During the American Revolution, roughly a third of all colonists supported King George III, and, for the most part, Parliament. Though completely surrounded by the wildfire of political rebellion, these Tories continued to support the status quo. Thankfully, our founders did not, no more than the Tea Party accepts today’s status quo. The Tea Party’s rise has been called the second American Revolution–a peaceful one of ballots, not bullets–as more and more Americans came to the realization that the majority of elected officials serve their own self-interest, or the interests of their cronies. Congress’s approval rating stands at 13 percent, according to Gallup, or about one third of what King George’s support was. In 2009, a full 76 percent of people polled said that elected officials put their own interests ahead of those of the American people. Yet despite such numbers, in 2010, during one of the most dramatic political shifts in decades, more than 80 percent of incumbents at all levels won reelection, largely preserving the political status quo.
At first glance, it doesn’t make sense: a highly unpopular Congress (and president, for that matter), governing over an economy and country careening out of control, yet some eight out of 10 members of Congress can expect to be re-elected. Many have served for years and have brought this country to its current predicament. Yet they keep winning re-election to continue their tenures of failure: If current spending levels hold, the United States’ public debt will eclipse 300 percent of our economy before midcentury. And when confronted with massive debt, our leaders, lacking the political courage to undertake fundamental change, shave infinitesimal amounts here and there, exfoliating the elephant of debt while it keeps plowing ahead toward the inevitable cliff.
How can this be? Long-time incumbents, a Ruling Class, if you will, with low approval ratings, making bad decision after bad decision, yet still getting re-elected? This is because the American people have been up against a protection racket for nearly a century now, ever since Progressives established a system of government that allowed our country to drift away from the Founders’ original vision of limited government and individual freedom. The Progressive “reforms” have, over time, continued to centralize federal power, and have made our elected officials more powerful and less accountable.
With all power deriving from the people, our elected officials are supposedly there to serve, though at times they prefer that the American people serve them. We provide every dollar that pays them, their staffs, their expenses, and every dollar that funds our government. Yet the American people in recent times have been ignored by their officials (think most recently the Cut, Cap and Balance Plan, which nearly 70 percent of the American people supported but was never taken up in the Senate) and treated with disdain.
Part of this disdain is because many officials think themselves untouchable. So it’s time for the “unwashed” to break the Ruling Class’s hold over our system of government. The Tea Party is already on the move in this regard, working to identify and train people to run for office, whether it’s for local school boards or Congress. It’s fielding a farm team–in many places for the very first time. At all levels of government, from local to federal, many elected officials have simply never been challenged: In 2010, Ballotpedia.org reports, more than a thousand state legislators ran unopposed in the general elections, and between 2000 and 2008, a GOP U.S. House member had a 98.3–99.5 percent chance of winning his or her primary (assuming they even faced primary opposition).
If we want more accountability from our elected officials, we must continue to challenge them to adhere to the principles of limited government. One very practical accountability mechanism is to challenge them in elections. In the 1940s, E. E. Schattschneider wrote in Party Government that “He who has the power to make the nomination owns the party.” It’s not too much of a stretch to say incumbents control their own nomination process, buttressed by the current party system. (The parties, which are creatures of compromise, seek to be in power and to hold on to it. One way to do that is to make sure as many incumbents as possible are re-elected.)
Parties, the overwhelming majority of time, seek to “clear the field” in primaries and frown upon primary challenges for fear that it might cost them a seat and endanger their power. But what are political parties? In the February 1974 edition of Ramparts magazine, G. William Domhoff, addressing why socialists and Communists should no longer run under a third party banner but inside the Democratic Party, wrote:
[The Democratic Party] is what Democrats say it is–and what they say it is is determined by the people Democrats elect to attend party conventions and nominate to stand in general elections. Given the relative openness of this process, an ideological battle fought at all levels from precinct to President could have rather dramatic results in a relatively short time.
So if conservatives want to see a party (or parties) become more conservative and hold incumbents accountable, they must continue on the path of identifying new leaders, running them against the Ruling Class, and vying for precinct chairman within a political party. For too long, incumbents (even conservatives) have been seduced by Republicanism, Democratism, and Powerism. But that seduction very easily be dispelled by blaring wakeup calls in the form of primary challenges from legitimate, credible conservative candidates. Only when we see a losing percentage approaching 50 percent or more for incumbents at all levels will we be able to say the Ruling Class’s power has been disrupted. That percentage won’t be reached in the next election, or the one after that, but it should be the conservative movement’s goal to increase it by five to 10 percent with every cycle.
If the Ruling Class’s hold is to be broken, the Tea Party must continue to work on controlling the nomination process and “taking over” a major political party–from within. Because at the end of the day, he who controls the nomination process controls the party controls the system. And then redefines the status quo.