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Are political elites and party insiders underrated?

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Why bother with a post grad course - waste of time? 17-10-2016
    • Thread Starter

    A very interesting article in the Atlantic posing this question

    Here are some quotes from various parts of the article; it's extremely interesting and I think almost a lone voice, in the modern age of individualism and populist political insurgencies, that speaks in favour of the party insiders and political elites.

    Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time.

    In the 1830s, under Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the parties established patronage machines and grass-roots bases. The machines and parties used rewards and the occasional punishment to encourage politicians to work together. Meanwhile, Congress developed its seniority and committee systems, rewarding reliability and establishing cooperative routines. Parties, leaders, machines, and congressional hierarchies built densely woven incentive structures that bound politicians into coherent teams. Personal alliances, financial contributions, promotions and prestige, political perks, pork-barrel spending, endorsements, and sometimes a trip to the woodshed or the wilderness: All of those incentives and others, including some of dubious respectability, came into play. If the Constitution was the system’s DNA, the parties and machines and political brokers were its RNA, translating the Founders’ bare-bones framework into dynamic organizations and thus converting conflict into action.

    The informal constitution’s intermediaries have many names and faces: state and national party committees, county party chairs, congressional subcommittees, leadership pacs, convention delegates, bundlers, and countless more. For purposes of this essay, I’ll call them all middlemen, because all of them mediated between disorganized swarms of politicians and disorganized swarms of voters, thereby performing the indispensable task that the great political scientist James Q. Wilson called “assembling power in the formal government.”

    The middlemen could be undemocratic, high-handed, devious, secretive. But they had one great virtue: They brought order from chaos. They encouraged coordination, interdependency, and mutual accountability. They discouraged solipsistic and antisocial political behavior. A loyal, time-serving member of Congress could expect easy renomination, financial help, promotion through the ranks of committees and leadership jobs, and a new airport or research center for his district. A turncoat or troublemaker, by contrast, could expect to encounter ostracism, marginalization, and difficulties with fund-raising. The system was hierarchical, but it was not authoritarian. Even the lowliest precinct walker or officeholder had a role and a voice and could expect a reward for loyalty; even the highest party boss had to cater to multiple constituencies and fend off periodic challengers.

    Parties, machines, and hacks may not have been pretty, but at their best they did their job so well that the country forgot why it needed them. Politics seemed almost to organize itself, but only because the middlemen recruited and nurtured political talent, vetted candidates for competence and loyalty, gathered and dispensed money, built bases of donors and supporters, forged coalitions, bought off antagonists, mediated disputes, brokered compromises, and greased the skids to turn those compromises into law. Though sometimes arrogant, middlemen were not generally elitist. They excelled at organizing and representing unsophisticated voters, as Tammany Hall famously did for the working-class Irish of New York, to the horror of many Progressives who viewed the Irish working class as unfit to govern or even to vote.
    That last paragraph could have made an excellent description of New Labour.


    JRKinder KimKallstrom KingBradly JamesN88

    I thought that was an excellent article with aspects that ring true over here as well as in America. The deep-seated suspicion of the 'establishment' that is hounding politics today is unhealthy for our democracy. In Britain, it has manifested in an inadequate opposition led by marxist rebels (let's not forget that shameful admission by McDonnell brought up in Question Time a couple of weeks back) and campaigned for by Trotsky entryists. As someone who is principally centre-right and thus a supporter of the moderate wing of the Tories, you may expect me to rejoice at the prospect of Labour selected an unelectable leader yet again. But if this is allowed to persist - if the opposition continues to be ineffective - then we risk those on the fringes of the political right from gaining increased power which could be especially damaging during the political transition that Britain is undergoing. In a time where we need stability in the system, the ship is becoming increasingly unsteady.
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