The Logic of Elitism
The things that ordinary citizens do politically tend to revolve around the idea of winning elections. In real terms, we vote, assist in campaigns, and donate money to get people who will represent our will into office. When we seek to educate other people politically, it is usually with the unspoken intent that they will see things -- and vote -- our way. Even when we sign petitions or protest we are, in effect, threatening our representatives with electoral consequences. The efficacy of all of this, unfortunately, depends on the democratic institutions of our Republic functioning as designed.
While the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t give much forethought to the development of political parties, a political party need not be anathema to our Constitution so long as it abides by what one might call the representative model. A representative party is one in which elected officials carry out some close approximation of the desires of the people they claim to represent. The party serves to aggregate the most articulate individuals from a group of people who share some common interests. Those individuals may be innovative to some degree, but they should not drag their constituents in directions that they would not naturally go. Representative are just that -- representatives. They are not, in principle, the public’s masters. While the framers did set up a system that allowed considerable scope for the talents of individual officeholders, such people were either directly elected by the people or appointed by legislators who were, in turn, subject to elections. Thus, in principle, all decisions made by government were made with the consent of the governed. Of course, the system never quite lived up to this ideal, but as long as the public understood and jealously guarded the broad outlines of the framers’ intent, at least a majority of the people enjoyed some meaningful state of control over the nation’s course. As long as the system itself was seen as sacred, there were limits to the amount of mischief any narrow elite could accomplish.
The representative model is now defunct, destroyed in somewhat different ways by the two political parties. We will start with the inappropriately named Democrats.
The Democratic party of today is not a representative party, but a top-down political machine organized around a reformulation of traditional socialist ideology. They are not a party of the popular will, but a party of a particular set of ideas. The people who adapt these ideas to current needs are not the Democratic base, but a small group of intellectuals drawn almost exclusively from a handful of elite universities. Trusting the public will is a laughable proposition for academics, who consider themselves a superior breed -- like the philosopher kings of Plato’s Republic. They may adapt their rhetoric as required for the sake of harvesting votes from the lowly herd, but the core concept of public sovereignty was dropped from leftist thought long ago -- about the time it passed from the hard hands of embittered revolutionaries into the soft hands of tenured professors. At a practical rather than an ideal level, socialism has never been particularly democratic. The socialist state has always been the instrument of one or another narrow group of planners, not answerable to the public’s will.
Moreover, the actual Democratic Party of today is actually a degenerate socialist party, often mixing crony capitalist practice uncomfortably with socialist rhetoric. Obama’s speeches, and perhaps his self image, aren’t all that different from Fidel Castro’s -- but he does have a far wealthier circle of friends. While incompatible ideologically, socialism and crony capitalism do share in common the centralization of real power -- so perhaps they are not all that different in actual practice. Neither bodes well for what little political sovereignty you and I still have.
The Republican Party, as embodied in its establishment core -- people like Karl Rove and Reince Priebus -- is a different sort of animal from its dingy, pseudo-leftist counterpart, but not really a more attractive or more encouraging one. It has become painfully obvious in the last few election cycles that the Republican establishment despises its conservative base. Most of us have grown tired of watching the GOP bluster and promise to stop ObamaCare, executive amnesty, etc. – only to fold for no apparent reason after a few weeks or months, vowing “this isn’t over!” once again. The truth is that it was over before it started. At the risk of being called racist, the Republican Party seems to function more or less as the nameless team that plays against the Harlem Globetrotters. They provide the illusion of a contest to events that have been carefully choreographed in advance. Their current strategy, assuming for the sake of argument that they are even interested in electoral success, appears to be to trade their traditional base for those lost souls in the political center -- those people who only engaged in politics by tottering into a voting booth once every four years. Perhaps such chronically distracted souls will be charmed by uncle Jeb’s endearing smile -- but that hardly seems to capture the notion of a government of, by, and for the people. New Republican voters ought to take note of how dismissive the party has been toward the old ones. Most Republican politicians, in short, have come to represent no one but themselves.
If the core principle of representative democracy is not restored soon, by whatever methods are required, all of the awareness-raising efforts of forums like this one will count for nothing. When our government becomes powerful enough to ignore the public, it becomes something fundamentally different from what it was. When the law is made up on the fly, the very concept of the law is rendered meaningless. No amount of outrage, or satisfyingly rational arguments, will let us vote our way out of an oligarchy.