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Handle with care

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday May 20, 2008 09:05 AM

You'd think the Democratic Party was a precious, fragile vessel of leaf-thin fine bone china, the way everybody is now worried about "damaging" it during the primary melodrama.

If only it were so. In fact the leathery old whore seems indestructible, more's the pity. In its two-century history it's survived every possible kind of disgrace and betrayal, and it still trudges shamelessly on, a shit-eating Clintonesque grim on its homely face, ready willing and eager to sell itself -- and its hapless "base" -- to any buyer, no matter how repellent, for ready cash.

It's odd, really. The shabby thing really does appear awfully flimsy, and it certainly stands for nothing at all except employment under Government for its cadre. Yet it endures (and endures, and endures), in saecula saeculorum, like the Energizer bunny. This paradoxical durability must have some structural explanation.

I think its very mendacity is the secret of its success. Crucially, it claims to offer an alternative -- however half-hearted and feeble -- to the utter, absolute, complete and comprehensive lordship of plutocracy. As crucially, it actually does nothing of the kind.

It's fundamentally just a matter of algebra. This is a country designed -- very ably and successfully designed -- to be ruled by an oligarchy of wealth. Yet public consent to this arrangement requires representing it as a democracy. The gap between representation and reality requires some term to fill it up and make the equation come out right.

That's the structural need the Democratic Party fills, and that, I think, is the explanation for its longevity. We've always needed something like like that -- some democratic cloak for our oligarchic nakedness -- and presumably we always will, at least until something changes in a big way. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Some institution must be built, and staffed with people who either don't mind the dirt, or can convince themselves it's not dirt at all.

Hillary and Bill belong to the former category, no question about it. If Obama really belongs to the latter, it will be interesting to see how his ability to sustain cognitive dissonance holds up under the strains of office.

Comments (2)

"shit-eating Clintonesque grim"

I like that!


The Germans have a term for that, it's called Scheindemokratie.

(lit. "Apparent democracy", i.e. the appearance of democracy but not the substance; "illusory democracy")

Defenders of the status quo will quickly shout "That's why we're a Republic, not a Democracy, blah, blah, blah"

No, it's not a Republic either, but an Empire.

Demos = the people
Kratos = power

Res = thing
Public = the public
so Res Public (Republic) - the Public "thing"
(if I recall correctly).

Britain is still a monarchy with a "democratic cloak". The US remains an Oligarchy with its (now tattered) democratic cloak.

The Age of American Empire probably began with the violent suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion, if not sooner.

As Owen, et. al. have pointed out, it was challenges from the Left, real electoral challenges from the likes of agrarian revolt inspired Populists, Progressives, Socialists, etc, that ever moved the Democratic Party, kicking and screaming, to do anything worthwhile. It will ever be so, then as now.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Tuesday May 20, 2008 09:05 AM.

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