A Pro-Government Party . . . Versus What?

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Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), known for his perceptiveness, ascribed his party’s 2014 defeat to the fact that, since the Democrats are the “pro-government party,” their electoral fortunes are tied to what Americans think about the role of government in their and in the country’s life.

The accuracy of that self-description is beyond question. The Party’s character is set by persons whom Joel Kotkin dubs “gentry liberals”—they hold the commanding heights of government, as well as of cultural and corporate life. They figure prominently, says Kotkin, in the “affluent classes as well as the powerful public sector.”

Every election day, Democratic votes come, very disproportionately, from ethnic minorities, single women, gays, first-time voters, and other members of groups deemed in need of protection by government (such as environmentalists, and supporters of the abortion industry). The party’s leaders and the party’s base view government as a means of imposing their social preferences on other Americans, and as a source of material benefit for themselves. In short, government is the Democratic Party’s intense but narrow cosa nostra.

Since only about one-fifth of the American people express confidence that the government will do the right thing; since they see, as does Senator Schumer, that government in America has become a partisan thing; and since some two-thirds of Americans—including married people and churchgoers of all races, persons employed in the private sector including craft unions—see government as a negative influence on their lives, the Democratic Party’s emerging problem is big and basic. Its size may be measured by noting that the Democratic Party no longer even tries wooing the “white working class,” that it concedes to its opponents majority support among men as well as among the 75 percent of the U.S. population who are white, and that it counts on squeezing ever-bigger majorities out of its narrow base.

Democrats on the other hand derive long-term solace from the proposition that America must change demographically, and therefore politically: fewer whites, fewer marriages, fewer churchgoers, a smaller private sector will redound to the benefit of Democratic candidates.

No one contends, even so, that such demographic trends would turn the Democrats’ constituencies into a majority. Nor is there any reason to believe that the base-exciting, polarized rhetoric by which the Democratic Party has lived for the past generation, can continue without producing an equal and opposite polarization against Democrats. In sum, the business model of the “pro-government party” is tenuous in the short run and foredoomed in the long run.

What has saved this party thus far, of course, is that our political system provides no electoral vehicle for the majority of Americans whose interests or predilections differ from those of government. Today no party is out there working for the votes of those Americans who do not want to rule others because they prefer to rule themselves. So long as such a vehicle does not exist, the “pro-government party” can lumber on despite its serious infirmities.

Even as an overwhelming majority of voters—and those too discouraged to go and cast a vote on election day—clamor for protection against government that issues overbearing and unaccountable rules, that serves narrow constituencies at the cost of scrambling and impoverishing the lives of the rest, the Republican Party’s establishment tries to answer that clamor by presenting yet another set of rulers, rather than protectors of the people’s freedom against the ruling class.

The sad fact is that the Republican establishment’s social identity is, if not identical, then close to that of the Democrats’ “gentry liberals.” The GOP’s political financing comes from the same place Democratic financing comes from: Wall Street, big banks and insurance companies, and businesses such as are represented by the Business Roundtable.

That is why there is little difference in the character of the appointees of Democratic and Republican administrations.

The differences come in the constituencies served by the government’s exquisitely detailed rule-making, a process accessible and knowable only by insiders. The differences between, say, George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, and his Democratic successor, Timothy Gaithner, were imperceptible to those of us outside the circles of the blessed. Similarly, although all Republicans in the fall of 2014 campaigned for repealing Obamacare, the Republican establishment is preparing to vote to support the Democrats’ bailout of insurance companies’ losses due to Obamacare.

From the moderate Left, Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina comments that voters

can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.

But the rest of the country, it seems, is looking beyond the two parties to the single essential issue: whether the government will continue to increase its mastery over us or whether it will be cut back to its proper role.

The “pro-government party,” solid in character, identity and interest, is an immutable pole of American public life. Our future rests on whether the rest of America can dismiss the Republican establishment’s double game and coalesce around a distinctly different political force.

Reader Discussion

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on December 01, 2014 at 11:12:20 am

Prof. codevilla:

Agree with the premises but not the conclusion.

How often have we run an *alternative* and seen the election of the usual suspects (Democrat) gain or retain office. Ross Perot may be credited with gifting this nation with a family even more execrable than our friends from Camelot. ( I do not know what the hillbilly equivalent of Camelot is but it certainly includes making a fortune from pig and cattle futures). Other examples may spring to mind upon some reflection.

Perhaps, a more appropriate tack would be to follow the Dems approach whereby the *Regressives* took over the party from within and soon established themselves as the "governmental aristocracy." What is needed is to select individuals who are content to seek *honour* rather than honors which currently accrue to government service (Apologies to Jacques Barzun) in the form of influence, diluted legislative power in exchange for media time and re-election.

Surely, somewhere such folks exist who are capable of withstanding the assault that would come from the Party bigwigs anxious to maintain their own control over government beneficience. The assault would be even stronger (see recent electoral battles) should the *honour seeking" choose to engage outside the party.
It matters not what the Party is called so long as it is dramatically reoriented toward limited government - a new Republican Party could conceivable arise from the tumult - difficult, yes; outside the Party - perhaps, impossible!

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Image of gabe
on December 01, 2014 at 21:07:01 pm

our political system provides no electoral vehicle for the majority of Americans whose interests or predilections differ from those of government.

To return to a "tired" theme: "Government" has NO interests or predilections.

Government is a mechanism. People have predilections and interests and seek to use that mechanism to advance or secure them. BUT - it take "fuel" this mighty engine, to attempt to serve many predilections and interests. That fuel is money -
*other people's money* for **some** people's predilections and interests.

The issue for "parties" that want to attain or keep political power by serving many predilections and interests through the mechanisms of government is the same as for Socialism - they are running out of other people's money. Thus many interests that would have come into confrontations in a more direct (often individual) format and been resolved separately are currently entangled in coalitions (created for political power over the mechanism) with conflicts among those coalitions, resulting in degrees of fragmentation of coalitions without resolution of the conflicts which are consuming resources and result in unanticipated burden-bearing or advantage losses.

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Image of R Richard Sc hweitzer
R Richard Sc hweitzer
on December 02, 2014 at 03:49:46 am

In America,today,there is only one political party with 2 branches. One branch is the conservative fascist Republicans and the other is the liberal socialist Democrats. Basically 2 political gangs fighting for power. As these 2 "establishment" parties have control over the electoral process ie. who gets on the ballot,who gets invited to debates,who gets media coverage,who gets contributions,etc. it is often difficult for third parties and or independent candidates to be noticed or even voted for. When either of these 2 political branches are in the political drivers seat nothing ever basically changes. Sure,maybe more tax money is spent on the warfare state instead of the welfare state when the Republicans are in power but all of the departments and most of the programs are left in place. Look back to the 1990s when there was a so called "Republican Revolution." Were any major departments closed or major programs ended? In fact,spending increased. In the end,most of the politicians that are elected are nothing but puppets of the power elites They owe their office not to the voters but to the elitist political contributors who financed their campaigns. As I see it the only national political party that has any chance of changing things is the Libertarian Party. It is the fastest growing "third" party in America. With that said,today,the chances of a successful Libertarian Party challenge to the status quo is slim to none. And slim just left town.

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Image of libertarian jerry
libertarian jerry
on December 02, 2014 at 19:36:57 pm


"And slim just left town." - and that is the perennial problem, isn't it?

Were it not so, there would be a very real case to be made for a 3rd Party. Unfortunately, the typical end result is to elect the Evil Party instead of the Stupid Party. What the heck, I guess stupid is not as bad as evil as we could somehow blunder our way into proper conduct!

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Image of gabe
on December 03, 2014 at 07:31:57 am

Actually, there is a party out there working as the anti-government party. It's called the Libertarian Party, and Americans have thoroughly rejected its candidates at the ballot box in every state for the past 40 years.

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Image of Brett Champion
Brett Champion
on December 06, 2014 at 06:00:12 am

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Image of A Pro-Government Party . . . Versus What? by Angelo M. Codevilla – The Absurd Report
A Pro-Government Party . . . Versus What? by Angelo M. Codevilla – The Absurd Report

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.