The American Interest
The Middle East & Beyond
Published on November 2, 2012
What’s Wrong, and How to Fix It, Part 4, Television and Politics

Now that the three groups of explanation for American political dysfunction have been laid out and their mutual connections sketched (in parts one, two and three), we can begin to discuss programmatic solutions for our problems. The ten proposals below represent “torque points” in American politics—places where positive change would resonate throughout our political culture. This is the only way to proceed, for disaggregated fixes for specific problems will never get far, given the plutocratic maw into which they will surely fall.

My ten proposals do not fall neatly into any conventional ideological category. I’m neither a registered Democrat (anymore) nor a registered Republican (never have been), and I have already suggested why: I don’t want to go back to 1965 or to 1925. But let me briefly restate my antipathy to both sets of party orthodoxy in somewhat different language before getting to my ten proposals.

The Left in this country, generally speaking, tends to excoriate corporations, even to disparage the profit motive itself, and to think of government as a proper vehicle not only for battling the depredations of capitalism but also for forcing on the nation the kinds of multicultural, politically correct social biases it likes. It has inculcated within itself the old countercultural notion of consciousness-raising, in which it presumes to know more about what’s good for you than you do. It is the self-appointed Robin Hood of our political soul, though its populist pretensions are belied by its elitist ways. The Left displays a blindness to the benefits of a non-distorted market economy, and an even more grievous blindness to the limits of what government can accomplish—especially a government that tries to do more than it should in what has become a misaligned Federal system.

The Right these days, generally speaking, tends to excoriate government, to dismiss the idea of an inclusive and fairly governed national community, and to blame those who are genuinely poor for their own poverty. Much of the Right, having regrettably abandoned its own Burkean heritage, sees through a crude Social Darwinist prism that acknowledges only individual judgment, ignoring the social context in which that judgment is seated.1 It is blind to plutocratic corruption and doesn’t see, either, the widening cultural gap between an isolated elite and those Americans who are falling out of an often recently won and still fragile middle-class status.2 It is particularly blind to the fact that a distorted market system dominated by large corporate oligarchies that deploy increasingly sophisticated advertising methodologies can be responsible for undermining both social trust and the founding virtues.3

Again, there’s no reason to choose between the problems caused by the public sector (a sclerotic, dysfunctional and wildly expensive government) and the problems caused by the private sector (a predatory corporate leadership class, and especially an increasingly powerful parasitic financial elite, that has become an extractive rather than a productive asset for the nation as a whole). Both problems exist, and both are getting worse.

Moreover, these problems are not really separate; they feed one another. Private sector abuses feed the appetite for government protection, but government is too dysfunctional to provide that protection; instead its efforts tend to harm small businesses that lack the arsenals of specialist lawyers and accountants that huge businesses use to evade government attempts to hem them in. You get a hint of this by looking at what the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements have had in common, which is a fair bit more than either group likes to admit.

We need an active and bold Federal government for several key but discrete purposes beyond national security; but we can well do without the nanny-state soft despotism it otherwise drapes over our society. If we need a model, a hero from our past who epitomizes this combination, we have at least three to choose from: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt—Federalist, Whig and Republican.4 Getting to something new that works beyond the blue model, as Frank Fukuyama puts it,

would have to have at least two components, political and economic. Politically, the new ideology would need to reassert the supremacy of democratic politics over economics and legitimate anew government as an expression of the public interest. But the agenda it put forward to protect middle-class life could not simply rely on the existing mechanisms of the welfare state. The ideology would need to somehow redesign the public sector, freeing it from its dependence on existing stakeholders and using new, technology-empowered approaches to delivering services. It would have to argue forthrightly for more redistribution and present a realistic route to ending interest groups’ domination of politics. . . . The new ideology would not see markets as an end in themselves; instead, it would value global trade and investment to the extent that they contributed to a flourishing middle class, not just to greater aggregate national wealth.5

Frank has more to say, notably about the distortions in our thinking caused by biases engendered by classical economics thinking, but this is the gist. I interpret below the tick-list within this paragraph in my own way; Frank has not participated in its gestation and neither he nor Walter, nor anyone else for that matter, necessarily endorses any of it.

I emphasize a single principle, one that my TAI colleagues imply. This principle, I think, is central to the renewal of American government and American democracy: Government can and must act to increase American social capital or, as some call it, social trust. Existing Federal programs should be judged on the extent to which they at least do not destroy extant social capital residing in organic communal processes at local and state levels. They must, in other words, respect the principle of subsidiarity. New programs should be judged on their potential for enlarging social capital, of which we are in sore need as we face the relentlessly individuating influence of a range of new technologies. Unless we harness those technologies in the service of worthy social goals, they will likely tear us asunder, making us easy prey for both rent-seeking parasites at home and, in due course, possibly even ambitious adversaries abroad.

That said, here is the first of my ten proposals:

No. 1: Control the destructive effects of television advertising on national politics.

If plutocracy is the number one problem, it follows that finding realistic ways to curtail our out-of-control, money-distorted democratic politics is the first order of reform business. If we can’t do something about this, we won’t be able to do much about anything. Unfortunately, proposals that we just ban private money from politics outright are both unconstitutional and extremely impractical. We thus have a ferocious logical problem here: Short of a coup d’etat, how is it possible to get hundreds of corrupted politicians to vote to make themselves stop doing what they self-servingly do so well? It’s a New England problem, in other words: You can’t get there from here. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done: We can, maybe, adjust the incentive structure to make the power of money in electoral politics less useful.

All professional politicians in the United States know about the invisible 800-pound gorilla over in the corner: It’s called television. The way to win statewide and national office these days is to buy more and better television advertising than your opponents. To do that, you have to raise really huge amounts of money to buy airtime and hire the professionals who make the ads. To do that, you’ve got to devote an inordinate amount of time and staff to fundraising that would be better spent talking and listening to voters, and to thinking about and planning how to actually govern if elected.

Now, I know that there are those who disagree with this basic analysis. Some say that television advertising really doesn’t have all that much of an effect on electoral outcomes. The picture they draw is one in which these ads convey only marginal advantage, and in which the logic of a positional arms race holds pride of place. In other words, according to this argument, a typical politician will say, in effect, “I know these ads don’t do much good, but if the other guy is buying them then I have no choice but to do the same in case the race is decided at the margin.”

In a few cases political scientists make this argument, but in most cases I have observed this argument is made by people who are themselves involved in the whole process of television-laden campaign advertising. Of course they discount their own influence, because if you believe them that makes them more influential. The argument is disingenuous because a great many elections are in fact won or lost at the margin. Safe congressional districts tend not to attract much advertising efforts. But whether the Congress as a whole is Democratic or Republican after the midterm elections or presidential year elections often turns on a group of electoral outcomes decided at the margin. Sophisticated campaign consultants know this, so if they argue that their role in facilitating television advertising is not very important, they are lying. And what they never tell you is that, in recent years at least, the side that raises the most money, again, with most of it spent on television advertising, wins about 94 percent of the time.

Still others believe the problem will diminish as social media technologies break the hold of television on the airing of political opinion. If television becomes a lot less important as a part of the whole, some think, less money will flow to it, and with the political uses of social media being essentially free, this portends a great advantage to democratic and populist forces against plutocratic and corporate one. Perhaps this is all true, but I doubt it. History is littered with exaggerated prophecies of technology freeing the masses. “Invent the printing press and democracy is inevitable”, wrote Thomas Carlyle early in the 18th century—well, yes, but mainly no. And recent times have produced no less untethered optimism about the Internet and its accoutrements.6 Large and politically motivated concentrations of money can suborn social media, too.  The power of money, if it diminishes at all at the hands of technology, will do so only slowly.

Thus, as we have already seen in some detail, the need to raise all that money raises obviously troubling questions about corruption: There are only so many places a candidate can get huge sums of money, and all those places have vested interests in the outcomes of important policy debates. It’s worth asking a disturbing question (disturbing at least in terms of democratic theory and practice): To whom is a victorious House or Senate candidate really in political debt? To the voters, or to the corporate and/or union moneymen who (94 percent of the time, remember) got the voters to vote the way they did? It’s not good when industries that contribute to political campaigns get to have their staff people essentially draft legislation pertaining to their own industry. And the campaign finance reform we’ve had in recent years, almost everyone agrees, has made things worse, not better—and that was before Citizens United, the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott.

It is clear that the whole subject of campaign finance is encumbered by a few key Supreme Court decisions. The result has been to distort analysis of this problem. For many years reformers have focused on the supply side of the problem—namely, how to get large sums of money to candidates in ways that do not hopelessly tilt the playing field. Industrious social entrepreneurs have come up with all sorts of ways to do this, from partial to full public financing and other ways besides. One problem here, among many, is that public funding has to be voluntary to be constitutional. If one side decides to forgo it, as Barack Obama did in 2008, for example, the other side has little choice but to follow. But virtually no one involved in public policy activism on campaign finance issues has given any thought lately to the demand side, where, as already noted, costs have been skyrocketing for years with no sign of abatement. Why? Because the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment has made it seem completely futile to pursue this angle.

That is most unfortunate, because there is a way to alleviate, if not solve, this problem. Admittedly, it is politically difficult to achieve (then again, what isn’t these days?), but at least it does not raise constitutional issues. It has two interconnected parts.

The first part is to have the Federal Communications Commission auction off rather than give away all broadcasting and bandwidth resources, not just some of them as is now the case. (After the FCC was formed in 1934 it did not give licenses away for free; this is an interesting history that reveals—what else?—plutocratic maneuvering over time par excellance.7) The media companies that acquire broadcasting licenses are not exactly pauperized; they can easily afford to pay for this relatively scarce resource, and that’s exactly what broadcasting bandwidth is. The money earned from these auctions and license renewals could then be used to subsidize non-major-party political campaigns whose candidates get on the ballot, and to help educate voters, just as happens in lots of other democratic countries. That is how the FCC was conceived from the beginning, as a steward over a publically owned asset, for the airwaves were conceived that way no less than our national forests. Read the original charter and you’ll see; and note, too, that the FCC was originally expected to hold regular public hearings to make sure it was regulating the airwaves in the public interest. As the grand old man of presidential debates, former FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow, recently put it: “I believe it is unconscionable that candidates for public office have to buy access to the airwaves—which the public itself owns—to talk to the public.”8

The only way the use of airwaves auction resources in this manner can work out fairly, however, is if the time for active campaigning is constrained—this is the second part of the proposal. Almost every other Western electoral democracy does this. There is nothing anti-democratic about it. It does limit free speech in some theoretical way, but the money-dominated way things work now limits free speech, too, in very practical ways. So the FCC should require all of its clients to allow a certain minimum of airtime made available during constrained official campaign seasons for all candidates who qualify to get on the ballot.

This is not a panacea, of course. Candidates with lots of money could still buy more advertising than others during the campaign period, but those without a lot of money at least would be guaranteed a minimum of exposure to explain their proposals and views. We would not then have the strange specter, as we did in October 2012, of a debate among four minor party candidates (Constitutional Party, Libertarian Party, Justice Party and Green Party) having to run on Al-Jazeera, of all places.9 We shouldn’t try to sterilize the advantages of money in politics, which is impossible anyway; after all, even George Washington served hard cider at Mount Vernon in an effort to get people to vote for him. But we shouldn’t want money to trump absolutely everything all the time, either.

So, sell the licenses to subsidize free and fair political debate, and limit campaign seasons to curtail costs. This is a much simpler solution than those trying to limit and measure political contributions, whether of “soft money” or “hard money” and so on and so forth. Most such proposals before Citizens United, including McCain-Feingold, were inherently too complex to be workable, because there are a zillion lawyers eager to make billions of dollars finding millions of ways around them.

Besides, if the core problem is television—and it is—then the best solution is a direct one aimed at putting some boundaries around television’s functions in political campaigning. As everyone knows, you can’t affect the position of a shadow by doing things to the shadow; likewise, we can’t do much about the shadow cast by television’s power. We have to get at the source.

Can we actually do this? We can, and it would help if all those activists and their organizations who have given up on trying to control the demand side of campaign finance now concert their efforts anew in support of this reform effort.

Notes:

1The GOP illustrated this bias at its recent nominating convention, and Mitt Romney turned the disposition into a farce in a statement about 47 percent of Americans supposedly being caught in a dependency syndrome; see David Brooks, “Party of Strivers”, New York Times, August 31, 2012, and Brooks, “Thurston Howell Romney”, New York Times, September 18, 2012. It is ironic that Republican/libertarian Social Darwinism dovetails so closely with the rational, value-maximizing individualist bias of the Skinnerian welfare meliorist methodology so beloved of liberals, but then Hobbes and Locke, different as they were, also agreed implicitly on primordial individualism.

2Not everyone on the right displays these particular forms of blindness. Thus Charles Murray: “Washington is in a new Gilded Age of influence peddling that dwarfs anything that has come before.” Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum, 2012), p. 294. And of course his broader thesis is precisely about growing culture/class gaps in American. I agree with his basic premise and much of his analysis. I do not agree with him on what his analysis implies for governance. Again, see our interview with Murray.

3As to the latter issue, there is an old and large literature. More recently, see Joseph Turow, The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth (Yale University Press, 2012), and the more popularly oriented Martin Lindstrom, Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Crown Business, 2008).

4A similar argument abides in Francis Fukuyama’s “Conservatives and the State”, except that Frank omitted Clay, the Whigs and their “American system.”

5Fukuyama, “Conservatives and the State.”

6The best caveat against such thinking, so far, is Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion (PublicAffairs, 2011).

7But this is very complicated, since the FCC has had its hands full with telephones as much as television for most of its history, and has in recent decades had to deal with a range of controversies over media concentration, decency issues and more besides. At first the would-be plutocrat in the room was AT&T, but after the breakup of AT&T in 1984 a host of large media companies took pride of place. To my knowledge, there is no serious, scholarly book-length history of the FCC.

8Newton N. Minow, “A Glimmer in the Vast Wasteland”, New York Times, October 3, 2012, p. A25.

9And note that these candidates were not a bunch of rank amateurs or nitwits. The four included a former governor of New Mexico, a former mayor of Salt Lake City, a former Congressman, and a medical doctor who had run for governor of Massachusetts.

 

  • Anthony

    Because it is almost entirely the affluent that put up party (candidate) campaign funds, one can infer that both the Republican and Democratic parties are (basically and primarily) the parties of the propertied classes; much is at stake in public policy that will be made by officeholders – who will pay more of the taxes in an increasingly welfare-warfare state, who will get contracts, exemptions, etc. Essentially, we are facets of a plutocratic culture socialized via institutions, values, and ideologies (“places where positive change would resonate throughout our political culture”). Consequently, the principle of subsidiarity (nothing should be done by a larger more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simple organization) though touted finds itself attenuated in a diverse American landscape.

    Similarly,the implied social trust endemic to subsidiarity is challenged by indiviualism and the inherent desire to maintain or further one’s position within the social hierarchy thereby committing to hierarchy’s perservation wittingly or unwittingly. Your essay implies that Americans can no longer afford the scarcity psychology and by implication the exclusion of others to our own common detriment. As far as that goes, I concur and think television and politics are only the beginning in truely assessing the cultural apparatus.

  • Anthony

    Truly, Skinnerian welfare meliorist methodology and neo Social Darwinism encapsulate your 1965/1925 reference – yet both would claim lineage to Burkean traditions.

  • John Barker

    I just read in Sunday’s paper in the small western city where I live, some $30 million has been spent on TV ads this year, about hundred dollars per person. I will try to figure out how much per vote later.

  • http://www.planetsusan.org Susan Olson

    Nonsense! The issue isn’t the medium or the message, it’s the uninformed receiver. Should newspapers have been censored in post-revolutionary America, when Adams’ ads proclaimed the country would be overrun with “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest”? If my vote could be won via television advertising, then I should be condemned to do all my shopping on HSN, and only purchase products with clever slogans and nifty jingles. I have more faith in American voters, apparently, than the author.

  • guydreaux

    Your intentions are good and your passion is evident but you are trying to impose solutions that are not practicable and will have undesirable effects (your intervention essentially puts a finger on the scale- e.g., who gets to chose which minor parties are important and get air time?).

    Also, who determines “social capital”? And if politics always supercedes economics (and by this I think you necessarily mean property rights and free decision making around who much and what to produce and what price to sell it for is handed to politicians)then by definition there is no rule of law in the economy. Politicians (who can be bought) will have more power, they will create family dynasties that control industries and dispense favours to their family, the connected and to powerful corporations. What makes you think that a politican with the power to control the economy will make decisions with “social capital” in mind rather than vote buying or personal enrichment?

    There is no history anywhere of that happening for any material period of time (e.g. more than a few years)

    Also- I hope you realize that the concept of “the airwaves” as auctionable space is irrelevant in the age of the internet and was even irrelevant decades ago as soon as content providers could pipe content directly to cable TV providers.

    If you want more airtime for fringe parties and “public service” announcements then I suggest you get it the old fashioned way- buy it. There are many billionaire tycoons who agree with you and there is nothing to stop you from a media buy. You may have noticed that a dozen cable channels run cheesy infomercials on Saturday mornings. Buy half a dozen slots and give some fringe candidates airtime every saturday. If it catches on and gains viewership the cable channels will start offering that program themselves. The first response of an autocrat is that if they can’t make people care then they want to force people to pay attention (and certainly you are going down that path). Instead, why don’t you use your own money to try to entice people to care rather than imagining that, once you give pols the power to impose all of these choices on people, that they’ll make the choices you want? You’d have to be very foolish to believe that giving pols more power is going to result in decisions you favour, unless you and like thinkers believe you can seize the reins permanently.

    A mayor Bloomberg can ban 20oz sodas on a whim, but what is to stop the next mayor from banning homeopathic medicines or biodynamic foods as a fraud and huge waste of money?

    There is a huge body of evidence showing that giving pols more power to impose media content and economic decisions on the populace results in corruption and despotism.
    Essentially this has been the course of human history for thousands of years.

    On the other hand, we have perhaps 300 years of history of free markets, free trade and individual property rights in a global capitalist system that has lifted much of the world out of poverty in the traditional sense (i.e. of not being able to feed or clothe oneself).

    There is always a tension between government and free enterprise. For every trust buster and Teddy Roosevelt there is a Luddite (or the economically naive like President Obama with a static view, who believe ATM machines have hurt employment rather then dynamically redistributed consumption and investment spending, in turn creating new economic and employment opportunities elsewhere). What makes you think a Teddy Roosevelt is going to be in charge instead of a Luddite?

    Were were really better off when we all had to till the fields as serfs? If not, at which point in the 200-300 year history of capitalism should we have hired a benevolent dictator to decide on “social capital” decisions and what would have been the result? Spend some time backtesting your model before advocating it.

    For myself I can see dozens of examples in history where governments have tried to control information and the economy for the “Social good” and not much good has ever come out of it.

  • PopConservative

    There’s another way….. More elegant the more you think about it.

    The manner as to how it would be accomplished is open for debate, but conceptually, I think it’s pretty strong.

    Firstly, addressing the way we think about some of these terms-

    “Change” often happens very quickly.

    The seemingly intractable “Problems” everyone points to are not problems but rather characteristics of a given equilibrium.

    Forces out of balance produce change. Those more or less in balance stick around a while, perhaps appearing chronic.

    The amount of money in politics has changed. No argument there. But as the author above points out, the path to a politician’s success has remained the same- more money than the other guy, but only in relative terms. The price tag can change up or down, but 51% wins an election. That’s the constant; money is a matter of degrees.

    The issue isn’t money. It’s Centralization. Money is actually the way you solve the problem. (And Centralization adequately describes the problem we’re really hacking at- the failure of representative government to actually represent the constituent.)

    If we seek to eliminate money, we’re lead to schemes of ever increasing complexity, rigidity and, at the end of the day, most likely increased Central power.

    The solution is to disadvantage the “Center” in favor of the periphery or margin.

    The limiting factor is actually the politician- the politician’s physical self. There is one seat to be filled by one body. That’s what can be regulated most discreetly.

    Legislators should be disadvantaged while in Washington, away from their constituents. The disadvantage should be in raising funds (which is the opposite of what is now occurring).

    We should resolve that a Legislator could only accept, book, or receive contributions while their physical person is within the State they represent. Simple. And let whatever contortions they attempt to get around this rule be their business.

    At the end of the day, whenever the Legislator is out of state, they are at a disadvantage to a challenger that is not.

    Furthermore, we raise the administrative overhead of lobbying one size fits all agendas by a factor of at least what, 26? No longer is it all done in Washington. If an interest group wants to buy a majority of support, they need to be operative at the state level.

    I suspect we’d also solve the issue of term limits, without nasty consequences like a term limited Legislator with nothing to gain nor nothing to lose.

    A solution to the money-in-politics “problem” need only influence the existing equilibrium. Keep it simple. Then time should be allowed for a new equilibrium to express itself, most likely in terms of what “problems” appear insurmountable.

  • Bob Damico

    The answer is as simple as stopping what the politicians have to sell to the monied interests, which is more government. Stop trying to manipulate behavior through the tax system and lower the rates. It’s all about freedom.

  • GaryP

    The underlying premise of this article, that government could be made more benign, even a force for social good, if only the distorting force of money could be removed from the electoral process shows that you have no understanding of political reality.
    Government, in all its forms, is simply a means for one part of society, the ruling class, to control and exploit the remainder of society using force or threat of force.
    Each government rests on a power base, traditionally either the patricians or the plebeians but with the growth of a market economy, including a third group, midway in wealth between the aristos and the mob (called, very imaginatively, the middle class).
    Every government rules by playing off these two (or sometimes three) groups with the single goal of maintaining power (and the resulting self-enrichment) for the ruling class. Elections, in a democracy, are simply the struggle between factions in the ruling class for the right to enrich themselves by graft and insider trading. Patronage and governmental largess are used to reward whatever group is perceived to be the source of the most essential support. This is probably why our nation was founded as a Republic with an elected executive and lower House, an upper house appointed by the regional aristos, and an powerful judiciary appointed for life, supposedly immune to pressure from the ruling group of the moment. The government was purposely designed to be weak to protect the middle class (who did not have the leisure or inclination to form a professional ruling class) from the wealthy and the mob that had historically made up, or been manipulated by, the ruling class.
    License to exploit the mob via slavery or serfdom while profiting from graft was the traditional reward to the patricians. Bread and circuses was the ‘sweetener’ for the mob. The middle class, having evolved in and from a market economy was primarily interested in a rule of law (to allow them to transact business predictably, i.e. protect them from the aristos), order (to protect them and their possessions from the mob since they could not afford armed retainers like the aristos), and minimal government because they knew that had too little to allow them to evade taxes (like the aristos) and enough to made them worth shaking down (unlike the mob). I think that what was not foreseen was the future co opting of the middle class into being the functionaries of an all consuming government.
    Even our sainted founding fathers (while notably superior to most rulers) were not immune to the defects of all ruling classes. However, the minimalist nature of the early Federal government reduced the incentive to develop a professional ruling class as there was so little to steal when the government controlled so few resources. Moreover, since the early government of the US was founded by and primarily for, the relatively new middle class, their needs formed the bedrock principles of our early government. One notable exception was the reluctant acceptance of slavery to get the quasi-aristos (primarily in the South) to join.
    Patronage was limited (the Postal Service, the military, and the diplomatic service were the principle venues, along with grants of land on the frontier) because government was purposely small, to suit the primary supporters (and source) of the amateur ruling class. Few people made a career of government because it was too small to be lucrative for a large, professional ruling class.
    As the society evolved from one where money and power was disbursed among myriad small business owners (such as Franklin) and small-medium farmers (such as Washington) toward big business, the needs of the new patricians (big businessmen) became dominant in the government and lead to triumph of this new power group over the old aristos of the South in the Civil War (resulting in the Tariffs of 1861 and following years) to protect industrial magnates at the expense of commodity magnates.
    In opposition to the rulers owned by the business aristos of the Gilded Age, the champions (and manipulators) of the middle class introduced the Progressive Era around 1900. As it became possible to better mobilize the mob with the advent of universal literacy, a new ruling class, supported by and controlling the mob using bread and circuses, developed in the New Deal era.
    However, in the last fifty years, a ruling class has grown up that has squared the circle by showering largess on all three classes. The business elites are rewarded by the growth of the financial sector that has exploded to manage wealth created by a debt based economy encouraged by tax deductions, reckless lending and socialization of bank losses (as well as issuance of enormous amounts of government debt). The middle class has been seduced by the prospect of government jobs and subsidized education to qualify their scions for same. The mob has been bought off with free ‘stuff’ and promises of ever increasing ‘entitlements’ (i.e. their due, not charity).
    As the government grew in power and wealth, the professional ruling class grew with it. Now large numbers of people spend their entire working life in government or quasi-government jobs, a career path virtually impossible in the early years of the Republic. Not only did patronage mean that almost the entire government work force turned over after every regime change, there was just so little money in the federal government that the amounts available for graft were too small to make it worthwhile. Of course, both of these conditions no longer apply. The only problem is that the ruling class has promised more than it can deliver. You cannot buy off everyone forever as there is not enough wealth in the country (or any country).
    The result will be collapse and a return to a more traditional government based on the support of either the patricians or the plebs as the middle class is basically a spent force as it primarily exists now as drones dependent either on big business or big government. Therefore, it will virtually disappear with in the collapse of both. Already, the decline of the middle class outside of the dependents of big business or big government is noted, but not understood.
    At the founding of our Republic, the main goal of the middle class was to be minimally robbed by government and left alone to go about their business. Now they are as dependent as the plebeians on government programs.
    The past and future of our government in one (relatively) short and easy lesson. By necessity this was only the broad stokes and basically ignores local government which was always much more important to the average person’s life than the Feds (State government lay in between in importance) until the big government era.
    The fact that we can not imagine dealing with our social problems without reforming the federal government tells us how distorted our system of governance has become. Government, to simplify a complex subject, cannot be reformed. It can only be shrunk. Government may be more or less oppressive and extortive but by it’s very nature, these are its main characteristics. That is not to say government is not a necessary evil but the only better government is a smaller government. We have, as a society, lost this understanding of the essential nature of big government, one, I think, well grasped by our founding fathers. Therefore, we are destined to always fail as we try to arrest or reverse the decline of our society. The tool considered essential to our salvation, government, is only effective at hastening our destruction.