by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Cost uses a National Review Online column to compare political players in Washington, D.C., to an old-fashioned “court party.” It uses its control of the levers of power to rule regardless of the will of people throughout the country.
There is a kind of “court party” in American politics — one that is actually strengthened by the diffusion of power across Washington, D.C. It behaves like a cartel, restricting alternative supplies of policies or ideas. Political theorists have called this the “mobilization of bias.” In other words, there are just certain ways of getting things done in Washington, D.C., and alternative methods of policymaking are not up for discussion.
This court party is sustained by several features of our polity. The first, and most important, is the overwhelming rate at which politicians are reelected. It tops 90 percent in most cycles. Apart from a handful of bellwether districts, incumbents are all but guaranteed victory when they choose to run again. Voters simply do not care enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. The court party continues to exist because the country cannot be bothered to do anything about it.
The second important feature is the way political campaigns are financed. Forget for a moment the super PACs, those well-heeled, largely anonymous entities that swoop in during competitive elections. Again, most elections are not competitive. Incumbents in these contests raise funds by drawing in large measure upon the interests that have business before the government, particularly the jurisdictions they oversee in their committees. This conflict-of-interest financing of our politics is a bipartisan phenomenon.
Third, there is lobbying. Put aside any traditional views on how lobbying works. It is not a brown envelope stuffed with cash, or even a fancy dinner on the corporate card. It is the provision of information. …
… The fourth is the revolving door between the public and private sectors. This gives those in government an incentive to look out for private interests, as they anticipate that they’ll need to have a job after they retire from public service. It also creates cultural and social affinities between people with private interests and those who are in public service. Everybody is in the same “club.”