers in everything, for which reason Benjamin M. Anderson has described him as an “early New Dealer.” Needless to say, the Democrats embraced the gospel of “government uber alles” with Woodrow Wilson and have never turned aside from it.

     I am left facing an unpleasant conclusion:

Neither party stands for anything much.
Nor do their typical candidates.

     But if the parties don’t stand for anything in particular, don’t necessarily run candidates to get them elected, and don’t necessarily support their co-partisans in office, then...what?

     In recent years we have seen the GOP caucuses in Congress meekly surrender to the Democrats on various issues. Sometimes they did so when Republicans were in the majority and could easily have blocked initiatives from the left. Republican legislators who dared to castigate their fellow partisans for such betrayals have usually suffered for it. The explanation for such abandonments of their supposed positions is just as unpleasant as the large-font conclusion above. Yet the former stems from the latter and could have been foreseen.

     The implication is simple:

The parties exist for the benefit of those who control them at the moment.

     The party’s kingmakers decide what would best suit the members of the inner circle, and choose a matching course. Orwell’s famous dictum comes to mind once more: “The aim of the High is to remain where they are,” with all the perquisites and prestige that accrue to those of lofty stature.

     One who is of independent mind, or whose policy is “vote the man, not the party,” has no trouble seeing this as a confirmation of his established policy. What it means to an American partisan, already enlisted in one or the other party, each must decide for himself. In that effort, an acquaintance with Public Choice economics and the work of James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and Mancur Olson would be a great help.


Andy Texan said...

The reason to be in politics is to accumulate power. The reason to have power is to get money. If a presidential race costs 1-2 billion dollars you can imagine how much money being president is worth (if a demonRat). O is racing through the 9s and headed for 10 figure net worth. Even surpassing the C's.

Col. B. Bunny said...

The establishment always has enough energy and will to get done what it wants done. If borders are open and comprehensive immigration law reform a pipe dream, it's because the establishment want it that way. Similarly, all our resident foreign invaders could be over the border in a month if there were any interest in that. But there isn't. The establishment -- all the swine of both parties -- want the destruction of America. As the legal maxim goes, "Everyone intends the natural consequence of their actions."

Hell of an ideology by our beautiful people. Destruction.