In my previous post, I commented on a post by Andrew Schmookler regarding his view that Republicans bear the primary responsibility for the partisan gridlock that grips our national discourse and paralyzes the working of the people’s business, i.e. government. I sought to refute this position, as tempting as it might be to find a primary perpetrator, on the grounds that both parties bear responsibility for creating and sustaining a system of political and economic unfairness and preferential treatment.
In an earlier post, I attempted to trace the chain of economic transactions – bringing slaves from Africa (shipowners and captains), selling slaves (slave brokers) at the dock, transporting slaves from the coastal ports of the South to the plantations (so-called “Georgia men”), growing cotton and breeding (planters), hauling the cotton North (railroad magnates), milling the cotton (New England textile manufacturers), shipping the cotton overseas (ship owners and captains, they got paid twice!!), cotton brokers in London and Liverpool selling American cotton everywhere else – that helped make America the strongest economy in the world.
Implicit in and crucial to this chain was a banking and investing system that invested and lent credit at every step of the way. How else did cotton become the single most powerful engine of economic growth of the nineteenth century? When you look at this chain or this financing system, do you see just one political party represented? Of course not. There were too many varied interests and sectional proclivities for one party or bank to encompass them all. Each interest paid to play at the larger political party, financing the representation of its interest through legislation designed to promote and protect itself. And so it goes now.
Where I particularly find fault with Schmookler’s discussion is its omission of a non-partisan solution to this gridlock. There is not one single Democratic administration in the last one hundred years (and there have been more Democratic than Republican over that time) that has championed the public financing of elections. Why not? Because to enact such a system would dismantle the very system that is as crucial to the Democratic Party to preserve and protect its interests as that of the Republican Party. In fact, they thrive under the same system of paying for public servants to enact policy and legislation for the protection of those interests. The arguing and the posturing obscure something far more disturbing. We live in an oligarchy of both parties’ making.
That’s why public financing is typically called the Third Rail of Successful Party Politics. It derails the train all party politics rolls on. And nobody will touch it.