Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Partisanship Shifts: A Brief History

I want to use the following excerpts from a Statfor.com article to provide a history of how we have become such "partisan" country.  

The entire article,  The Roots of the Government Shutdown is from Stratfor's Geopolitical Weekly, Tuesday October 8th, 2013.

The History Lesson:

"...there was a massive shift in the 1970s in how the American political system operates. Prior to then, candidate selection was based on delegates to national conventions, and the delegates to conventions were selected through a combination of state conventions and some primaries. Political bosses controlled the selection of state convention delegates, and therefore the bosses controlled the delegates to the national convention -- and that meant that these bosses controlled the national conventions.
There was ample opportunity for corruption in this system, of course. The state party bosses were interested in enhancing their own security and power, and that was achieved by patronage, but they were not particularly ideological. By backing someone likely to be elected, they would get to appoint postmasters and judges and maybe even Cabinet secretaries. They used the carrot of patronage and the stick of reprisals for those who didn't follow the bosses' line. And they certainly were interested in money in exchange for championing business interests. They were ideological to the extent to which their broad constituencies were, and were prepared to change with them. But their eyes were on the mood of the main constituencies, not smaller ones. These were not men given to principled passion, and the dissident movements of the 1960's accordingly held men like Chicago's Richard J. Daley responsible for repressing their movements.
The reformers wanted to break the hold of the party bosses over the system and open it to dissent, something party bosses disliked. The reformers did so by widely replacing state conventions with primary systems. This severely limited the power of state and county chairmen, who could no longer handpick candidates. These people no longer controlled their parties as much as presided over them.
Political parties ceased being built around patronage systems, but rather around the ability to raise money. Money, not the bosses' power, became the center of gravity of the political system, and those who could raise money became the power brokers. More important, those who were willing to donate became candidates' main constituency. The paradox of the reforms was that in breaking the power of the bosses, money became more rather than less important in the selection of candidates. Money has always been central to American politics. There has never been a time when it didn't matter. But with the decline of political bosses, factors other than money were eliminated.
Through the next decade, reformers tried to get control over money. Though they had gotten rid of the bosses, getting money out of politics proved daunting. This put power in the hands of business, which by hook or crook, Citizens United or not, was going to pursue its interests through the political system. But in general its interests were fairly narrow and were not particularly ideological. Where before business gave to party bosses, it now donated to candidates and political action committees. Of course, if this route were closed down, still another route would be found. The candidates need money, businesses need to protect their political interests. Fortunately, most businessmen's imagination stops at money, limiting the damage they can do.
Being an ideologue myself, this next part is particularly disturbing to me.  Given that politics in one way or another effects nearly everything and everyone I wrestle with the idea that there are a lot of people who simply don't care enough to educate themselves and vote.

There was, however, an unexpected consequence. The reformers' vision was that the fall of the bosses would open the door to broad democratic participation. But the fact was that the American people did not care nearly as much about politics as the reformers thought they ought to. Participation in presidential primaries was frequently well below 50 percent, and in state and local elections, it was far lower. 
For most Americans, private life is more important than public life. There is only so much time and energy available, the issues are arcane and rarely involve things that will change ordinary citizens' lives much, and there is little broad-based ideological passion. Citizens frequently don't know or care who their congressman is, let alone who their state senator is. They care about schools and roads and taxes, and so long as those are functioning reasonably well, they are content.
This greatly frustrated the reformers. They cared deeply about politics, and believed that everyone should, too. But in the country our founders bequeathed us, it was expected that most people would concern themselves with private things. And in fact they do: They do not vote in primaries or even in general elections.
The primaries were left to the minority who cared. At the beginning, these were people who felt strongly about particular issues: corporate greed, the environment, war, abortion, taxes, and so on. Over time, these particular issues congealed into ideology. An ideology differs from issue-oriented matters in that ideology is a package of issues. On the right, low taxes and hostility to abortion frequently are linked. On the left, corporate greed and war are frequently linked. Eventually, a bond is created showing that apparently disparate issues are in fact part of the same package.
Particular issues meld to form ideological factions. The ideological factions take common positions on a wide range of issues. The factions are relatively small minorities, but their power is vastly magnified by the primary system. Ideologues care because ideologies contain an apocalyptic element: If something is not done soon, the argument goes, catastrophe will ensue. The majority might well feel some unease regarding particular topics, and some may feel disaster is afoot, but they do not share the ideologue's belief that redemption can come from the political process.
This in part might be because of a sense of helplessness, and in part it might reflect a deeper sophistication about how the world really works, but either way, this type of person doesn't vote in primaries. But ideologues do. Perhaps not all do, and not everyone who votes is an ideologue, but it is ideology that generates a great deal of the energy that contributes to our political process. And it is ideology that, for example, links the deep and genuine passion over abortion to other issues.
A candidate in either party does not need the votes of the majority of registered voters. He needs the votes of the majority of voters who will show up. In the past model, voters showed up because, say, they got their job on the highway crew from the county boss, and they had to appear at the polls if they wanted to keep it. Those days are gone. Now, people show up because of their passionate belief in a particular ideology, and money is spent convincing them that a candidate shares their passionate commitment.
After raising the funds by convincing primary voters of their ideological commitment, the general election can turn into a race between two ideological packages. The winner will only be re-elected if primary voters see him as having been sufficiently loyal to their ideology while in office.
            {Note: All emphasis mine.}

             "The Roots of the Government Shutdown is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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