The goal: being in power

Baffled by politics in the last four years or so, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this Bagehot column in The Economist from 21 Dec 2019.

It’s probably behind a paywall for non-subscribers, but I’ll try and give the jist.  In the 20th and (so far) 21st centuries the Conservatives have been in power for longer than any other party.  Why?

It’s because the Conservative Party views their job as being in power.  That’s it.  That’s their meaning and their purpose.  The Conservative Party is not guided by any principles or beliefs or philosophies.  It may pretend to be, individual members may be, that might be part of the whole stew, but the job of the party is to be in power.

Evelyn Waugh once complained that the Tories had never succeeded in turning the clock back for a single minute. But this is exactly why they have been so successful. The party has demonstrated a genius for anticipating what Harold Macmillan once called “the winds of change”, and harnessing those winds to its own purposes.

They keep their eyes on the mission:

The Conservatives have always been quick to dump people or principles when they become obstacles to the successful pursuit of power. Theresa May immediately sacked her two chief advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, after the party’s poor performance in 2017, whereas Jeremy Corbyn is still clinging on to Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne after Labour’s devastating failure last week.

Mr. Johnson keeps with this tradition:

He succeeded in this where Mrs May failed because he possessed the other great Tory weapons. He has been willing to sacrifice anything in the pursuit of office. Beneath the bumbling exterior lies a ruthless, power-seeking machine. His withdrawal of the whip from 21 colleagues (some of them close friends) in September made Macmillan’s “night of the long knives” in 1962 look tame.

When I try to think about American politics, it helps to imagine that the Republican Party understands its job: getting power, keeping power, staying in power.  The issues are irrelevant as long as they serve this goal.  That’s why various attacks about the absolute hypocrisy of “pro life”ideas, or pretend deficit hawkishness, or “small government” –> enormous bailouts whenever necessary, etc etc just don’t stick or have any meaning.  You’re falling for the game if you fall for that.

Now, what the point of the Democratic Party is I’m not sure.  It might be “losing nobly,” or something, as evidenced by the career of this longtime Democratic operative and summed up by this speech.  Or maybe it’s “not appearing too extreme.”  Or “making people feel ok about themselves.”  In any case, it’s not as focused a mission, and it’s not gonna be as successful until it gets figured out.

Maybe the Democrats need to remember what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s supposed mentor, Saul Alinsky, put bluntly:

Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!

Source on that.



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