Rotten Fruit: Patronage, Clientelism, and Romney | Part 2

Seeing the campaign controversy sparked by a leaked video — Romney Calls 47% of Voters Dependent— I’m reminded of Jay Cost’s insightful book “Spoiled Rotten”.

As mentioned in Part 1, before I was exposed to Cost’s writing on this subject, I hadn’t encountered the concept of clientelism. But it aptly describes the relationship between voters, and vote-seeking candidates. Public officials trading special favors in exchange for votes is not new, Republicans and Democrats alike. But the increasingly-fragmented targeting of “groups”–dividing citizens into classes of victims, with specialized needs to attend to, at the expense of everyone else–is a tumorous growth that threatens to weaken the Democratic party, undermine its best intentions, and leave them incapable of governing for the public good.

But that assumes their intentions are good in the first place. Are they? The advantages and benefits of this custom are obvious. The more a party’s political machine can foster dependence, the greater the chance  the party has of developing a permanent governing class. From Andrew Jackson, to FDR, to JFK, clientelism’s spoken agenda is to protect the concerns of the little guy, but its real agenda is to promote their own party’s rule, to achieve and maintain a lasting political hegemony.

When Romney was captured on tape speaking candidly about the troubling increase in benefit recipients–nearly half of all American homes not paying any federal taxes, but receiving benefits–conceding out loud that this 47% will automatically vote for Obama, they’re unreachable. Romney may have alienated or insulted some listeners, once the comments were leaked and made into political sport. But the historic decline in taxpaying, stake-holding employed citizens, the historic increase in the size of our national debt (and the associated decline in the value of our currency) is a real problem. It’s not just a campaign problem. It’s a National Crisis.

While Romney was speaking frankly about  an institutional disadvantage his campaign is faced with, like most observers, I’m more interested in the larger crisis. Appealing to voters about the need to reduce government liabilities, while trying to preserve and protect our necessary obligations, is a less enviable calling card than than the oppositions’s more “caring” approach, making generous promises, offering protection, and fostering dependence. All this while demonizing conservative realists by creating a fantasy caricature of an enemy more dangerous than Iran: The Average Republican. A knuckle-dragging, free-marketeering, hyper-individualistic evil-doer, deaf to the concerns of the disadvantaged.

Whenever I see a campaign use language that’s designed to identify, isolate, and pander to specialized group concerns–instead of recognizing all Americans as free and equal–with promises of favors, tax breaks, rewards, grants, special protection–the more clear it is to me that fostering dependency is no longer simply a way to insure voter loyalty. Maybe it’s now actually required by the legacy political machine in order to survive.

After generations of succeeding at creating classes of victim groups, dependence-fostering Democrats risk being poisoned by their own success. How can they meet their current obligations, much less deliver on the promises of new obligations being made now?  What happens when we’re overextended, and run out of taxable income creators? Democrats already have more clients than they can ever hope to service with the customary schemes.

The more the party depends on clientelism in order to govern, the more the relationship between the  government and the governed becomes mutually destructive…

Nonfiction Review: Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic by Jay Cost. 

Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble … – Jay Cost


2 Comments on “Rotten Fruit: Patronage, Clientelism, and Romney | Part 2”


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