Category Archives: Parties

roy moore molestation

The GOP is Rotten to the Core

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the twice-former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court (removed on two occasions for refusing to follow the rule of law), and avowed theocrat allegedly molested a 14 year old girl when he was 32 and predatorily pursued relations with a 16, 17, and 18 year old.  These accusations, all tightly sources and well vetted by the Washington Post, should end any politician’s campaign and public career.  Pedophilia has never been accepted by respectable Americans, but for many in the GOP — the same GOP that endorsed and voted for a president 16 women accused of sexual assault and harassment — such actions do not come with consequences.  They come with continued support and a renewed attack at a press that holds power accountable.  Without a doubt, the GOP is rotten to the core.

Following the revelations, a number of high-ranking Republicans denounced Moore and said “if the accusations are true, he must step down.”  This phrase has a hole the size of Texas: Allegations about improprieties made 30 years ago have little chance of being proven true in a court of law and exactly no chance of being “proven true” to any degree of legal satisfaction in the month preceding Alabama’s election.  Republicans use this weaselly phrase to appear against Moore without actually calling for his campaign to end and for him to pay penance for past sins.  As Mitt Romney correctly pointed out, while the burden of proof certainly does not fall on Moore from a legal standpoint, from a political standpoint, do Republicans and voters really want to support a man accused of molesting a minor?



Unfortunately, Romney’s largely alone in these sentiments (others, such as Jeff Flake and Rob Portman have expressed similar sentiments).  Many others found it satisfactory to simple express disgust with the accusations — much the same way that these Republicans offer ceaseless “thoughts and prayers” after gun massacres, but then avoid even the simplest solutions to help the problem.

John Cornyn, Senate majority whip, proved his feckless leadership and detestable values by refusing to withdraw his endorsement of Moore after the Washington Post story.  That a Republican would endorse Moore after his legal improprieties and disdain for the Constitution shows a true lack of judgment and an obvious ambivalence for the rule of law, but avoiding the best opportunity to right a wrong further proves that many in the Republican Party will tolerate any behavior as long as the political actor can help cut taxes for the likes of Donald Trump.  Is the moral and political degradation of a nation worth a tax cut for your donors?



More despicable still have been the responses from local Alabama Republican leaders.  Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale reached out to each county chair and asked for reactions to the story.  Responses shock the conscience and should make any respectable human nauseous.  Here are some of the responses.

It’s strange to defend molestation by pointing out the 14 year old — a young high schooler approached by a 32 year old man — didn’t explicitly not consent to sexual advances.  It’s stranger still to overlook this depraved action simply because he doesn’t want a Democrat (who prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan for murdering young black girls) from holding office.



Sexual abuse can be ignored if it keeps the Senate seat in Republican hands.  (And, of course, the story couldn’t possibly be true because the Washington Post wrote it, yet another example of how Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has consequences more serious than the foolish president can begin to understand.)

He sincerely wanted to have relations with underage women.



When partisanship inures you to sex crimes, you have a problem.

Christian conservatives they are not.

With these defenses of a possible sex crime — of saying they would support and vote for Moore even if it were legally proven that he committed a crime — it’s little wonder Moore defiantly denounced the story and even fundraised off it.



This is today’s GOP.  It’s rotten to the core.  Officials and voters overlook or even condone bigotry and sexual abuse.  They don’t care about the Constitution and have no mind for policy.  They just want to keep Democrats out of office and will support anyone — literally, anyone — capable of doing that.

It’s time for the party to disband.

populism

Poisonous Politics

Populist insurgencies in both major parties threaten democratic norms through the vilification of certain population subsets.  For the Republicans, the party best unifies over racial grievances and fears — candidates, most notably Donald Trump and even one-time establishment favorites such as Ed Gillespie, prey on fears of America’s changing color and tie minorities and immigrants to crime and economic anxiety.  Democrats have long toyed with coalitions against the wealthy, though overt vilification of the rich has been avoided.  Now, however, socialist tendencies lead today’s left to blame all problem’s on the wealthy and propose radical policies against a small population subset, similar in vehemence to Republican efforts against minorities.

Republican Vilification of Minorities

Republican vilification of minorities began in earnest with Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” which succeeded in breaking the Democratic stronghold in the Sold South after the party pushed and passed civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s overtly racial campaign helped realign the South and welcomed to the GOP society’s most racist and hate-filled individuals, such as Strom Thurmond and the ardent supporters of Theodore Bilbo.



Racial grievance then largely flew under the radar, but always emerged when Republicans worried about electoral success or needed to rally its base for any given purpose.  Welfare queens, the ever-looming menace of gang violence, campaigns centered around toughness on crime always had a racial undertone.  George H. W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad clearly shows the willingness of otherwise respectable politicians to race-bait for electoral purpose.

From Blacks to Immigrants

Recently, Republican race-baiting has shifted from African Americans to other minorities, especially immigrants and Muslims.  The themes remain largely the same, but with the addition of “economic anxiety.”  Economic anxiety stems from the loss of American manufacturing due in part to trade, but mostly from the computer and the upheaval of the economy as a result (transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service one).  For many, though, economic anxiety simply makes more legitimate underlying dislike for immigrants.  Candidates and believers tie economic anxiety to immigrants — legal and illegal — by claiming those entering the country take jobs from “hardworking Americans,” despite this being an economic falsehood.



Latino gang violence also prevails in race-baiting campaigns as do tough on crime proposals related to terrorism — meaning Muslims.  It’s little surprise that Republicans don’t center their law and order rhetoric around white men who commit massacres but rather the rare instance of violent illegal immigrant crime or the deplorable acts of terrorism by a deranged individual.  They tap into racial grievances and fears by explaining society’s continued change — a change many Republican voters dislike immensely — on those not native to country; on those of different races and religions that don’t necessarily align with the white, evangelical vision for America too many in the Republican base hold.  It also panders to these voters by telling a relaxing lie: Your problems are not your fault — they’re caused by outsiders with different skin tones and beliefs.  You are not to blame.

With Donald Trump’s election, this insidious yet usually underlying force in Republican politics came to the forefront and now, feeling empowered, racial grievances unify the Republican Party more than does ideological commitment to a limited government.  The stoked and cultivated fear that Republicans likely assumed they could control now defines the party.  Hence true Republican ideologues now must court Republican voters through overtly racial messages, such as attacking sanctuary cities based on false premises, accusing professional athletes who kneel in protest of police brutality of disrespecting the flag and country,  and vowing to preserve public monuments that idolize those who waged war against the Union simply to protect a system of human bondage.  Racial grievances no longer exist in the Republican background as a force that can be exploited but only with shame.  It now dominates the party.



Democrats and Vilification of the Rich

Democrats are moving in a similar populist direction.  Socialist tendencies within the party, led by self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, leads to vilification of the rich, another small group that a mob-like majority can easily come to view as the enemy.  In fact, it’s the vilification of the rich and the possibilities for “democratic excesses” to threaten their property rights that led the Founding Fathers to call a constitutional convention to strengthen the federal government.  State legislatures, increasingly occupied by men the Founders considered rabble, pitted the poor against the wealthy and provided equal rights only to some.

While the Democrats have long toyed with class-based issues and often campaign on raising taxes on the wealthy to fund greater social programs, rhetoric has never slipped into obvious vilification of the highest socioeconomic class and hatred has never even simmered.  This lack of development comes largely from weak class connections in America.  Rarely have those with similar economic interests from disparate parts of the country united behind an economic or ideological platform that would pit their interests against those of the wealthy.  That’s because race has often divided or defined coalitions.  Poor blacks and poor whites don’t unite largely because poor whites from certain areas of the country have a predisposition to bigotry and support racial rhetoric more than class rhetoric.

The Democratic Party has now largely lost those not committed to full racial equality and so its internal coalitions and power structures no longer have to contend with the interests of bigots.  Near unanimity in the race issue has allowed class-based grievances  to surge into prominence with clear divisions between the party’s moderate and liberals who don’t favor class warfare and the leftists who seem eager to bring redistributive issues and anger to the party’s forefront.



Leftists want to vilify and blame the rich for stagnating wages and resultant economic inequality.  They view the wealthy as having an outsized influence on government, so outsized, in fact, that many claim America has devolved into oligarchy.  Large corporations control institutions and conspire to keep everyday Americans down.  Sinister forces of an economic elite cause all of our problems, from war to climate change and poverty.  The growing contempt and anger for the wealthy has led to a socialist resurgence that applies the same rhetoric as do Republicans that blame minorities for society’s woes.

Populism’s Poison

Populism within both parties threatens political discourse and the norms of our society by blaming minority groups for all issues facing the country.  These movements inspire hatred, fear, and disgust for forces they believe work to undermine America’s greatness and degrade our country into a Third World society or an evil oligarchy.

Democracy and politics don’t work when groups blame minorities for all problems.  Tribalized majorities unified by hate rather than ideological belief does not lead to enlightened policy.  It doesn’t lead to rational politicians leading the country dispassionately.  It leads to demagogues who manipulate these fears to gain personal power (and often wealth) while eroding democratic norms and backsliding our democracy through authoritarian calls tolerated because these calls target a vilified group.

Both parties must expel from their ranks such populist anger and instead work towards unified moderation that addresses the real issues in our society without condescending to tempers and passions.



the party decides

A Party Should “Rig” Its Primary

There’s been much hoopla over allegations that the Democratic National Committee “rigged” the primary for Hillary Clinton, thus somehow denying Bernie Sanders a chance at winning the nomination.  This allegation, supported by the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile, is categorically false (and those who believe in the vast conspiracy cannot point to hard pieces of evidence showing otherwise).  That isn’t to say a party shouldn’t “rig” its primary — it absolutely should.  The national committee of all parties should tilt the scales to benefit a desired candidate who the party’s most dedicated stakeholders believe will best serve the party and country’s interest in the short and long run.

Presidential nominations are, by there very nature, party affairs.  It’s a discussion largely among loyal partisans (though a number of — too many — independents also influence these decisions) about the ideological direction of the party.  The nominee will be the leader of the party regardless of election result.  Presidents obviously lead their parties for at least four years (and often eight or more); general election losers still have a say in their parties direction and some retain prominent positions in government or even run for president again.  Parties have a natural interest in selecting a candidate who can harness temporary desires, move legislation towards the party’s ideal point, and still continue to lead whether in victory of defeat, for years to come.



The party itself has a vested interest in the party’s anointed leader.  Nominees and presidents essentially take over the national committee for years at a time and can either strengthen the central committee through a mix of patronage and dedicated fundraising (much of which the central committee then gives to state parties) or it can leave the party structure neglected as it withers in debt and falls into disarray.  This might incline some party actors to favor a former Democratic senator, First Lady, and Secretary of State from a family whose patronage and fundraising abilities helped keep the DNC afloat over, say, a candidate who never bothered to formally align with the Democratic Party until running for president.

Changing the primary rules offers parties their best opportunity to “rig” an election, and even in doing so, the changes made would not salvage the candidacy of its preferred candidate should the voters find that candidate repugnant.  Rule changes to maintain the party’s influence in nominating affairs include closing primaries to only those affiliated with a specific party, shortening the primary calendar to keep a high number of candidates in the race through the convention, increasing the number of superdelegates, and unbinding regular delegates elected through primaries (eliminating all caucuses).



Each of these changes increases the likelihood of an open convention — a convention in which no candidate has a majority of total delegates so candidates and their delegates must reach some nomination consensus.  This is how parties routinely selected presidential nominees until the McGovern-Fraser reforms that essentially removed parties from the selection process.

An open convention forces consensus and often the consensus candidate that emerges is a moderate voice with governing experience, not a threat to the party or country’s health.  Perhaps the most notable example of a consensus candidate is Abraham Lincoln, the first choice of few but the second choice of a great many.  Such delegate brokering, often led by party regulars and officials, would likely keep political hobbyists or other demagogues out of power.  A brokered Republican convention in which Donald Trump had only 42 percent of the delegates might not have selected him, choosing instead a candidate acceptable to both the far-right and moderate wings (someone like Scott Walker, Haley Barbour, or Mike Pence).



Preventing the likes of Donald Trump from winning the presidential nomination should be a party’s number one priority as that individual has the power to destroy the party itself while degrading the country and its institutions.  Voters have done fairly well at avoiding such populist temptations, have made flirtations in the past and now show a willingness to dally with far left or right ideologies.  This trend towards demagogic populism furthers the need to reinsert parties into nominating affairs.

It’s a non-intuitive proposal and one with which many will disagree, but in the long-run, avoiding unqualified candidates who manipulate voters’ emotions to serve themselves at the expense of the party and country benefits us all.  Let parties “rig” nominations.


For more on presidential nominating contests and the party’s role in them, see “The Party Decides,” which you can purchase by clicking the image below.

the party decides
Click to buy (PoliticalEdu may receive a commission from purchases made through that link — those help fund the site)
donna brazile rigged primary

Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile are Wrong

 

Both Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile have declared the 2016 primaries “rigged” in Hillary Clinton’s favor.  This claim is entirely false and can only be made by those with political motives, whether rekindling popularity among the Bernie Sanders wing of the party or practicing revisionist history to shift society’s memory away from ethical improprieties that reflect poorly on Brazile, but not the the Clinton campaign.

Warren’s incorrect agreement that the DNC “rigged” the primary follows an explosive — at least to those not politically trained — excerpt from Brazile’s forthcoming book in which she reveals that the Clinton campaign used its Hillary Victory Fund to keep the DNC financially afloat in return for controlling a number of its operations.

That’s not new information, it’s not shocking information, and it in no way “rigs” an entire primary.  In August 2015, the DNC publicly announced its joint fundraising venture with the Clinton campaign — a remarkably poor way to hide the information Brazile claims is a bombshell.  Just three months later, Bernie Sanders himself signed a similar agreement with the party (to which he never belonged until he sought the presidency).



So Brazile’s Super Explosive Report That Changes Everything™ reveals no new information, but does rekindle the ignorant passions that rally those angered, without reason, at the DNC.  We can only hope Brazile, who noted in the book her desire to get to the bottom of the alleged “rigging,” didn’t expend money or resources to find a document of which all knew in 2015. (*UPDATE, November 3, 7:25p* NBC reports that the memo Brazile cites as “rigging” only pertained to the general election, a routine procedure worthy of no debate and certainly not evidence of non-existent “rigging.”)

Furthermore, in absolutely no way does a campaign trying to control party operations rig an election.  The party organization itself does not fall under campaign control until delegates select a nominee.  Up to that point, the party’s national committee is pretty impotent: It (wrongly) doesn’t choose favorites and even if certain staff members voice their desire to see one candidate elected over another, they can do nothing about it.

No DNC operatives hit the ground during the primaries to campaign for or against a candidate; the DNC spends no money on ads to boost or deride presidential aspirants; the party itself does little — and it almost always does little.  Fixation on the DNC and RNC largely misses the mark because those committees have little actual power or campaign prowess.  Most actions and funds go to campaigns or the national party’s committee arms (eg, the DCCC or RNSC).



The party does, however, decide the primary’s rules.  This represents the best method by which the party can “rig” a primary.  If an early favorite controls the rulemaking process and, for instance, moves the largest and most expensive states to the beginning of the primary calendar and makes the winner-take-all, then that would be rigging the primary by pricing out competitors and ensuring early momentum goes exclusively to the frontrunner.  Controlling the rule making process is one method by which Donald Trump can fend off a primary challenge in 2020.

But the Clinton campaign had not “infiltrated” the DNC (to borrow Brazile’s parlance) at the time of primary rule approval.  This happened back in 2014 and those rules by and large carried over from the ones to which the party agreed in 2010.  Moreover, the rules as they stand actually favor insurgent candidates.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina currently begin the primary season.  All are small states and relatively cheap television markets (New Hampshire’s a bit tricky as campaigns sometimes need to buy air time in the Boston television market to best reach New Hampshire voters), so underdog candidates are not priced out of competing.  Iowa’s caucus system favors populist candidates able to forge an intimate connection with the voters — caucuses and primaries differ rather dramatically in demographics with the former being far less democratic.  State demographics also favor factional candidates able only to appeal to certain races (IA and NH being overwhelmingly white whereas SC has a large African American constituency).



This calendar actually favored Bernie Sanders and enabled his continued presence in the primaries.  He performed best in smaller, caucus states with few minorities — exactly the demographics of the first two states (IA and NH), conveniently those which generate the most news coverage and which can decide momentum moving forward.  Had the calendar started with a diverse sect of states, Sanders would have lost each one by large margins and been written-off even by his most ardent supporters.

Far from the DNC “rigging” the primary for Hillary Clinton, the rules carried over from 2010 (agreed to in 2014) allowed Sanders to stay in the race and appear competitive.

Both Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile are wrong and while I cannot be sure of their motives, the most obvious — a political ploy to retain 2020 favor and an effort to revise history after an ethical embarrassment, respectively — point to weak characters willing to lie to angered partisans.  The Democratic Party doesn’t need the continued fabrication of alleged “rigging” hanging over its head.  It needs to rebound in strength to wage a strong midterm fight.  Enough with the lies.



A Race-Baiter’s Party Now

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie barely defeated Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart to win the GOP nomination for Virginia’s gubernatorial election.  No one expected the race to be close: Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and candidate Mitt Romney, led all polls by at least 15 points and Stewart never impressed with his transplant knowledge of the state.

No one expected Corey Stewart to earn 42.5% of the primary vote because no one understood the true depths of irrational nativist anger that now defines a substantial faction — perhaps the most important faction — within the Republican Party.  The GOP is no longer the party of conservatism.  It’s the party of race-baiters.

Stewart ran a despicable campaign centered around issues of proclaimed heritage, by which he meant protecting the glorification of those who waged war against the Union in an effort to continue an engrained system of crimes against humanity.  In other words, Stewart’s campaign drew on support for traitors.



His rallies became cesspools of Confederate-loving individuals wrapping their obvious bigotry in the high-handed guise of “preserving history” — the history of the Confederate flag, which so many displayed as they cheered a vicious know-nothing.  Speeches descended to diatribes against proclaimed “political correctness,” a catch-all phrase used to decry those who think that states and localities maybe shouldn’t proudly display emblems of secession.

 

We shouldn’t really be surprised by Stewart’s campaign antics.  After hearing the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting women — a tape which preceded two dozen accusations of such behavior, which Trump dismissed because some of the women were “too ugly” to harass — Stewart organized a rally outside of the RNC headquarters to protest the organizations lack of support for their predator candidate.

Even the Trump campaign, the same campaign that lead calls to lock up a political opponent (a highlight in banana republic campaigns) and which ran against the Constitution and the soul of our nation, tired of Stewart’s antics and fired him from his unpaid position.



But Trump’s ultimate victory — a victory made possible by voters overlooking bigotry, predation, and disturbing ignorance — emboldened Republican primary voters to free themselves of the Enlightenment’ shackles; hatred empowered, they no longer saw a need to keep up their facade of constitutionalism.  So 42% of them voted for Stewart and far-right populism.  Only the DC explants residing on Northern Virginia (briefly) saved the state from Stewart’s bombastic nativism (but he’ll be back, running for Senate against Tim Kaine in 2018).

With Stewart defeated by the slightest margin, Gillespie had two choices: Continue a campaign of decency wherein he would combat the most insidious factions of the Republican Party and try to shed conservatism of its fetish for demagogues or continue the campaign Stewart won.  To his shame and that of the GOP writ large, Gillespie chose the latter.

Gillespie decided to further kowtow to race-baiters because today’s GOP is so rotten that any ambitious politician now has to adopt racially biased principles to escape a primary and consolidate support for a general election.  That’s why actual conservatives such as Jeff Flake opt not to run for reelection.  Values would have to be surrendered to the scourge of far-right populists yearning for a nationalism that legitimizes naked hatred of Mexicans and Muslims.



The Republican’s campaign has devolved into running clear race-baiting ads that feature heavily tattooed Latinos and the threats of menacing gangs, such as MS-13.  “MS-13’s motto is Kill. Rape. Control,” screams one. “Ralph Northam’s policy? Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”

 

Sanctuary cities play a central part in Gillespie’s rallies.  “Do we need to have sanctuary cities here in Virginia?” Gillespie asks rally-goers. “No!” they yell in response, not understanding that sanctuary cities don’t help criminals, do not led to increases in crime, but do help victims of domestic abuse and violence contact police without fear of deportation.

But there aren’t any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

What end, then, could these ads that link Democrat Ralph Northam with muscular, tattooed, Latino gang members serve?  Race-baiting.  Nothing else.



This is the Republican Party now.  Candidates have to invoke racial fears, prejudices, and grievances to rally Lost Cause troops behind their campaign.  The state that witnessed a Nazi drive through a crowd of protesters, killing one, now sees a gubernatorial candidate embrace the exact same principles — saving statues.

Between Gillespie and Roy Moore, racist extraordinaire, we’re seeing how the GOP and its base will act in the years to come.

Emboldened by Trump, they doubled-down on nativism, hatred, and ignorance.



hamilton jefferson election 1800

Republicans Could Learn from Alexander Hamilton

The election of 1800 pushed the young American republic to the brink of a constitutional crisis.  Just the fourth election, and the first truly competitive one, the Federalist and Republican parties — though they would bristle at being labelled parties — organized candidate tickets, John Adams and Charles Pinckney and Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, respectively.

This innovation, a devolution into faction which so frightened the Founders, threatened the Electoral College because prior to the 12th Amendment, Electors had no way of differentiating between the president and vice-president.  Designed without parties in mind, each elector cast two votes and the top two electoral vote getters receiving at least a majority (in 1800, 70 votes) would become president and vice-president.

However, with a party ticket and partisan electors choosing from preferential candidates rather than dispassionately selecting a president from the population, electors had to coordinate votes to ensure that they didn’t each cast their ballots for the president and vice-presidential hopeful; one elector had to cast one vote for a third candidate lest the presidential and vice-presidential designee end up with the same number of electoral votes.

Failing to do so would throw the election to the House of Representatives.



A Republican Coordination Failure

Federalists managed this feat, no easy task given difficultly of coordination in a nation that moved at the speed of horses, with one elector giving a vote to John Jay, leaving John Adams with 65 electoral votes and Charles Pinckney with 64.  Republicans failed to execute their similar plan.  Their electors cast 73 electoral votes for both Jefferson and Burr and the tied election went to the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, which threatened to overturn the election, nullify results, or even pass installation to install an interim chief magistrate.

In the House, state delegations each cast one vote for president with a majority (9) needed for victory.  While Federalists dominated the chamber — they lost their majority in 1800, but the new Congress would not be seated until March — they only controlled eight delegations, short of a majority.  Republicans controlled seven states and one, Vermont, had a split delegation.

All knew that Republicans picked Thomas Jefferson as their presidential nominee, but that did not bind Federalists, most of whom despised the former vice-president.  They wanted to deny him the presidency and so a number of them voted for Burr: Six Federalist delegations initially voted for Burr, all seven Republican delegations as well as Federalist Georgia voted for Jefferson.  Vermont, split, cast a blank ballot.  Maryland had five Federalists and three Republicans in its delegation — four Federalists voted for Burr while one voted for Jefferson along with the Republicans, leading to a blank ballot.  No president had been decided.

These divisions — six states for Burr, eight for Jefferson, two blank — held for 35 ballots.



Hamilton’s History with Jefferson

Throughout the affair, Alexander Hamilton urged his Federalist colleagues to vote for Thomas Jefferson, his longtime nemesis, because he trusted Jefferson’s character and virtue whereas he found Burr unscrupulous and too self-serving.  A perfect example of Burr’s self-serving character is his unwillingness to stand down after the election when to the House, despite knowing his designation as vice-president.

It’s hard to overstate the depths of the animosity that flowed between Hamilton and Jefferson.  Hamilton considered Jefferson’s political views as “tinctured with fanaticism,” and, as a person, “a contemptible hypocrite.”  During the 1796 election, Hamilton wrote a series of some 25 essays under the pseudonym Phocion attacking Jefferson.  The most notable of the works, all published in the Gazette, accused Jefferson of having an affair with one of his female slaves.

For his part, Thomas Jefferson lambasted Hamilton and funded James Callender, a sensationalist Republican journalist who frequented the muck to attack Federalists, primarily Hamilton.  Callender helped destroy Hamilton’s career and public reputation through false accusations of corruption and the popularization of Hamilton’s affair with Jane Reynolds.



The Callender Affair

In 1792, information came to light that made then-senator (and future president) James Monroe believe Hamilton used his position as Secretary of the Treasury to enrich himself through speculation.  Such accusations naturally angered Hamilton, who prided himself on virtuous leadership that sacrificed his own interests for those of the country.  That disinterested leadership defined his views of government and explains his eventual support of Jefferson over Burr in the 1800 election.

When Monroe and other Republicans confronted Hamilton, they learned Hamilton dallied with Reynolds, but did not act corruptly or abuse his powers.  Monroe and his counterparts understood the distinction between public and private life, realizing that indiscretions in marriage did not equate to corrupt or insidious public action.  The investigation ended without leaks.

Some four years later, Callender uncovered the papers related to the Hamilton investigation, perhaps leaked to him by Jefferson, though more likely released by former House clerk John Beckley, a Jefferson ally.  He published the documents and further editorialized the affair, lambasting Hamilton’s moral standing and falsely accusing him of corruption.

Hamilton responded in a lengthy pamphlet that he assumed would end the confrontation and restore his stature — after all, the same defense and revelation of facts had ended Monroe’s intrigue.  Unfortunately, the pamphlet, in which Hamilton admitted the sordid details of his affair but denied all allegations of corruption, reached a mass audience and that audience assumed Hamilton’s moral indiscretions exposed a rotten character.  Callender’s efforts, funded by Jefferson, thoroughly disgraced Hamilton.



Differences Aside

And yet, when it came to the tied 1800 election, Hamilton put his long-standing rivalry and antipathy towards Jefferson behind him and fervently wrote Federalist congressman urging them to make Jefferson, not Burr, president.

Hamilton worried that the country would suffer, that the government would be subverted or otherwise harmed, by “an unprincipled man [who] would exploit public passion.”  He warned of a latter-day Catiline, the Roman senator who tried a populist uprising against the Republic.  Burr’s populism — he was the first (vice) presidential candidate to canvass for office and helped establish the first political machine in New York — and ambition made him such a man.

Federalists believed that Burr, who held few core principles and profited from the Hamiltonian economic system, would maintain the Federalist program.  But Hamilton, who did so much to consolidate government and design the Federalist programs, willingly sacrificed their rollback for character in the presidency.  “Great Ambition unchecked by principle…is an unruly Tyrant,” he wrote.

“As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth.”



The Lesser of Two Evils

Jefferson, on the other hand, had greater ability than Burr and was not “zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity, or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize — to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. . . . Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits.”

“He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands.  The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself.”

“The truth,” Hamilton wrote, “is that under forms of Government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will without scruple avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature.”

Hamilton put his hatred towards Jefferson and concerns over the longevity of his system to support a candidate with character fit to be president, eschewing his party in the process.  He recognized the dangers posed by a self-serving individual without ideology of which to speak and no clear attachment to the constitutional system.



How Republicans Can Learn from Hamilton

Republicans should learn from that.  Donald Trump has no interest in protecting the Constitution — in fact, his actions as president have undermined it through violating the foreign emoluments clause, the domestic emoluments clause, undermining the separation of powers, and trying to erode the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and press.

Obviously, Trump is not fit for office.  He promotes falsehoods, lies to the American people, and blunders about without a clear understanding of policy, domestic and foreign.  About 1/3 of his presidency is spent on properties he owns, mingling with donors and lobbyists who pay companies in which he maintains a financial stake hundreds of thousands a year simply to have access to the president.  The Founders never wanted such a businessman to be president because that individual would have innumerable conflicts of interest and act on in a self-serving manner; the fears Hamilton had of Burr come true in Trump.

Trump’s authoritarian minded.  He has offered a tacit endorsement of political violence and degraded political discourse through slander, libel, and countless lies told about the opposition.

Our institutions do constrain him, and that’s a testament to the efforts of Hamilton and other Founding Fathers to create precedents of separated power and checks and balances, not risking the early republic for personal or factional interests, but instead recognizing the gravity of their decisions.  Precedents can be overturned and the normalization of an authoritarian president coupled with weak congressional opposition does not bode well for the country going forward.

Hamilton acted for the country, not for himself.  He worked ceaselessly to protect the country from the dangers of ann ambitious and self-serving character.  Republicans need to learn from Hamilton’s actions and recognize that our country would be best served by abandoning Donald Trump.

If Republicans want to be glorified as Hamilton has, if they want to protect the American republic, they would do well to deny Trump the 2020 GOP nomination and, if he claims it, unite behind a Democrat for the sake of our nation.



For more on election of 1800 and the histories of Hamilton and Jefferson, checkout Gordon S. Wood’s “Empire of Liberty.”  Click the image to buy.

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Institutional Combat and Republican Takeover in the Reagan Era

An in-depth look at Democratic entrenchment, the Republicans offensive, and institutional combat.

The election of 1932 forever changed the course of American politics and American society. 1932 ushered in an era of liberal feelings, expanding government, and an all-together Democratic entrenchment. For the next four decades, the government continued to expand its role and a strong system of benefits (welfare) was created and expanded, primarily through Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson. Since the 1930s, the Democrats have become entrenched in Congress and government agencies, allowing the New Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society programs to stay in place and fight the Republican offensive of the 1980s. Though the Republicans were (and so far are) unable to remove the programs and strip away the welfare system, they were successful in creating intense institutional struggles that have become the focus of politics and many discussions throughout the nation. Moreover, continued institutional combat stops the two parties from acting in the best interests of America – rather, the two parties act in fashions deemed best to bring down the other.

Following the onset of the Great Depression, Democrats were entrenched in Congress for six decades. This was possible thanks to the New Deal coalition, which included labor unions, farmers, the elderly, southerners, Jews, Catholics, and, of course, liberals. The New Deal coalition was formed because the general populace was seeking a change from the failed laissez-faire policies of Republican Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Roosevelt offered hope and new ideas to help the country escape the throes of depression. His policies of government intervention in the private markets on behalf of citizens were quite popular throughout the country and allowed for the coalition to remain intact. Such a far-reaching and inclusive coalition kept the Democrats in Congress for close to 60 years, and in the Presidency for 36 years (asides from Eisenhower, whose policies would be considered somewhat liberal today). Though FDR intended for the New Deal programs to temporary, he soon made them “permanent features of the American governmental system” (84). Being the dominant party in Congress and controlling the Presidency for numerous terms allowed the Democrats to create many social welfare programs, thus becoming entrenched in the domestic state.



Democratic entrenchment in Congress and in the Presidency allowed them to gain a firm footing in “federal social service[s], labor and regulatory agencies, and government bureaucracies and nonprofit organizations on the state and local levels that help administer national social programs” (81). At first, it was easy for the Democrats to maintain control because a liberal Congress and Democratic president allowed for safe passage of agency funding. Even when the White House was run by a Republican, Democrats are able to maintain high levels of influence and control on the aforementioned government agencies and subsidiaries. This is due to those who work in the agencies, bureaucratic networks, and administrative capabilities. Individuals who work in the agencies are generally “committed to these organizations’ goals” and are “commit to the public sector”, a trait generally found in Democrats rather than Republicans (82). Bureaucratic networks let Democrats establish links directly with voters, which played a key role in the creation of Democratic voting tendencies amongst “unionized workers and ethnic minorities” as well as “some middle-class homeowners, professionals, and members of the business community” (83). In these ways, agencies are able to resist efforts “by Republican presidents to redirect or limit their activities” (84).

By the 1960s, the Democrats were reeling and became “fully dependent on its base of power in the domestic state” (88). Perhaps the biggest challenge to the New Deal coalition was the Democratic support of civil rights for African-Americans. While Northern Democrats were “sympathetic to the plight of the blacks” (88), southern conservatives (who voted Democratic out of tradition) were not. Civil right legislation passed in the New Frontier and Great Society caused a party dealignment, with Southern Democrats slowly leaving the party to vote Independent or Republican. Blacks soon replaced white Southern Democrats. Federally funded community development corporations, community action centers, and neighborhood service centers “provided an institutional framework through which blacks could be organized to provide local political support for [Great Society] programs” (90). When blacks go out and vote, Democrats almost always win. However, the struggle for liberals is getting African-American citizens to vote, a problem President Obama was able to solve through his nationality and focus on Get Out The Vote initiatives.

During Lydon Johnson’s presidency, the conflict in Vietnam escalated into a war. Due to this, liberals within the administration and throughout the country “launched a full-scale attack on the national security establishment”, seeking to “subject the military-industrial complex to stricter external control” (91). This attack was successful in cutting defense spending throughout the 1970s. However, Democrats were charged with weakening national defenses to a critical level following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Republicans were thus able to gain support in the South and West among those who had a stake in defense spending, hence further challenging the New Deal coalition.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention saw numerous changes designed to show the party’s racial acceptance as well as to pass reforms for primaries and campaign finance. Considered by many to be the biggest change, a new rule required that “delegations to future national conventions be composed of blacks, women, and youths in a ‘reasonable relationship to their presence in the population of the state’” (93). Another platform agenda was encouraging states to use open primaries and caucuses in order to limit the “slate-making efforts of party organizations” (93). The Common Clause group sought campaign finance laws that would include limitations on individual contributors. These proposed reforms by the liberal Democrats steered the party in the direction of middle-class citizens and racial minorities. However, this came with the destruction of the local party organizations, leaving the Democrats even more “dependent upon their bastions within the domestic state” (94).



After a few years and elections of political turmoil, following Nixon’s demise at Watergate and the failure of the Carter administration, Republicans were successful in winning back the presidency in 1980 and began to implement an agenda with an idea of undermining Democratic strongholds and dismantling the social welfare programs. In order to curtail the Democratic entrenchment, Republicans used a mixture of tax reductions, domestic spending cuts, and deregulation. Doing so “diminished the Democrats’ ability to achieve their policy objectives…and provide benefits to groups allied within the party” (103). Significant tax decreases resulting less money for the government and a ballooning annual deficit. To remedy this, a number of domestic spending cuts ensued, putting domestic programs under pressure by cutting of funding (the Anaconda plan). New programs could not be created and funding levels for existing programs were always at risk of being cut. Republicans also sought to deregulate key industries, including transportation, energy, and finance, which limited regulatory agencies as they were not “able to intervene against business on behalf of groups disadvantaged by market process” (106). Deregulation also helped business break with labor, weakening the unions and thus the Democrats. Through these means, the “Republican Offensive” was successful in damaging the Democratic entrenchment; however the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 prevent the destruction of Democratic control.

As the Republicans undermined the “capacities of institutions” (107) controlled by Democrats, they also began to weaken the Democratic social base and New Deal coalition, focusing on business, the middle-class, blue-collar workers, and white southerners. Republicans were able to take business from the Democrats with Reagan’s promises of cutting “costly social programs”, weakening the “influence of labor”, and deregulation. These promises lured businesses to the right, where many of them remain today. In order to win over the middle-class, conservatives “attempted to convince” them that they weren’t “beneficiaries of federal expenditure programs”, but rather “taxpayers” (110). They were successful in creating an issue out of taxes; there was a 21% increase in voters who identified taxation as a problem between 1976 and 1984 (111). By focusing on the aspect of taxation rather than benefits, Republicans were able to lure away middle-class voters with promises of lower tax rates, stealing another block of the Democrat’s New Deal coalition. Republicans won blue-collar workers by stressing “moral and religions convictions” as well as patriotic appeals (114). In addition, Republicans subtly used the issue of race to win over blue-collar workers (115). The race issue, as well as moral convictions and beliefs – such as abortion – , helped Republicans win the votes of white Southerners, who were mostly Evangelicals. By taking these voting groups, Republicans were successful in dismantling the New Deal coalition.



Republicans also made popular bounds with their national security platform and monetary and fiscal policies. The first Reagan term saw the “largest peacetime military buildup” (117). Doing so let Reagan claim the Republican Party was the one of power, both domestically and abroad. It has been acknowledged that the Department of Defense is a Republican entrenchment. While the Reagan administration’s policies led to a soaring national debt, the decline of the dollar, and a growing trade deficit, his policies made it impossible for Democrats to campaign on their core issue: entitlement programs. Since there was a large deficit, it was impossible to run with idea of creating new domestic spending programs, hence hurting Democratic candidates. All in all, national security and monetary and fiscal policies by Republicans strengthened their institutional standing and their capacities of governance all while weakening the Democrats.

Unfortunately, rather than serving the people, the two major political parties have come to use the institutions of government as a means of battling the other. For example, budget deficits via tax cuts were used as a Republican weapon to prevent new spending programs that would have benefited many people throughout the country. Luckily, the debt was financed by foreign governments who sought to capitalize on the high interest rates used by the Federal Reserve to tame inflation. Democrats responded by passing the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act to try and pressure Reagan into tax increases. They also pursued protectionism as a means of cutting off the foreign investment that financed the burgeoning debt. This political fighting hurt the country as markets were sent into a flurry of panics, culminating in Black Monday. In national security, the Reagan administration spent huge sums of money to appear powerful and make Americans think that Republicans were the party of power. Coupled tax decreases, Reagan managed to run extraordinarily high deficits, resulting in the aforementioned disempowerment of Democrats. Federal courts of expanded their powers by “rescind[ing] the abstention doctrine” and by “creat[ing] new rights” (147). Socially, institutional combat deprived America of health care reform when a Republican Congress blocked the Clintons’ health care plan. Impeachment charges, ironically led by Newt Gingrich, were brought on Clinton despite his lack of breaking any formal law. Clearly, rather than focusing on how to best help Americans, the two major parties instead focused on how to damage the other.

Overall, institutional combat and struggles between the two major parties deprives the country of a governing body devoted to advancing policies best suited for the progression of societal well-being. Ever since the Democratic entrenchment of Congress, the presidency, and other agencies in the 1930s, Republicans have sought a way to demean the Democrats and shift the country right. This manifested itself in 1980 after New Deal coalition slowly disintegrated and the Democrats found themselves in a crisis, per se, with a crumbling base and a number of issues that seemed bound to destroy the party – among them national security and the military, as well as growing inflation caused by ample government spending. The reestablishment of the Republican Party has only served to worsen institutional combat as now the two sides are on equal grounds from which to wage political war. As long as institutional combat continues, little will be accomplished by the government and the general populace will suffer as a result.

congressional republicans trump

Republicans: It’s Okay to Oppose Trump

Really.  You Can Do It.

Congressional Republicans have, throughout Donald Trump’s norm-destroying presidential campaign and four-month presidential tenure, managed to stand by his side, offering weak defenses for his petty, dangerous, and abusive actions.  They stick with talking points Trump himself dispels in tweets or interviews.  They run from reporters when reporters question them about the most recent Trump scandal.  They bend over backwards to protect and defend a man best understand as a low-information voter.

But why?  Why do congressional Republicans continue to shield Trump?

Trump, of course, has no interest in the Republican party.  He has no interest in conservative policies, save slashing taxes on the wealthy so he and his children can further avoid paying their civic dues.  There’s no doubt that Trump is indifferent to the very real plight of many Americans.  It’s easy to understand Trump’s desire: Self-enrichment.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump refused to release his tax returns.  Nor did he divest from his business interests (and neither has Ivanka, a handbag designer who finds herself tasked with overseeing foreign policies that affect countries – namely, China – in which she has extensive business interests), resulting in doubtless foreign and domestic emoluments clause violations.

Trump visits his own properties every three days in an effort to drive up their value and membership costs as members would have the chance to see and speak with the President of the United States.

Why defend this behavior?  Why demean yourself to protect a man acting out of self-interest?

Republicans, are you scared of Trump’s bite?  I assure you, his teeth are weak and while his bark may be loud, those who fail to speak softly rarely carry a big stick.



Take, for instance, his attitude towards the House Freedom Caucus.  After his firth healthcare bill failed, he angrily took to Twitter and viciously attacked HFC members.  But just a few weeks later, he directed Paul Ryan and other legislative leaders to give the HFC everything it wanted in the healthcare bill.  Trump entirely conceded, despite his vitriol.  There were no repercussions – they got everything they wanted.

Do you fear being primary challenged?  You shouldn’t.  Trump only received 42 percent of the competitive primary vote and no congressional candidates who contort themselves to fit his mold have succeeded.

It must not be forgot that while Trump may now be popular with Republicans, he barely skated by in the primary, receiving only a plurality of the votes and not topping 50 percent in states until his competitors dropped out.  He’s not popular when given another conservative choice.

This is further proved by Trump-esque congressional candidates all failing to win.  A Trump wannabe primary-challenged Paul Ryan and though he earned the ardent support of Breitbart and alt-right members everywhere, Ryan utterly vanquished him in the primary.  Kansas Republicans had an opportunity to choose a Trumpian candidate to run for a recently vacated House seat, yet they demurred.  The Trump wing of the party may have seized the presidential nomination, but it is unable to overthrow sitting representatives and senators.  You have nothing to fear.



The Constitution Matters.

It’s time to put the Constitution above your party.  Trump has abused his power by firing the man leading an investigation against his campaign because that man refused to swear loyalty to the president.  He endangered US sources and future intelligence acquirement by sharing highly classified information with a foreign adversary – an adversary that meddled in our election to boost Donald Trump!  He routinely breaks norms and undermines faith in democratic institutions by, for instance, comparing our intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany, accusing (with no evidence or semblance of credibility) his predecessor of illegal wiretaps, and diminishing the very necessary free press by referring to it as “fake news,” rhetoric which serves only to promote willful ignorance among his base.

Our Republic depends on congressional Republicans checking Trump’s power.  Why let him abuse and consolidate power; right now, all that’s stopping Trump from fundamentally challenging our system is his easy distractibility and fundamental incompetence.  But why rely on that?  Why not proactively work to defend the government created by the Founding Fathers?

You swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  So do so.  Don’t let a chauvinist brought to politics only by hobby and hopes of boosting himself undermine the very document you claim to treasure and have promised to defend and protect.

It’s okay.  You can do it.

democratic demagoguery

The Road to Democratic Demagoguery

Anti-party reforms welcome demagogues

Our Constitution’s intricate separation of power, its checks and balances both between governing branches and between the government and the people, and republican emphasis emerged from the Founding Fathers’ fear of direct democracy and majoritarian temptations.  They purposefully designed a Republic and left its maintaining to posterity (“a Republic, if you can keep it”).  On that front, we have largely failed – democratizing reforms, including the direct election of senators and primary elections to choose party nominees, redistributed political power to the masses, leaving government susceptible to flaring passions and fleeting factions.  That, by nature, encourages demagoguery.  Political aspirants need only appeal to emotions to rile and form a majority which they can ride to party nominations and, thanks to strong partisanship, general election contention.  Democratic demagoguery, then, once attained will be as dangerous as its right-winged counterpart.

The Republican Party has succumbed to demagogic temptations by nominating Donald Trump.  Democrats, though behind many of the democratization initiatives, have thus far avoided descending into the irrational throes of a malevolent actor.  But that might not always be the case.  The recent assault on DNC and party legitimacy, launched by Bernie Sanders’ quixotic 2016 presidential bid and carried on by the frothing mass of his most die-hard supporters, threatens to further democratize the party and leave it vulnerable to a presidential hopeful who stokes the redistributive and vindictive passions lit by Sanders himself.  In other words, by working to delegitimize the national party and build class-based animosity and distrust, Bernie Sanders has set the Democratic Party – an entity with which he doesn’t even affiliate – down the road to Democratic demagoguery.

That democratization invariable increases the risk of demagoguery is readily evident for as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 1, “paying an obsequious court to the people commenc[es] demagogues and end[s in] tyrants.”  This is not surprising: Few in a fully democratic electorate have the time, will, ability, or interest to learn, in depth, about all political issues a district faces.  True following the American Revolution, such a statement is even truer today as politics competes with a near-infinite supply of other time-consumers, ranging from sports and movies to bars and books.  Add to that a seemingly ever-increasing number of issues on the ballot in the form of initiatives, referendums, candidates for offices many don’t know exist and it becomes incredibly difficult for the entire electorate to master politics.  And so they don’t, relying instead on cues from those who specialize in the field.  Unfortunately for those who eschew demagogues and the temptations of passion, relying on authority can quickly lead voters astray should the leading figure act to manipulate interests, push falsehoods, and legitimize ignorance or bigotry.



A Well-Designed System

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats erected roadblocks – well, hurdles – that make it challenging for a demagogue to overcome the party’s interest.  Superdelegates, for one, have no obligation to vote for the delegate leader.  Fearing a demagogue or other potential nominee dangerous to the party or country, superdelegates can block a nomination, throwing it to the convention floor, or put another candidate over the top (assuming, of course, the candidate does not attain a majority of delegates).  Democratic demagoguery can thus be avoided.  There are not enough superdelegates to single-handedly decide the nominee or bolster an “establishment” candidate that simply flounders through the primary.  Supderdelegates can make a difference, but only at the end of reasonably close contests.

Secondly, Democratic caucuses and primaries are proportional.  There are no winner-take-all contests.  Plurality candidates would struggle to earn a majority of delegates – similarly, other candidates would have little incentive to drop out as an insurgent demagogue would not necessarily win the nomination prior to the convention.

Third, some states hold closed primaries or caucuses (the same is true on the Republican side).  This encourages voters to take an active political step – affiliating with a party – that increases allegiance with the organization and, through that allegiance, forms (ideally) a lasting coalition in which voters are not just mobilized by temporary arousals, but also with an eye toward the party’s long-term health, which a demagogue might endanger.  Bernie Sanders and his supporters have attacked the first and last of these procedures.



How Democratic Demagoguery Arrives

The Sanders wing of the Democratic Party hopes to further democratize presidential selection by eliminating superdelegates and opening the caucuses and primaries to the entire voting-age population.  Both ideas have the potential to imperil the Democratic Party, especially given that reform-empowered voters have already shown a willingness to embrace, with little question, far-from-center rhetoric and ideology.  Removing superdelegates vanquishes the party from its own nominating affair – no longer would party elites, workers, officeholders, and elder statesmen have a say in who represents their party atop the ballot.  Without the presumably tempering influence of such partisans, Democratic presidential nominations would be left to that which feared the Founders: Direct popular whim.  John Adams claimed that popular rule “soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.  There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”  There’s no immediate reason why this statement shouldn’t apply to parties.  The Republicans, though victorious, might have effectively killed or at least thoroughly poisoned the party with Trump’s nomination and election.  Removing superdelegates would only increase the chances that a mischievous and momentary majority within the Democratic Party could doom the entity to history’s disgraces.

Similarly, opening the primaries to those who care little about the party as whole and instead act to satisfy immediate interests without regard to the party’s long-term standing risks demagoguery.  Independents, contrary to public opinion, are not moderates; they’re closet partisans who often inhabit the ideological wings and vote for far-right or far-left candidates.  In contested open primaries, Donald Trump won 12 of 17 contests (or 71%) whereas in contested closed contests, he won ­13 of 22 contests, or 59% (data from Ballotpedia).  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton carried self-identified Democrats by 27 points while losing independents by 31 (per FiveThirtyEight).  Open primaries allow ideological wingers – those most prone to a demagogue who legitimizes and furthers those viewpoints – to challenge and perhaps emerge victorious over the staid center.  In short, it eliminates another potential party defense against demagogues.



Don’t Encourage Demagogues

Combined, these desired changes – eliminating superdelegates and thus profound party influence in its own nominating affair as well as opening all primaries to independent voters with no attachment to the party’s long-term health and standing – erode republican institutions that, in a sense, protect voters from their primal selves.  It’s worth pointing out that these reforms arise from perceived (though non-existent) DNC corruption and unfounded belief in a “rigged” primary.  These themes themselves have been pushed by demagogues (Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders)!  Clearly, it’s a self-serving cycle: Diminish the party’s standing in order to decentralize the nominating affair and open the door to demagogic victory.

To avoid following the Republicans down the path to charlatan-led extremism, to avoid Democratic demagoguery, Democrats must recognize that while republican institutions do not fully empower they electorate, the checks on popular temptations serve the party itself and the country as a whole.  For, as Alexander Hamilton so eloquently said: “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.”  Let the parties that control our government follow those same guidelines.

bad politics

We Have Bad Politics — Let’s Change That

Fixing Political Discourse

We have bad politics and we deserve — and certainly need — better.

We need discourse that doesn’t descend into ad hominem attacks.  We need to discuss politics like adults capable of rational thought and capable of accepting the merits of opposing sides and dissecting their arguments for elements of truth.

This is a call for politics of respectability.

As the political system has descended into party polarization not seen since the Civil War Era, loyal partisans (and voters loyal to certain candidates) refuse to accept the legitimacy of opposition.  Liberals ignore conservative arguments; conservatives immediately dismiss liberal thought.  And it’s easy to see why: both sides spend immense time, money, and political capital on attacking the other and portraying their viewpoints as “un-American” or otherwise illegitimate.

But when parties and politicians attempt solely to discredit opposition, compromise becomes impossible, gridlock ensues, and partisan strife makes its way through the nation.  Assuming the opposing side has a hostile motive premised on “undermining America” or serving only elite interests naturally makes unity impossible.  Why would you work with a party or leader who wanted to destroy America?  You wouldn’t.  But that only inhibits functioning government.  Two chambers of Congress and a president armed with a veto require that the two parties work together, especially in times of divided government control (as we have seen for much of the last decade).  Without compromise and the willingness to bridge party lines, we are left with gridlock and a neglect of governing duty.  Nothing happens.



Bad Politics Hurts the Country

Voters often take their cues from elites.  If they see elite political actors denouncing the other side and brazenly attacking them with vitriolic rhetoric, they will follow suit and grow to view opposition with nothing but ire.  This anger is directed at opposing elites and opposing partisans at all levels (right on down to their neighbors).  An angry base motivated by elite rhetoric stimulates a self-fulfilling cycle: Politicians incite voter anger; if same-party politicians begin to work across the aisle, voters respond by kicking them out of office and replacing the bipartisan lawmaker with an extremist.  That, of course, precludes any opportunity of compromise and increases the animosity between partisans (they view the other party as culpable for government’s inaction).  In that way, inciting the base damages elite interests because they lose agency.  No longer can they compromise to advance legislation closer to (but not at) their ideal points.  Doing so would earn a primary challenge (and ask the likes of Eric Cantor and Bob Bennett how that turned out for them).  Bad politics from our leaders encourages and directly leads to bad politics from voters.

The anger between the two sides permeates discourse.  Voters, with cues from elites, come to despise the other side and to decry bipartisan politicians.  They also refuse to accept the legitimacy of other ideas.  Liberal or conservative thought is dismissed out of hand.  Partisans refuse to consider any aspect of the arguments — refusing to analyze an argument’s merit weakens the marketplace of ideas as the only trading that takes place is in an ideological echo chamber where partisans read, discuss, and accept viewpoints put forth by like minded individuals or organizations.  A political system that requires compromise to overcome institutional hurdles needs partisan elites and voters to learn, accept, and debate the merits of ideas so we can reach consensus.  But by refusing to even consider opposing beliefs as legitimate, compromise becomes impossible.

We need to embrace a politics of understanding.  Elites need to tone done hostile rhetoric to give voters cues that opposition is legitimate and their ideas have merit and elements of truth.  Voters, in turn, need to consider opposing arguments and digest the data, analysis, and conclusions presented by other thinkers.  It opens our minds and helps a synthesis emerge from the liberal thesis and its conservative antithesis.

This isn’t a call to forego your ideology.  It’s a call to learn from the other side, to view it as legitimate, and to embrace opposition as an alternate view to the same end goal: Bettering America and enriching her citizens.

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