Saturday, July 28, 2007

If to know history is to cease to be Protestant ...

Then to know history is also to know the idiocy of those who would argue that American democracy is increasingly a sham. One wonders what Mark would have thought in the days when to qualify for participation in the electoral franchise one had to own property or (if memory serves) when only the rich could afford to be members of the British parliament because the office drew no salary. Were those not legitimate democracies either?

Mark then proceeds to decend into class warfare:
If you wish to pretend that, say, the daily lives of Hillary, Bloomberg, Edwards, Romney and Rudy are somehow "representative" of your lived day-to-day existence in any sense that normal people usually mean that word, good luck with that. For the rest us, more and more people have less and less in common with the "men of the people" who are allegedly the instruments of our self-government. I don't see what's conspiratorial about that. I think it's a natural result of the particular system we've created. We have a choice of oligarchs. We have largely abandoned *whether* we will be ruled by oligarchs. A quick survey of the net worth of the occupants of our high offices makes this a non-controversial fact. That's why it matters when McCain runs out of funding. No huge $$$, no high office. We don't live in a Capra film.

... I honestly don't get the surprise here. Does anybody seriously believe that you could be President without enormous financial backing from enormously wealthy people? Does anybody here seriously believe that the people who populate our political class in DC (either party) actually have a lot in common, on a daily basis, with the lives of the people they "represent"?

Come on! Reeeeeally? Do you seriously believe your average DC politico is thinking about how he's going to afford the plumbing job his house needs, or wondering how to get the kids to soccer practice when the exterminator is coming, or fretting about how to make the dental bill?

Probably not. However, for anyone to believe that a Washington polity that contains everyone from Tom Coburn to Ted Kennedy to Ron Paul to Mike Pence is some kind of homogenous bloc is an exercise in self-delusion. Moreover, as the last congressional election or the immigration bill painfully demonstrated for anyone who was paying attention, it isn't like the power-brokers in Washington can just do as they please without regard to the popular will. Even if one accepts Mark's formulation that we must choose between oligarchs, there is a marked difference between those that occupied Congress in 2006 and those that do so in 2007. To believe otherwise, once again, is an exercise in self-delusion.

And speaking of which, in response to this comment by Blackadder:
You passed over the most astounding part of the Buchanan piece, which was the suggestion that the Democrats in Congress aren't asking questions about the conspiracy to start a war with Iran because they are secretly in on it. That's just... strange. One might as well argue that 9/11 was planned and executed by Michael Moore.

It's completely bizarre, but it is consistent with what Buchanan has written in the past. He has long held that because (if I recall correctly) the Democrats removed a provision in a bill stating that Bush could not mount any kind of action against Iran without congressional approval. From the view of Buchanan (and apparently Mark), the Democrats are indeed complicit in Bush's plan to attack Iran.

8 comments:

Donald R. McClarey said...

"For the rest us, more and more people have less and less in common with the "men of the people" who are allegedly the instruments of our self-government."

Mark, do the names George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock ring a bell? Like most of the Founding Fathers they were wealthy, vastly wealthier than the common men of their time. Their wealth did not prevent them from initiating our present on-going experiment in self-rule. The idea that we are an oligarchy now, as opposed to 1776, is simply risible. Virtually all politicians who end up running for President have amassed considerable personal wealth. Nothing sinister in that. It is much more important what their beliefs are and whether they are persons of integrity. Additionally the idea that money is the decisive factor in politics is simply wrong-headed. Unpopular candidates such as John Connally in 1980 in the Republican presidential primaries and Phil Graham in 1996 can have all the money in the world and not go any place. Money is always important in any political campaign but to consider it as always, or even most of the time, the decisive factor is flat wrong.

I assume this rant was perhaps precipitated by dawning realization that his preferred candidate Ron Paul (R. Pluto) has as much chance of being anything other than an asterick in this campaign as Mark does of winning the "most congenial" blog award. However, it might simply be yet another demonstation that Mark knows as much about politics as mice do about quantum mechanics.

torquemada05 said...

Actually, hasn't Ron Paul actually done pretty well in his online fundraising activities? If so, is he then part of the oligarchs that we must select from among?

paul zummo said...

Donald already beat me to the punch re: Washington, Hancock and Jefferson (though the latter died hugely in debt). Perhaps Shea should aquaint himself with Charles Beard. Though Beard's analysis was ultimately wrong, it's not as though he was completely off base in detecting that the Founders were a little, ahh, wealthier than the rest.

Campaign financing is another poppycock issue. Bill Gates can contribute no more to an individual campaign than anyone here. And while his departing with $2200 is not going to cause as much pain for him as it would me, you hardly have to be an "oligarch" to contribute money to a campaign, and hardly rich to contribute the maximum.

More importantly, one has to ask: does popularity follow money, or vice versa? For those of us who actually bother to follow and study politics rather than rant away like some mildly more intelligent Archie Bunker, it is evident that the candidates that raise money are the popular ones. In other words, the reason that Hillary, Obama, Giuliani, and Romney have raised a lot of money is because a lot of people want to see them become President and therefore contribute money to their campaigns in order to further that effort. Nobody gives a fig about Hunter (sadly), Tancredo, Richards, Biden etc, and therefore they don't have any money.

Some might think this is a bit of a chicken and the egg type thing - you have to raise money to become known and therefore popular, and you then have to become popular in order to raise money. But I don't think so. I've researched the issue quite a bit and in reality, it's money that follows the leader. Sure, there is a bit of a wave effect and the money figures exaggerate the differences between candidates in terms of popularity, but by and large, campaign contributions are basically polls of a sort. If a candidate has a following - and you don't have to start out with money in order to have a following - then they'll get the money they need to campaign effectively.

Look at Howard Dean a few years ago. Who the hell heard of him outside of Vermont? Yet his message resonated with a lot of liberals, and he was able to raise money after he became a national figure, not before. Of course, his campaign sunk for a variety of reasons. And then John Kerry started to collect money hand over fist, but only after he won Iowa. The money didn't start pouring in to that campaign - he was essentially on par with Edwards, Lieberman, and Gephardt before the caucus - until AFTER he was seen as the frontrunner and the choice to defeat Bush.

But, in the end, it's a lot more fun to run off at the mouth about a subject you know absolutely nothing about rather than do even a minimal amount of research. That's what makes having a blog that records every thought - no matter how ill informed - so much fun.

paul zummo said...

On a more philosophic level, enough bitching. And no, don't start a revolution. Our country is eminently more democratic than it was at the founding, and no, that is not a good thing. Our problem is not that we have leaders that disregard our whims and desires, it's that our "leaders" do nothing but attempt to cater to every whim and desire that strikes the American public at any given moment.

It's so much easier to assign blame to some ridiculous oligarchic conspiracy than to point the finger at the culprits - us. We have allowed this country to become a uber-democracy never envisioned by the founders, a place where nothing gets done because we want it all. The secular messianists are those nagging populists who expect the government to be run by saintly men elected by the enlightened masses. The reality is that we elect rather unsaintly men because we are ourselves no saints.

A true leader is the politician who doesn't give a fig what the public wants. A true leader is the one who does the right thing, not the popular thing. Those two might not always be mutually exclusive, but they sometimes are, and when the popular action the right course of action diverge, the true leader takes the right course. But instead of blaming the public and therefore the majority of people, it sounds so much more romantic to envision some nefarious and corrupt cotery that's keeping us down.

Our political leaders might take us down in flames, but it'll be the populace at large leading us there first.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Jefferson (though the latter died hugely in debt)."

"You'd do great things but you lack the purse?

I died a pauper, you can't do worse."

Jefferson was an expert at spending money, but earning money was a skill that completely eluded him, in contrast to Washington who always had a sharp eye for profit.

Paul is completely right that money usually comes to popular politicians and does not normally create popularity by the mere expenditure of funds. A classic example was the primary battle between Reagan and Ford in 1976. Ford started with a huge fundraising advantage and strong support from the vast majority of the Republican party establishment. Reagan was ridiculed as "too conservative", a "has been actor", etc. Ford beats Reagan through all of the primaries until North Carolina. Reagan wins. Shock. He wins every primary after that. Money floods in. By the end of the primaries Ford has only a slender fund raising advantage against Reagan. Money came to Reagan because donors believed in what he was saying, and because he demonstrated that he could win.

paul zummo said...

Jefferson was an expert at spending money, but earning money was a skill that completely eluded him, in contrast to Washington who always had a sharp eye for profit.


Too much wine, too many books (a problem I share), and building a tobacco farm on top of a mountain = money problems.

Shawn said...

Paul is completely right that money usually comes to popular politicians and does not normally create popularity by the mere expenditure of funds. A classic example was the primary battle between Reagan and Ford in 1976. Ford started with a huge fundraising advantage and strong support from the vast majority of the Republican party establishment. Reagan was ridiculed as "too conservative", a "has been actor", etc. Ford beats Reagan through all of the primaries until North Carolina. Reagan wins. Shock. He wins every primary after that. Money floods in. By the end of the primaries Ford has only a slender fund raising advantage against Reagan. Money came to Reagan because donors believed in what he was saying, and because he demonstrated that he could win.

With modern day front-loaded primaries, a duplication of what Reagan almost pulled off is impossible. That is one argument for extending the primaries out as they used to be: if we are gonna start elections a year out at least keep it possible to be in doubt about whom the major parties candidates will be until after their conventions. It would also mitigate against the one with the most $$$ being almost certain to win: a rare criticism from Shea which deserves to be noted as even broken clocks are right once or twice a day. (Depending on if they are digital or wall clocks of course.)

paul zummo said...

With modern day front-loaded primaries, a duplication of what Reagan almost pulled off is impossible.

In the last election cycle, John Kerry did not start raising substantially more money than the other guys in the middle - Gephardt, Lieberman and Edwards - until after he won Iowa and New Hampshire. He was way behind Dean, and even a good deal behind Clark. It wasn't until the Dems as a whole got the bright idea that he was the most "electable" candidate they had and started rallying around him that he started raising money. So we've had a Reagan-like candidate as recently as three years ago.

Now, the primaries have since been front-loaded even more, so it is true that there's a bit more pressure to raise money early. But Kerry raised almost all of his money - and this was well over $100 million IIRC - in a little more than two months, so money can accumulate very quickly.

As I said before, money is a reflection of popularity and support, not a creator of them.