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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Monday, April 25, 2016

'Democracy Spring' Anti-Big-Money Demonstrations Were Deeply Misguided

by Ralph Benko, Contributing Author: Several thousand people, a thousand to get arrested, came to the Capitol in April.  Their cause: to get Big Money out of politics. It made for good street theater. It got them a decent amount of news coverage, and probably donations. Although the protestors may have been full of good intentions they are not just paving the road to Hell. They’re greasing the skids.

Their's is a really, really bad cause. It is a cause that, if successful, will paralyze our governance further.
One of the protestors, Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister, wrote in The Huffington Post:
Organizations and individuals like me have joined together in this because we know our particular cause—mine is LGBTQ protections—will not be accomplished until our government is made functional again. The goals of Democracy Spring are the best ways to get government working again for us, the people.As it happens, Rev. Edwards and Democracy Spring, have it exactly backwards. They naively are fighting for a cause that would make the government less functional.

Brookings senior fellow Jonathan Rauch (a dear and scary smart old friend) has definitively demonstrated that many so-called reforms, including efforts at getting Big Money out of politics, are the root cause of our government dysfunction. More of the same would prove the worst, not the best, way to “get government working again for us, the people.”

And lest Jonathan be mistaken for some kind of reactionary, he also, as the author of an iconic 2004 book, Gay Marriage, was very much at the forefront, and arguably instrumental, in bringing about same sex marriage. Rauch is an authentic radical in the best sense of that word: someone who gets to the root of things.

Back to the demerits of the protestors’ cause in a moment. Let’s linger in Democracy Spring's political theater for just a moment longer.

Arlo Guthrie 2012
The more adventurous got themselves arrested for “crowding and incommoding." The gravity of the offense rather puts one in mind of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. This is the ballad of Arlo getting arrested for dumping trash and how, ironically, that arrest saves him from getting drafted into the Army. Just like Arlo (only less) … the perps of last week’s Capitol demonstrations paid $50 and were released.

His anti-war ballad describes him at the conscription center:
There was all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly-lookin’ people on the bench there . …  On the bench, and the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one . . . the meanest  Father-raper of them all . . . … and he sat down next to Me. …

He said, “What were you arrested for, kid?” and I said, “Litterin’”‘ . . . .

And they all moved away from me on the bench there, with the hairy eyeball  And all kinds of mean, nasty things, till I said, “And creatin’ a nuisance . . . ” And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the Bench ….
And although “crowding and incommoding” may be as contemptible to real thugs as was littering, the Democracy Spring protesters too succeeded in (if not actually getting booked for) creating a nuisance.
So their dignity in the eyes of true felons might well have been preserved. Their crime really was littering the minds of the audiences of CNN, NPR, USA Today, Rolling Stone, and a raft of fringe left venues with romantic pernicious nonsense. How so?

The Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings published a short, 32 page, masterpiece by Rauch about a year ago. It's entitled Political Realism: How hacks, machines, big money, and back-room deals can strengthen American democracy. (Available for free download here. If you are reality-based and care about our governance it may be the most fascinating booklet you’ve never read.) Rauch:
In December of 2014, progressives and Tea Partiers found common ground—not something that happens every day. Congressional leaders had attached to an omnibus spending bill a rider increasing by a factor of almost ten the amount that individuals could donate to the national parties for conventions and certain other purposes. Progressives denounced the measure as among “the most corrupting campaign finance provisions ever enacted,” a gift to special interests and plutocrats. Tea Partiers denounced the measure as “a sneaky power grab by establishment Republicans designed to undermine outside conservative groups,” a gift to incumbents and party insiders. For quite different reasons, it seems, these two antagonistic factions managed to agree that the flow of money to party professionals is a menace.

It was a small but telling instance of one of America’s oddest but most consequential political phenomena: the continuous and systematic onslaught against political machines and insiders by progressivism, populism, and libertarianism—three very different political reform movements which nonetheless all regard transactional politics as at best a necessary evil and more often as corrupt and illegitimate. This attack, though well intentioned, has badly damaged the country’s governability, a predictable result (and one accurately predicted more than fifty years ago). Fortunately, much of the damage can be undone by rediscovering political realism.

… This essay …  argues that

— government cannot govern unless political machines or something like them exist and work, because machines are uniquely willing and able to negotiate compromises and make them stick.

— progressive, populist, and libertarian reformers have joined forces to wage a decades-long war against machine politics by weakening political insiders’ control of money, nominations, negotiations, and other essential tools of political leadership.

— reformers’ fixations on corruption and participation, although perhaps appropriate a long time ago, have become destabilizing and counterproductive, contributing to the rise of privatized pseudo-machines that make governing more difficult and politics less accountable.

— although no one wants to or could bring back the likes of Tammany Hall, much can be done to restore a more sensible balance by removing impediments which reforms have placed in the way of transactional politics and machine-building.

— political realism, while coming in many flavors, is emerging as a coherent school of analysis and offers new directions for a reform conversation which has run aground on outdated and unrealistic assumptions.
As former Fed governor Henry Wallich once observed: “Experience is the name we give to our past mistakes, reform that which we give to future ones.” The very “reforms” which Progressives have been pushing for a century, and those now – getting Big Money out of politics — for which they colorfully were demonstrating last week, are the cause of, not the cure for, dysfunctional government. Rauch’s got the goods on them.

Rauch, talking about the last wave of campaign finance restrictions:
The result was not to reduce the amount of money in politics or to reduce the influence of special interests but to drive money to unrestricted channels, such as party committees. When progressive legislation restricted those channels too, the result was to push money into so-called “independent” spending by super PACS, nonprofit organizations, billionaires, and other actors who are less accountable, less pragmatic, and less transparent than Tammany ever was. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, “outside spending [in Senate races] has exploded in the last three federal elections and is highly focused on competitive races. In 80 percent of competitive 2014 races, outside spenders outspent the candidates—sometimes by more than double.” In 2014, so-called dark money, whose donors are not disclosed, accounted for almost half the outside spending.

To be sure, many social and political changes, not just progressive laws and regulations, have contributed to the growth of the gray market for political money. Some of what is happening would have happened anyway. But to acknowledge as much does not get the progressive paradigm off the hook: its raison d’être for four decades or more has been to sequester political professionals from political money, opening the way for amateurs to take over the job. Raymond J. La Raja, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, points out that money raised by party committees almost tripled in real dollars from 1988 to 2004. After the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (the so-called McCain-Feingold Act) banned unrestricted donations to parties, party fundraising went into a mild decline—and spending by outside groups rushed in to fill the gap, going from trivial in the 1990s to $1 billion or so by 2012. “The campaign finance system has strengthened the hand of partisan activists by limiting the flow of financial resources to the formal party organization and its technocratic staff,” he writes. “The campaign finance rules constrain coherent, party-based organizing to such an extent that partisans have sidestepped the rules to create organizations such as super PACs.”
Rauch makes an airtight case -- a claim I do not make lightly -- that the very reforms that Progressives were demanding at the Capitol are the very stuff of which government dysfunction is made. Game Over.

Or as Saul Alinsky (a radical like me) wrote, in Reveillie For Radicals, “A Liberal is one who puts his foot down firmly on thin air.” Beware.

Want functional government? To those thousand who got themselves arrested last week for crowding and incommoding, for the several thousand who cheered them on, and for the many more who were subjected to their propaganda through the mainstream and fringe media … listen up.

Forget “Democracy Spring.” Join the newest version of the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree movement. As economist Walter Heller advised Congress in 1985: “Rise above principle and do what is right.”

What’s right? Read Rauch on . It will put real lovers of good government onto the right track. Walk right in, it’s around the back, Just a half mile from the railroad track…. Do not be like. Democracy Spring Do not plant a foot firmly on thin air. Do not settle for less.
Ralph Benko is senior advisor, economics, to American Principles in Action's Gold Standard 2012 Initiative, and a contributor to the ARRA News Service. Founder of The Prosperity Caucus, he was a member of the Jack Kemp supply-side team, served in an unrelated area as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House. The article which first appeared in Forbes.

Tags: Ralph Benko, Democracy Spring, Anti-Big-Money Demonstrations, ,Deeply Misguided To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 10:00 AM - Post Link


Anonymous Ratchell Richter said...

"Political realism" ? is that anything like the false positive "honor thy oath" ? :(

Fuke that.....just looked it up

Do you know how many people you govern? Yeah, I'd be careful.


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