The latest Commentary includes a review of Jay Cost‘s new book, Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic.
Reviewer Fred Siegel offers this interesting observation about the impact of the Democratic Party’s growing reliance on the support of highly defined interest groups.
The party of FDR derived its legitimacy from its claim to represent the great majority of Americans. Its clientism was not inherently at odds with political majoritarianism. That cannot be said of the party under the dominance of rights-based client groups. Those groups looked to courts, not to the political process, to secure their aims. Abortion, racial quotas, and environmental overreach were delivered not by presidential or congressional majorities but by courts and an iron triangle of interest groups, congressional subcommittee staffers, and the liberal media. The new clients had little interest in the compromises needed to allow Democratic presidential administrations to succeed — which explains why there has been just one, Bill Clinton’s, over the past half century. The party, Cost writes, became “so dominated by clients that it became virtually impossible for it to govern for the public at large.”
Spoiled Rotten is at its best when explaining the failures of Carter and Obama beside those of Clinton. Here Cost, a staff writer for the Weekly Standard, makes an interesting and unexpected argument that Jimmy Carter actually tried to fight the good fight against his party’s newly dominant powers-that-be: “Carter in office saw himself defending the national interest against clients like labor at a time when the growth machine had slowed down.” They did not take it lying down. When Carter reduced the subsidies to cities that went to the rising power of often heavily minority public-sector unions, the United States Conference of Mayors denounced him as a “traitor to urban America.” And when Carter back the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion, he set off the greatest firestorm of feminist denunciation a president had yet seen.