The Country Party

The Republican Party died during the struggle over Obamacare. Its most vital elected officials chose to represent their voters. This left their erstwhile leaders to continue pursuing acceptance by the ruling party, its press and its class. The result is a new party that represents the roughly three fourths of Republican voters whose social identities are alien to those of the ruling class and whose political identity is defined by opposition to the ruling party. These voters are outsiders to modern America’s power structure. Hence the new party that represents them is a “country party” in the British tradition of Viscount Bolingbroke’s early eighteenth century Whigs, who represented the country class against the royal court and its allies in Parliament. The forthcoming food fight over the name “Republican” is of secondary importance.

The new party came to be as organizations such as the Club For Growth, the several pro-life organizations, the Tea Parties, etc. joined together with the Congressmen and Senators they had helped elect to mount an effort which was less an attempt to de-fund Obamacare than it was the assertion of a bona fide opposition to the ruling class.

Henry St. John Viscount Bolingbroke

Henry St. John Viscount Bolingbroke

This has been a long time coming. Obamacare was a trigger, not a cause. While a majority of Democrats feel that officials who bear that label represent them well, only about a fourth of Republican voters and an even smaller proportion of independents trust Republican officials to represent them. They hear themselves insulted from on high as greedy, racist, violent, ignorant extremists, and resent the ever-growing U.S. government’s edgy social, ethical, and political character.

But the Republican leadership’s kinship with the socio-political class that runs modern government is deep. Rather than defending their voters’ socio-political identities, they ignore, soft-pedal, or give mere lip service to their voters’ concerns. It chooses candidates for office whose election only steadies America on a course of which most Americans disapprove.

In short, while the Democratic Party faithfully represents the government as well as the social classes that run it and benefit from it, the rest of the country lacks political representation. The ruling class sees itself at once as distinct from the rest of society – and as the only element thereof that may act on its behalf. It rules – to use New York Times columnist David Brooks’ characterization of Barack Obama – “as a visitor from a morally superior civilization.” But Republican leaders do not want to beat the ruling class, rather to join it in governing.

The Republican Party never did choose whether to represent the rulers or the ruled. Since 1932, corporations, finance, and the entitled high and low – America’s “ins” – gravitated to the Democrats’ permanent power, while the “outs” fled into the Republican fold. Thus since World War II the Republican Party has consisted of office holders most of whom yearned to be “ins,” and of voters who were mostly “outs.”

This was always unsustainable. Barry Goldwater staged the first grass-roots revolt against the “Rockefeller Republicans.” But they savaged him. Goldwater’s voters rallied behind Reagan and elected him three times – the third being when George Bush I pretended to be Reagan. But the Bush dynasty kept the Republican Party’s dominant heights in the Establishment’s hands. That is why government grew more rapidly and the ruling class more prepossessing under the Bushes than under Democrats. In sum, the closer one gets to the Republican Party’s voters, the more the Party looks like Goldwater and Reagan. The closer one gets to its top, the more it looks like wannabe Democrats.

Why then have Americans who want smaller government, who want to protect the sanctity of life, who value the right to keep and bear arms, etc. been voting Republican at all? Because the grass-roots organizations formed to advance these causes endorse certain Republican candidates. Increasingly, the voters have viewed these endorsements, rather than the party Establishment’s endorsement, as indication of what the candidate is all about.

The internet made it possible for these organizations to inform and form a bond of trust with the voters, and to set standards by which to judge the performance of elected officials. Thus informed with facts and opinion, sectors of the country class have felt represented and empowered. Those on the electronic distribution list of the “Club for Growth,” for example, are at least as well informed on economic matters as any credentialed policy maker. The several pro-life organizations have spread enough knowledge of embryology and moral logic to make Roe v. Wade, which the ruling class regards as its greatest victory, a shrinking island in American jurisprudence and society. The countless Tea Parties that have sprung up all over have added their countless attendees to networks of information and organization despite the ruling class’ effort to demonize them. The same goes for evangelicals, gun owners, etc. Though such groups represent the country class fragmentarily, country class people identify with them rather than with the Republican Establishment.

The issue groups’ joint endeavor to de-fund Obamacare, their joint rejection of the Republican Party’s leadership, and the collaboration of Republican legislators who had been endorsed by some but not others of these groups, effectively forms a new party. The question is not what the Republican Establishment will do with these dissidents but what the dissidents will do with the Establishment.

Angelo M. Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and is a Senior Fellow of The Claremont Institute. He served as a U.S. Senate Staff member dealing with oversight of the intelligence services. His new book Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations was published by Hoover Institution Press.

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Comments

  1. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    The argument here is, in part anyway, an argument by analogy. Or, put somewhat differently, it is an argument that explores the implications of a metaphor: the relationship between the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, on the one hand, and the Establishment Wing of the GOP as well as the entirety of the Democratic Party, on the other hand, is akin to the early 18th century English split between Court and Country.

    I wonder, however, to what extent this analogy really makes sense. For one thing, its validity hinges on the existence not just of a Country party, but also of Court Party–and the 18th Century Court Party could meaningfully be termed that because there existed a Royal Court that was itself an institution of some significant power.

    Courts work because they function in certain predictable ways. In a Court system, patronage is everything. Bolingbroke and others in his tradition wrote to argue that the “Mixed and Balanced” English constitution was dysfunctional, because Court patronage could be and was used to corrupt the independence of the House of Commons, thus creating a “Court Party.” This Court Party consisted of a large group of legislators who in essence sold out their principles in order to enjoy the material benefits that accompanied being on the Royal payroll. For Bolingbroke, then, there was only one party of political principles.

    Let’s leave aside for the moment the objection that the metaphor does not work well because there is nothing analogous to a Royal Court in the American system. There may very well be ample corruption, but ours is not the kind of corruption that accompanies Monarchy, and we mislead ourselves in our analysis if we pretend that it is. Here, it seems to me, the metaphor breaks down.

    But leave this aside, and let’s examine instead the analogy with Bolingbroke. The good Viscount could argue as he did with some plausibility, because the King and his ministers really did use fairly blunt instruments of bribery to build working majorities in the House of Commons. And thus, there was some truth to Bolingbroke’s argument that English politics broke out into the party of corruption and the party of principle.

    But how true is this of, for example, people like Chris Van Hollen? Are we really comfortable arguing that Van Hollen has no principled political beliefs to which he adheres–that he instead argues as he does and holds positions as he does only because he wishes to continue to enjoy the bribes of his Royal masters (this would be something of an odd argument to make, in as much as in the contemporary United States there is no king!)?

    The distinction between Court and Country implies that there is only one legitimate principled position that motivates and inspires the actions of politicians in the legislature. But this strikes me as a dangerous delusion, and one that, if we indulge it, will lead Republicans to misinterpret reality. I think we are better off working from the assumption that, wrong-headed though they may be, our legislative opponents are operating, at least on occasion, from genuine conviction.

    • gabe says

      Kevin:

      Very good and concise history of the politics involved!
      And I concur in you final conclusion: I think we are better off working from the assumption that, wrong-headed though they may be, our legislative opponents are operating, at least on occasion, from genuine conviction.”
      Yet I believe that there is more to substantiate Mr Codevillas argument than the, perhaps, not totally apt phrasing would indicate. And it is not simply of recent vintage!
      Consider, if you will, Article V Amendment processes. Never has the Congress accepted a certification from the States for any amendments offered thereunder.
      Let me ask you: do you think that todays Congress would do so? or would they continue to deny such Constitutionally appropriate action by the people and the States? And if such a proposed amendment by the States were to include curbs on Congressional power, (or, God forbid, something requiring them to do their jobs and not assign Legislative powers to executive agencies) what chance do you think it would have of receiving certification?
      What is more, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, the last vestige of State power was severed such that US Senators no longer perform the role of State Diplomats but rather have become part of the governmental “uber-class.” They seek the means of retaining their power (elections) via the contributions of national or regional power brokers and serve them far more readily than their own constituents – but, of course, I am wrong here, they see the power brokers as their “paying constituents.
      Overstatement? Perhaps, but I could probably list a long train of abuses that would put Jefferson’s claims against the King to shame!!

      take care
      gabe

      • Kevin R. Hardwick says

        Gabe–

        Thoughtful points, as always. Before I go on, I want to acknowledge that there is a sense in which my comment is unfair to the argument advanced by Dr. Codevilla, since to my reading he fairly quickly abandons the metaphor. I began the thought process that ended up with my decision to write the post by asking myself what happens if we explore the metaphor more systematically. To my perception, the comparison with Court/Country and with the political thought of Viscount Bolingbroke (a thoroughly interesting character, by the way–I know him largely via the scholarship of Isaac Kramnick) is really a point of departure for Dr. Codevilla, and not intended by him as something on which to place a great degree of analytic weight. At least, that is how I read his essay–as with so many things, I may well have misinterpreted or misunderstood it.

        A few thoughts in response to your note, both refracted through my ongoing effort better to understand Madison. With regard to the Article V Amendment process, I suspect that in a perverse fashion, Madison might feel vindicated by the history to which you allude. After all, Madison grounded his arguments for ratification in a fairly sophisticated argument that for checks and balances to work, ambition must counteract ambition. So while I suspect he would disapprove of a Congress putting its institutional interests ahead of the expressed will of the people, those instances in which Congress acted to preserve its institutional interests might well confirm his thought elsewhere. Not sure how far this observation gets us, but there you go :)

        As to the 17th Amendment, the Madison of the Federalist Papers might well agree with you (as I am inclined to agree with you) that this is not a salutary development, the Madison of the Philadelphia Convention might very well celebrate it. Madison believed then that the states retained far too much influence over the actions of the Federal government, and that the Connecticut Compromise was a fatal weakness that rendered the work of the Philadelphia Convention suspect. See, for example, his letter of 24 Oct. 1787 (I think), to Thomas Jefferson. Another digression that, alas, does not get us very far!

        But back to the matter at hand–there are meaningful and principled arguments for a powerful Federal government that demand our engagement–that cannot, in other words, be simply dismissed as the sophistry of direct and cynical self-interest. To the extent that the Court/Country metaphor tends to conceal that truth–and likewise tends to conceal the similar truth that some of the people with whom we disagree adhere to those positions out of principled commitment–then it leads us to misjudge action in the present. We handle people who are thoroughly corrupted one way; we work with people who are true believers in an entirely different fashion.

        One last thought–I don’t think that there *is* a monolithic Establishment Uber-class. It seems to me that the world is both less conspiratorial and more complex than that formulation might suggest. From what I can see of the way our public world works, there is considerable merit to disaggregating the various monied stake-holders that collectively shape our public life–to seeing them as partially committed actors who at best coordinate haphazardly with each other. Unlike my commentary about history, however, I advance this thought with little self-confidence, as I cannot claim any special authority here, nor even any great attention to systematic reading. I can cite “chapter and verse” in both primary and secondary sources to back up my arguments about history–but when it comes to contemporary life, guys like Dr. Codevilla possess considerably more expertise than I can ever hope to have.

        • gabe says

          Kevin:

          As always with us, the differences are to be measured in degrees.

          I am no conspiracy knucklehead. However, i do believe that there is a confluence of interests between power brokers and our modern “Lawgivers” (if I may so abuse that term) that can, at times, and with purpose, act to thwart the “peoples will.” Sometimes. it may well be principled – sometimes not – and sometimes simply a matter of vote getting. We are what we elect, I suppose ot the corollary!

          With respect to Madison, I can not recall the date but in a respone letter to Jefferson concerning the syllabus for the University of Virginia Law School, Madison makes plain his desire that there not be too much tinkering with the Constitution in order to inculcate in the minds of the citizenry an almost “sacred veneration” for the document.
          If you are interested, I can get you the information – but right now I must finish a very good glass of Washington State Merlot and get back to watching the football game.

          Take care
          gabe

  2. Foxhuntingman says

    I think the analogy to the court vs country competition in the early 18th century is good one. Bolingbroke, though, was a Tory not a Whig, and he wanted to join the court party in the sense that he wanted to replace Marlboroughs ally Godolphin as Lord Treasurer so that he could make his fortune. It is also a disheartening analogy, because over the course of the 18th century the country party lost most of the time.

  3. William Jennings says

    Angelo,

    I’m a friend of Pete Bagley’s (i.e., Tennent H.)

    Please contact me when you get a chance.

    Thanks.

    Bill Jennings
    wm.jennings AT yahoo

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