Aristocratic Nostalgia of Our Political Elites

Our leftist elites suddenly discover that too much democracy is harmful.

Some liberals feel that American politics suffers from too much democracy.  The New Yorker mourns:

Parties are losing control over their candidates. Two scholars argue that ordinary Americans are the ones paying the price.

Their article reminds us that when Hubert Humphrey accepted the Democratic nomination for President on August 29, 1968, he had not competed in even one primary.  There had been 14 primaries between Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, both of whom were vehemently opposed to the Vietnam war.  Mr. Humphrey, a party grandee of long standing, floated above the fray and coasted into the nomination thanks to his decades of building connections to party grandees.  Rank and file Democrats were enraged at the nomination:

After Kennedy was assassinated, in early June, antiwar Democrats pinned their hopes on McCarthy. Yet Humphrey, who did not stand in a single primary and had promised (albeit reluctantly) to stay the course in Vietnam, was now being anointed as the Party's standard-bearer.

Feeling shut out by the Democratic Party, thousands of Americans took their anger to the streets of Chicago. Outside the convention hall, before Humphrey invoked the prospect of a more peaceful future, cops were staging what, according to a later report, could "only be called a police riot."

Ordinary voters were as appalled by the rioting as later voters were by the false attacks on Justice Kavanaugh.  When Mr. Nixon won the election that fall, pressure to reform the Democratic party became irresistible.

A commission chaired by far-left Sen. McGovern decided that nominees would be chosen via open primaries instead of in the classic "smoke-filled room."  In return, newly empowered party activists chose him as their candidate for the 1972 Presidential election.  The "People's Choice" lost in one of the most lopsided elections in history, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia - even then, solid-blue no matter what.

The Revenge of the Elites

Two Yale political scientists, Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, wrote Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself (Yale).  They argue that strong political parties whose rules can keep rank-and-file members in check are needed to ensure the nomination of candidates who can win elections.

In other words: don't leave choosing candidates to actual voters, they'll pick the wrong people!  Give them merely the illusion of power, while adroitly sliding in an elite-approved nominee who will continue to feed the swamp regardless of his platorm or even his promises.

This is yet another example of the classic elitist belief, endemic on the left but common to both parties, that ordinary people are too stupid to be permitted to control their own affairs.  In this view, the only path to a stable society is by allowing individuals to make choices only within bounds carefully constructed by their betters.  Shades of Regency England and the world of aristocrats and squires!  As Charles Dickens put it:

O let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations.

How much easier our omniscient elites would have it if only the peasants would just keep to their proper stations!  After their 1972 defeat from nominating someone beloved of what they regarded (correctly, as it turned out) as their out-of-touch lunatic fringe, Democrat party elites invented "superdelegates" whose job was to restrain popular support for a candidate who couldn't win the actual election.  By the time of the 2016 campaign, the Democrats' nomination process was far less democratic than the Republicans' who let primaries rule as Democrats had in 1972.

The superdelegates who had been chosen by party elites gave the nomination to Hillary whereas the unwashed, deplorable Republican masses gave their nomination to Mr. Trump.  It was no surprise to hear Hillary refer to Mr. Trump's supporters as "delorable" - she thinks that pretty much everyone is deplorable except for her exalted self and, possibly, her loyal minions who violate the law on her behalf.

Both parties ran true to long-established form.  By nominating Mr. Trump, the only person on the planet who might lose to Hillary, the Republicans proved themselves once again to be the stupid party.  By cheating to deny the nomination to a decent man in favor of "Crooked Hillary," the only person on the planet who could lose to Mr. Trump, the Democrats proved themselves to be the evil party.  For once, stupid beat evil.

The Merits of Meritocracy

The New Yorker argues that strong parties which carefully control the nominating process are more likely to put together long-term programs which benefit society.  They're making the dubious assumption that their chosen elites are smart enough to put together programs which benefit ordinary people as opposed to merely enriching their friends:

Unlike individual candidates, who might stay in power for only a few years, such parties have a vested interest in maintaining a good reputation over the course of decades. And unlike political newcomers, who may have little sense of what governments can actually achieve, they have the experience and the financial resources to develop effective proposals for political reform. Thanks to "long-view horizons" and "incentives to invest in relevant information about the effects of policy choices," strong parties are more likely to promote the interests of the general public.  [emphasis added]

In spite of the fact that Democrat party elites overruled their masses and nominated Hillary, who lost to a political neophyte who had been nominated and sustained by rank-and-file Republicans over the strenuous objections of the party grandees, the New Yorker persists in saying that too much democracy is a bad thing.

We're amazed - not that one of our major voices of liberalism would believe this because no elitist really believes that the voice of the people ever says anything worthwhile, but that they would actually say so.  In public, liberals generally argue that the more democracy, the better.

That was the argument in 1913 when voters chose to change the constitution so that Senators would be elected by popular vote rather than being appointed by state legislatures.  The progressive voters of 1913 forgot that the Senate had been created specifically to uphold the interests, powers, and privileges of state governments in opposition to the federal government.

The main justification for the change was that it would increase the degree of direct democracy in American politics - and that is precisely what happened, to our everlasting detriment.

The New Yorker unmistakably criticized direct democracy:

The activists who are now in charge, Rosenbluth and Shapiro contend, simply don't have the expertise to construct a coherent policy program. Because they don't have a stake in the long-term future of the Party, they are more liable to make irresponsible promises. And, since primaries and caucuses are much more likely to recruit from the political extremes, their elevation has actually made parties less responsive to the views of ordinary citizens.  [emphasis added]

In other words, and no doubt to their own shocked horror should they ever sit down and actually think about it, the New Yorker is saying that our Founders were right all along in limiting democracy.

The Founders set up the House of Representatives with two-year terms to keep representatives closely attuned to the concerns of the voters.  Senators weren't worried about voters at all: they had to please the state legislators who appointed them and were given 6-year terms, precisely so that they could engage in longer-term thinking beloved of the New Yorker.

The New Yorker also forgets that the Founders were extremely wary of political parties.  They expressed great fear of "factions," but were unable to think of a mechanism to prevent their formation.  If the wisest minds ever assembled in one room couldn't figure out a better scheme, what possible excuse do the pampered trust-fund kids of Manhattan fake-newsry have for thinking they can do better?

The Anti-Elitist

When Mr. Trump announced his intent to become President, few pundits took him seriously.  Most politicians believed that regardless of how the public thought nominees were chosen, parties could control the nomination process by granting or withholding endorsements and access to donors.  Without winning the "invisible primary" of money, everyone believed, an unknown outsider would have no chance of success.

Mr. Trump was anathema to the entire Republican establishment and wasn't prepared to spend very much of his own money campaigning.  To everyone's surprise:

[Mr.] Trump quickly took a commanding lead in the polls, and rode his fervent support all the way to the White House. In 2016, the Republican Party did not decide; it was conquered in a cruel blitzkrieg, then rapidly remade in the image of its captor.  [emphasis added]

In saying that the Republican party "did not decide" and that it was "conquered," the magazine highlights its elitist leanings.  They're correct in observing that Mr. Trump was not chosen by party grandees as Hillary was, but it was clear that the rank and file preferred him vastly more than any of the establishment figures who ran.  If that's not an example of members of a party "deciding" via a democratic process, what is?  It's also an example of a formerly elite group being deposed via conquest, of course.

The most remarkable development of the past two years has been the ease with which [Mr.] Trump secured the unwavering loyalty of congressional Republicans, including those who clearly have profound reservations about his Administration.

It's not remarkable at all - successful politicians vastly prefer staying in office to losing elections and will back anyone who can help them win regardless of principle.  In most parts of the country, Republicans who got on board with Mr. Trump did better than those who did not.

We wonder how sincere the New Yorker is in opining that we have too much democracy.  Would the magazine favor limiting the franchise to, say, people who owned property or paid income taxes?  Would they advocate returning to the system where Senators were appointed by state legislatures?  That would make senators a lot more concerned with setting up long-term programs to preserve states' rights and privileges.  Would limiting democracy in these ways be a good thing, or a bad thing?  Enquiring minds want to know!

We've seen how Sen. McGovern, who was nominated by the Democrat masses, was defeated by Mr. Nixon, who won the hearts and minds of the Republican elites - but we've also seen the elitist nominee Crooked Hillary go down to Mr. Trump, the choice of deplorable Republicans.

What It All Means

The attempts to block Mr. Trump's appointment of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court via false accusations of misbehavior show that the Democratic party ruling elites are interested solely in gaining power for themselves by any means.  We've documented President Kennedy's burglary of Mr. Nixon's lawyer's office in 1960, his use of the IRS to attack his political enemies, and President Johnson's use of the FBI to wiretap Sen. Goldwater's 1964 campaign.

We also know that President Johnson's main goal in promoting the Great Society welfare programs was to lock up the black vote for as long as possible.  History shows that the resulting increase in fatherless children has led to our cities burning down and to certain Chicago neighborhoods having higher murder rates than the most violent countries in the world.  Not that the loss of a few excess peasants matters to the elites - in Chicago, their deaths won't even prevent them from continuing to vote for Democrats!

"Anything that works" has been the elite mantra for decades. Who was it who claimed "It isn't illegal unless you get caught?"

Mr. Obama's use of our intelligence agencies to spy on and disrupt Mr. Trump's campaign has slowly come to light.  Recent Democrat leaders have encouraged their followers to form riotous mobs and "get in the face" of Republicans in restaurants and at their homes.

These are the actions of the ruling elites so beloved of the New Yorker.

This is precisely what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, meant when he warned Harvard graduates of:

"an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses" and a "tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature."

He also said,

"In order for men to commit great evil, they must first be convinced that they are doing good."

Rank and file liberals are so convinced that their programs are good that they can't see the evil that they do, but the leadership knows full well what they're doing.

We take Mr. Solzhenitsyn's warnings seriously because he was forced to become an expert on the theory and practice of evil as applied by the elites who ruled the Soviet Union.  Stalin's forces hauled people who disagreed with his programs off to the Gulag.  Mr. Putin's forces shoot journalists and political enemies on public streets.  Democrat forces rioted in Berkeley to protest a conservative speaker and did $200,000 worth of damage.  More recently, howling mobs tried to force the doors of the Supreme Court to preserve rule by elite leftist judges.

We understand how the New Yorker editors, all of whom are numbered among the liberal elite, would strongly prefer elitist rule, but history shows where it goes.  As Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst possible form of government, until we compare it with everything else we've tried."

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

This s the best analysis of our current politics that I’ve seen, arising from a book review. Of course it has been obvious for a long time that our Founders were right about a lot of things. When Franklin said, “We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it.,” he undoubtedly had the same concerns that you express, and the authors of the book (and the New Yorker editors) share.
Ironic, isn’t it, that in an age of instant mass communication, true Democracy won’t work? Think about it: we could vote instantaneously by the internet on practically everything if we wanted to boot up such a system.
But in spite of scientific and technological genius that our ancestors would not believe if they could be told, what hasn’t changed is human nature, and the propensity of people to turn into howling mobs at the urging of demagogues.
The recent Maxine Waters-inspired attacks on the homes and restaurant attendance of politicians she doesn’t like, and the packing of the Senate galleries by left-wing kids shows how this works.
A lot of this began as a breakdown in public education. So now we have a toxic mix of people unable to think and analyze logically, a press corps made up of resentful would-be elitists, a political party with no self-restraint, and a federal bureaucracy completely devoted to that party. Whew! The stench is awful
In your next article, can you tell us how to “cure” this god-awful mess before the country is completely ruined?

November 13, 2018 9:28 AM

@James - historically, the only cure for such rot is societal collapse. Happened to Rome, happened in China repeatedly, happened to the Mongols, and on and on

November 13, 2018 11:35 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...