Money, Meritocracy and the Loss of Representative Political Parties

By James A. Kidney

Two recently published books which differ significantly in both quality and subject matter nevertheless make a strong case that both of our political parties have failed to serve the needs of the country’s citizens — and have been failing for a long, long time.

One book — well-researched and reported in ways that are rare today even for the most respected journals — shows how Republicans at every level of government, as well as many academic institutions, have been bought by a relative handful of the uber wealthy.  Dark Money (Doubleday, 2016, 380 pp. plus extensive notes and index), by Jane Mayer, a reporter for The New Yorker Magazine, also discloses how much of the money spent by highly conservative families and their companies on politics has been treated as deductible “contributions” — and therefore subsidized by you and me.  This is so even though the organizations they create and fund work hard to attack and defeat proposals contrary to their business interests.  In other words, it is tax deductible lobbying.

Listen Liberal coverListen Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books, 2016, 257 pp. excluding notes and index), by Thomas Frank, takes Democrats to task for abandoning their traditional working class base in favor of an unrealistic and in some ways harmful devotion to meritocracy.  Frank, author of several political books and a columnist for Salon, does a good job pointing out how presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama selected policy makers from an extremely narrow range of backgrounds.  Thus, for example, Obama’s picks to run the economy came from the same Wall Street and Ivy League incubators as those selected by Clinton.

Frank’s main point, among many, is that these products of meritocracy have left behind in attitudes and policy many Americans unlikely to duplicate their histories of being born on third base or being fortunate enough, through good genes, responsible parenting, hard work and good grades, to lift themselves from poverty or the lower middle class to positions of power and affluence.  Many of the issues closest to the Democratic Party elite, therefore, reflect what is important in the lives of the policy makers, including the “glass ceiling” in big corporations, transgender rights (applicable to a miniscule part of the population) and other issues of identity politics.

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