The Life of the Parties by A. James Reichley

The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties (2000, 1992)

the life of the partiesThis link is to the 2000 edition, the one I am reading is 1992 but not as dated as one might think given that it begins at the beginning of America’s founding and all the information up to then and is extremely detailed and analyzed and described very well.

This book answers the many questions I have had over the years of how we ended up with an essentially two-party system that is run like two warring corporations for a monopoly of the United States government as the prize.

I knew that the Founding Fathers had not begun nor wanted political parties, but apparently not “until they began running parties themselves.” Thomas Jefferson was pro-party. Alexander Hamilton “associated parties with ‘ambition, avarice, personal animosity.'” I’m going to side with Hamilton on this point. James Madison “wrote in Federalist Number Ten of ‘the mischiefs of faction. John Adams expressed ‘dread’ toward ‘division of the republic into to great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.'” Now that was prescient!

The Founders’ low regard for parties was in part derived from prejudices formed by their studies of classical writers, and British and European political theorists. But they also had before them what they considered the baneful effects of parties in the colonial and state governments: the tendency of parties to sharpen class antagonisms; the emergence of parties, with their attendant functionaries, as interests in themselves [!!!!]; the openness of parties to corruption [!!!!], and the ease with which they could be mastered by DEMAGOGUES [!!!!].

Beyond these acquired biases and empirical observations, the Founders’ rejection of parties grew out of their conviction that such political divisions are inherently SUBVERSIVE of republican [not the party, the form of government] ideals…..They realized that any political system will be shaped in part by clashing interests and personal ambitions. But they believed that republican government must firmly be rooted in the ideal of a disinterested [i.e. objective not apathetic] citizenry coming together, either directly or through elected representatives, to legislate FOR THE COMMON GOOD. They were Lockeans…holding, like Locke [Father of Liberalism] himself, that the social contract once concluded exerts moral authority of its own, rather than merely providing a playing field for UNREMITTING struggle among PRIVATE interests.”

They were convinced, as James Madison wrote, that while ‘there is a degree of DEPRAVITY in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust,’ there are also ‘other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.’ The natural inclination of mankind toward corruption requires checks and balances and other safeguards built into the Constitution. But if a man is totally driven by self-interest, then Thomas Hobbes, who argued that the egoistic drives in human nature are so strong that without AUTHORITARIAN government life will be ‘nasty, brutish, and short,’ not Locke, was right, and republican government is impossible….

Parties, by framing every issue in terms of winners and losers, the Founders believed, UNDERMINE this indispensable willingness to SEEK SOME LEVEL OF THE COMMON GOOD rather than the satisfaction of SPECIAL INTERESTS. Parties, therefore, are socially DESTRUCTIVE and must be considered, as Madison wrote, a potentially ‘mortal disease’; as Hamilton claimed, and ‘avenue to tyranny’; and as Washington insisted, a source of ‘FRIGHTFUL DESPOTISM….'”

Parties defined (minimally) as organized social groups formed to exercise or influence governmental authority through elective means, have usually been associated with democratic politics. In societies run politically by a single ruler or a dominant class, as most societies in history have been, the dominant establishment naturally feels threatened by organized opposition and acts to suppress it. Even in the oligarchic republic that governed medieval Venice, parties were LEGALLY PROHIBITED for fear they would split the dominant aristocracy and give the LESSER ORDERS political leverage.

pp. 17-19 [emphases mine]

This reality of our current actual oligarchy is demonstrated most perfectly in the Republican efforts to eliminate unions on any level, but starting with the easiest ones, public employees. Unions brought you the weekend, the 8 hour work day, ended child labor, and so much more. People fought and died for the rights of the “lesser orders” of people (non-white Christian men) and have been murdered and fired and blacklisted and jailed and more for these rights. Now they are under attack by Republicans in a more modern fashion, passing more Newspeak named laws: “the right to work” that actually end up lowering wages, lowering bargaining power, lower ability of workers to collectively take their small amounts of funds to put in a pool that would have enough money to help working people collectively to have enough money to compete with the millionaires and billionaires, and now outgunned (pun intended see Heller decision) since the disastrous decision in  Citizens ‘ United (a conservative lobby group). BTW the Heller case came to the Supreme Court financed by a rich man from the Cato foundation who deliberately sought an outlier case that would allow the fix-is-in Supreme Court majority of Republican appointees rather than doing anything to stop the daily deaths of citizens by gun violence. Not to mention Money=Speech decision, Hobby Lobby that graces us with gynoticians and the right of corporations or pretty much ANYONE ELSE to say what a woman can do with her body EXCEPT WOMEN. [Boycott Hobby Lobby, I am] And then there are the numerous laws to stop non-existent voter fraud (1 in a few million??) that in fact disenfranchises mostly DEMOCRATS.

Though students have the right to caucus and vote in the state they are going to school in, republican presidential candidate John Kasich (boo hiss) has the temerity to tell them to do the decent thing and not to vote when they are not living in their “home” state. WTF???

And now too, the partisanship has gotten so extreme that the Republicans (who hope to win Presidency like they did with Bush perhaps, with a little help from the Supreme Court,  are in a panic because Justice Scalia has died and lost the Republican the majority (rot in hell Scalia) in what is supposed to be a non-partisan Court. Only Democrats seem to ever vote for the People which is as it should be and not a bias. So the Re[publicans vow to obstruct (treason!!!) ANYONE Obama appoints (which is his DUTY). Mad dogs are trying to have a coup. They must not have the voting machines rigged as well as they did in 2000 (but thankfully Plan B having the Supreme Court decide took care of that little problem) and 2004. But with certain functions allocated to certain divisions of the structure – to prevent an authoritarian King-like development – instead of being able to defeat these nefarious actions through law, the House (gerrymandering remember) has been dominated by incumbent Republicans for years and retook the majority because Democrats were experiencing learned helplessness so didn’t come out enough to vote and keep the House from the Republicans. And this matters because only the House (I think, must double check) has the ability to impeach any Senator who does not do their job and have hearings for candidates.

This professed refusal to even consider anyone, plus the unfreaking believable gall of Republicans to suggest that Obama NOT EVEN NOMINATE a justice, that the next president should get that chance. Well no, you treasonous republicans, Obama is President. He is doing his job. Do yours and give up your corruption of the court. Then too they came up with the ridiculous notion that precedent matters: it does not, and besides there is no REAL precedent anyway. Rubio et al can repeat it as many times as they want, and FOX news will surely dedicate many talking head hours to perpetuate this lie, but again, no, you’re wrong. They see their power slipping just a tiny bit despite their cheating and corrupt practices to remain in power for their own benefit as our Founding Fathers feared and they are prepared to do ANYTHING I think to stop that from happening. You watch, they have plans in the works that must somehow have required Scalia or they might not be in such a complete and obviously hostile state towards doing any actual governing.

I am starting to suspect that the Republicans do want to have another Civil War and so keeping assault weapons in the hands of ignorant ranchers like Cliven Bundy (is it just me or does his name conjure up an image of a devil with cloven hooves combined with the sick fuckedness of the serial killer Ted Bundy?), or white supremacists, KKK, and other delightful products of free speech. They have deliberately manipulated media and bought anyone and everyone that had any influence, especially in the courts where their minions continue to to pass illegal laws that violate the Constitution they profess to hold so dear. By their deliberate court stacking  (pass Republicans’ nominees, deny Democratic judges’ confirmation), these laws are struck down by liberal (or maybe just objective) judges but their ace in the hole is their domination of SCOTUS. At least it was guaranteed until the recent blessed death of the hellhound Justice Scalia (Feb. 13, 2016).

So if you are rich enough, and part of the party machine, you can deliberately seek out cases to set precedents (that I am not convinced should carry so much weight in contemporary times if the case was determined by social standards of the 1700s) that MAKE LAW, a function our Congress is supposed to be performing. Of course they are bought and sold puppets, especially the Republicans, so they come out on top via gerrymandering and virtual lifetime appointments because of it. Therein lies another flaw of the “democratic” pretense of equal representation.

The social contract is what is missing in today’s self-perpetuating two-party system. And so Hobbes’ view of “nasty, brutal, and short” is now looming on the horizon. No, actually it is already here: Google Flint water crisis. Somehow we lost public servants and statesmen to politicians which is to say puppets of corruption by the authoritarians who also want to once again oppose the Constitutional separation of Church and State. No God but their god. Theocracy is blatantly proposed by many of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, many of whom have claimed they were each told by God to run. Cruz is particularly vile, almost enough for even an atheist to believe in the anti-Christ and the End Times so longingly desired by the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. They just know they’ll go to Heaven because they are so righteous,  but unfortunately for them, faux Christians.

When did the purpose of government veer away from the principle of the Common Good? Further into the book I may find some answers. But right now I believe it was the development of the two opposing ideals of for the good of the people against the good of the powerful wealthy elites. We are experiencing the “mortal disease” of the two party  system to quote Madison’s fear. And this election year will determine if we have the tyranny that Hamilton feared, or status quo, but best would be a voted in revolution with Bernie Sanders as President in 2016 because he is one of the few people in power to keep pounding the notion that the function of government is for the COMMON GOOD of the human beings in America.

When I reserved the book at the library I had no idea if it was going to have a conservative or liberal bias so the first thing I checked was the author information, who was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and then became a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Public Policy Program at Georgetown University [from jacket copy]. After jumping around a bit from index entries and random look-sees from table of contents, the book was pretty darn objective. So I was pretty sure then that Brookings was not a conservative think tank like the (gag) Heritage Foundation. [Whenever you see really patriotic jingoism names you can comfortably bet it serves the opposite purpose from the name in a classic Orwellian Newspeak functionality].

So after making a few notes, I decided I had to look up Wikipedia entry on Brookings Institution and discovered it has been pretty centrist essentially in terms of research results.

[Thank you Wikipedia for existing to fulfill my dream of an online reference library with free access to all! Please donate (I did) to keep them a charitable and viable service to the world.]

For example, Brookings Institution fellows developed the plan that became the Marshall Plan, so that was cool to learn. I had not ever thought about someone other than a government workforce developed public policies (other than ALEC or conservatives or libertarians like the Cato Institute founded by Charles Koch in 1974), that is how little I knew about public policy development! I never even knew that there were such a thing as public policy programs at universities (or just wasn’t paying attention).

The Wikipedia entry notes, however, “After the election of Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968 the relationship between the Brookings Institution and the White House deteriorated; at one point Nixon’s aide Charles Colson [who found Jesus in prison for his subsequent crimes, though I think his religious pretenses are just a way to run other scams and undermine democracy] proposed a firebombing of the Institution.” [emphasis mine]

The one extremely serious flaw in the book (maybe fixed in the 2000 edition) is that you would never know that women existed at all apart from the few mentions of women voting more for one party or the other type comments. In the index there are very few entries: women, vote of, 332, 346, 348; women’s suffrage, 236; abortion issues, 357-358.; but no mention of the League of Women Voters for example, founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt. This group is a powerful force in politics still today. I am ambivalent about the 1973 decision to let men join. While obviously for equality, like letting women in golf clubs where so much business is actually conducted, I get a little tired of men co-opting women only groups, making there no place for women to be without men who always end up mansplaining and interrupting women. Sounds sexist on the surface, but so often men come into women’s groups and they take over due to their sense of entitlement, in fact it is that sense of entitlement that they must be allowed to participate despite having excluded women from these boys’ clubs for generations that rankles.

Apparently there were no women involved in the development of the political party system, which is not really a surprising since women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 versus New Zealand’s 1893 (though women could not stand for parliament). In fact, I’m not sure when American women were allowed to hold office. Wikipedia says “The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which went into force in 1954, enshrining the equal rights of women to vote, hold office, and access public services as set out by national laws.” However, I suspect that it didn’t occur to the author to look. Wyoming is the exception to excluding women, having given the vote to their women in 1889. The first woman governor was in Wyoming. And the first to elect a woman to Congress. The motivation to grant Wyoming women was not altruistic: sparse population meant less representation in the House when the territory became at state.





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