Friday, October 05, 2007

The Coronation Cycle

Do we like political dynasties in this country? Are political dynasties good for the country? Peggy Noonan discusses in this article the very real possibility that we could go Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. She says that on the Democratic side, people seem to be in a trance that causes them to ignore great candidates and focus only on Sen. Clinton (D-NY). But Noonan also seems to think that this is precisely the same kind of trance the GOP was in back in the 2000 race when it focused on then-Gov. Bush.

Why the trance? Noonan explains that it is because in modern politics, “A political family gains allies--retainers, supporters, hangers-on, admirers, associates, in-house Machiavellis.” She continues her analysis of this modern day royal court, writing, “The bigger the government, the more ways allies can be awarded, which binds them more closely. Your destiny is theirs. Members of the court recruit others. Money lines spread person to person, company to company, board to board, mover to mover.”

These political support systems become somewhat self-sustaining. They are “machines” that are “up and ready and good to go every election cycle.” Some of the people in these mechanisms are good people. Some are bad people. And some are just useful idiots.

Noonan asks, “Is this good for our democracy, this air of inevitability?” She then adds, “It would be understandable if they were families of a most extraordinary natural distinction and self-sacrifice. But these are not the Adamses of Massachusetts we're talking about.”

I think Noonan buries the lead on this issue, only briefly alluding to the role of expanding government in all of this. Actually, bigger government is THE problem. These powerful political family dynasties exist BECAUSE of the expanding size and role of the federal government. Noonan strikes true when she says that as government grows, so too do the number of people who owe their destinies to the politically powerful.

Even if you think that the central government should be providing all kinds of services and does a good job of administering its massive bloat, this is a reason to consider the case for limited government. We have discovered through sad experience that campaign finance reform does nothing to fix this problem. Even publicly financed elections would not fix this problem. The money lines Noonan talks about would not evaporate under such a system, but would only be obfuscated and made less transparent.

I agree with LaVarr Webb that due to the growth of the federal bureaucracy, the job of president has become too difficult for one person. We will likely never have another president that we consider to be competent unless we not only stop this growth, but substantially scale back our current system. This would involve farming activities out from the federal government to their most appropriate level of government, and getting rid of activities in which government has no business being involved.

And what happens four or eight years down the road? Another Bush? If you want to break this cycle, limiting the federal government is the solution.


y-intercept said...

IMHO, The worst thing that happened during the reign of Bush the First was the war with Iraq. The worst thing that happened during the reign of Clinton the First was Hillary Care.

I doubt we would have invaded Iraq if anyone other than Bush was president.

This dynasty thing has us caught in a perpetual cycle of reliving our worst moments.

Democracy Lover said...

There are a couple of reasons why the dynasty approach is wrong.

First, we need to return to Constitutional government with separation of powers, a strong legislative branch and an end to the "unitary executive" theory of government. Executive power increased under both Bushs and under Clinton and would likely increase under Hillary as well. That is destructive of our democracy.

Secondly we need to reform campaign financing. As long as the same interests fund the "major" candidates of both parties, we are never going to get government that is responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans and serves to strengthen our nation.

Unfortunately, many who are always calling for limited government mean to limit the government's ability to provide for the general welfare of its citizens while turning a blind eye to government's increasing attacks on our basic freedoms. I want government to stop torturing people, to stop spying on Americans without warrants, to stop conducting its business in secret to hide wrongdoing and ineptness, and to stop declaring war unconstitutionally.

NonArab-Arab said...

A lot of tangents one could go down with this one, but I'd add that the manner in which one reduces government bloat is important. The "contracting" route has turned into an amazing debacle of greed, blood, and waste it boggles the mind (though apparently not most politicians' minds). You would not believe the number of new millionaires created in Washington the past 7 years most of whom are selling services privates in the military used to do, new and ridiculous ways to be consulted on how to be scared, or tools for big brother to get bigger and more intrusive.

It's not just Blackwater, the contractors have become an entirely new political class. They've always been there, but they have grown exponentially and are driven by nothing but a profit motive with their only "client" being the federal government, meaning their goal is to suck, suck, suck tax dollars away and usually succeed quite admirably by doing that on a cost-plus basis. From Washington to Baghdad.

Eisenhower rightly warned of the military-industrial complex, these guys (and even beyond just the military portion of it) are the ultimate fulfillment of that warning.

Democracy Lover said...

I have to agree about the use of contractors, particularly large contracting firms that benefit from disasters and wars. The increased use of contractors is a direct result of the ideological avoidance of direct government action and the crony capitalism practiced by the Republican Party.

NonArab-Arab said...

I highly recommend this on the topic of the military-industrial complex:

It's definitely against the current war, but as someone who grew up conservative and still believes (even if some disagree) that I retain many core conservative values (responsibility, hard work, divine inspiration behind the Constitution), I like this film's approach. It starts with Eisenhower's farewell address and does not go on as an anti-Bush screed. It is aimed at showing the deeper structural issues at play that extend far beyond just the past 7 years. Very worth watching.