Looking for Renewal in All the Wrong Places



Countless navel-gazing discussions are underway among limited-government advocates about what went wrong and how to recover.* They’re ongoing in GOP circles too, with some overlap.


Let me suggest that the free-market, limited government movement needs to think beyond parties and elections. The record since 1994 and even since 1980 shows the limits of that as a source for a renewal of the Founders’ principles.


My previous post describes what I believe is the real problem, which is that an inbred, self-serving, self-perpetuating political class has supplanted representative government. An endless cycle of getting one party or another to profess the right views when out of power only to abandon them when they’ve regained control won’t save our republic. Parties are about power, not ideas, so looking to one for renewal is looking in all the wrong places.


The thesis that the people have lost control of the government is scary, but raising the public’s consciousness to perceive this clearly could generate a powerful non-partisan movement that would revolutionize American politics and governance. The model I cite is the Progressive movement of the late 19th century – not its goals, but the way it captured the public’s imagination.


I’m not necessarily suggesting that those involved in party activities drop out. But efforts guided by this people vs. political class model will be different in kind than just working to get the usual suspects – or a new crew of usual suspects – to pay lip service to the right ideas long enough to get them into office in 2010 or 2012. If that’s all you’re doing you should ask yourself, what’s the point?


It may be futile to hope for a “better” class of politicians –  a certain personality dysfunction probably accounts for the desire to gain office in the first place. But it’s not futile to look for ways to change the incentives on those who seek and gain office.


Such an incentive-change occurred when the public embraced the Progressive movement’s vision of “professionalized” government employees rather than party hacks enjoying patronage loot. Candidates who failed to respond lost, and those who did won. The result was real change in the system, not just exchanging the red team for the blue team. That’s the model we need to adopt.


* Discussiuons underway at Don’t Go Movement, The Next Right, Red State, Right Michigan, etc. See P.J. O’Rourke’s “We Blew It” and Michael Barone’s “Triumph of Temperment, not Policy.” If you post more with links in comments or send them by email list I’ll paste them in here.




2 Responses to “Looking for Renewal in All the Wrong Places”

  1. Allen Fuller Says:

    Really insightful thoughts here, especially defining the purpose of political parties as the pursuit of power. After all, one party or the other must be in the majority, and once in the majority they must seek to hold or expand their power, else they risk forfeiting it to their opponents. The corresponding purpose of a Party in the minority is to regain the majority.

    I’m not sure, however, that we can distinguish the people engaged in party politics as a Political Class against which we are constantly aligned. A social class implies a certain rigidity which cannot be overcome simply the will of someone wishing to take on that standing. In America, individuals are able to slide up and down that political ladder with some degree of fluidity. The Left’s poster boy for Republican malfeasance, Tom DeLay, owned a pest control business before joining Congress and ascending to Majority Leader — hardly a typical path to legislative power. Likewise, former Speaker Denny Hastert was a wrestling coach before he became the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House in American history.

    So perhaps the takeaway isn’t that we need more citizen legislators, but that we need more professionals! Likely not, but for those of us who choose to think of our movement activism within the context of party politics, it must be with that understanding of a party’s goals. The limited-government movement must be able to articulate policies that not only stand on principle, but can be a vehicle to electoral success as well.

  2. Nick Says:

    Great post, Jack.

    Real food for real thought.


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