Politics Is Dead — of Slow Suicide

Wednesday, 03 Jun 2009 09:58 AM

By Philip V. Brennan

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The late Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen once said: "The Giants is dead." Much the same can be said for American politics.

However, with the Giants, death was the result of losing too many games in a season. But with American politics, the parties committed suicide slowly.

In the beginning, many of the Founding Fathers warned against the emergence of political parties. They called political parties "factions," because they believed that such groups holding differing opinions would be harmful to national unity.

Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, abhorred the concept of party so much so that he once said: "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

Yet, Jefferson himself sowed the seeds of the Democratic Party in 1793.

In Federalist Paper Number Ten, James Madison argued against political parties: "The public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties."

If political parties arose, Madison warned, "All civilized societies would be divided into different sects, factions, and interests . . . of rich and poor, debtors and creditors . . . The inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious sect or that religious sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger."

And Benjamin Franklin said on June 2, 1787: "There are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money . . . Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it. The vast number of such places . . . renders the British government so tempestuous . . . [and is the true source] of all those factions which are perpetually dividing the nation [and] distracting its councils."

Even George Washington cautioned in his farewell address: "Let me now . . . Warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party . . . The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrict it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another . . . In governments purely elective, it [the spirit of party] is a spirit not to be encouraged."

Nobody listened.

Political parties arose almost from the beginning, essentially either to support or to oppose the adoption of the Constitution. By the time of the 1796 presidential election, political parties were a fixture in American political life.

One, the Federalist Party, followed the lead of Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the Treasury. The other, the Democratic-Republicans, or "Jeffersonians," followed Jefferson and Madison — that's right, the same James Madison quoted above as warning against "factions."

Who was it who said that "consistency is the bugaboo of small minds?"

In the wake of the Civil War, two major parties emerged. The harshness of the reconstruction under the Republicans, pushed the states of the old Confederacy to embrace the Democratic Party, an allegiance that endured for more than a century. Southern Democrats dominated Capitol Hill until 1964, when Barry Goldwater penetrated the "solid south."

Southern Democrats differed from their northern counterparts in their fierce loyalty to the concept of states' rights, echoing Republicans who almost universally shared the Founding Fathers' abhorrence of a strong federal government.

That began to change under Franklin Roosevelt. It can be said that, if politics committed suicide, FDR supplied the pistol. He began dismantling the party system by putting together a voting bloc composed of an American underclass he wooed by creating federal programs financed with taxpayer money.

The Democratic Party still embraces that policy avidly, and many Republicans are adopting it slowly as a means of survival.

A very wise Englishman, I forget who, once observed that, "Once you give the key to the treasury to the people, you can never take it back."

Roosevelt handed that key over to the people, and no sane politician in either party has dared to try to take it back. The welfare state was born, and nobody in either party strove to strangle it in its crib. The distinction between parties blurred until it became all but invisible.

Today we watch both parties vying to attract voters by pledging to allow them to hang onto the Treasury keys. The sole difference is in the amount of access to the Treasury they are willing to provide the electorate. And with the blurring of distinction, political partisanship all but vanishes.

As of today, the Democratic Party is fully a Marxist Party. The Republicans appear in a hurry to catch up. But they seem to say that their Karl Marx is a kinder and gentler Karl Marx than the Democrats' patron saint.

When the difference between the parties is that indistinct, there is no longer an excuse for the existence of political parties. When huge numbers of one party desert their party to vote for a presidential candidate of the opposite party, and follow up by giving him a Congress his party controls, they effectively have ended partisanship and the need for two parties.

With the death of the parties, American politics is dead.

Phil Brennan writes for Newsmax.com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist (Cato) for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He is a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers. He can be reached at pvb@pvbr.com.

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