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how little most of us understand the actual workings of our democratic system.
Does the trouble lie in the fact that the ablest and most scrupulous men will not run for office? Or is it that the people are too ignorant to vote for the better candidates whose names appear on the ballots? Or is it that the nominating machinery does not get the best men upon the ballots? The answer seems to be a partial yes to all these questions. The best men do not usually run for office, because, among other reasons, they know that they have small chance of being nominated, or, if nominated, of being elected. The nomination of candidates for public office, whether it takes place at conventions or at direct primaries, is usually controlled by party organizations, and these organizations will usually put up only candidates whom they trust to further the party interests. Even if independent candidates are nominated, the chances are that—unless the candidate is unusually conspicuous—a preponderant number of voters will follow the party standards and defeat the independents. In short, our government is a government, ultimately, by party organizations. And these organizations or the controlling element in them are concerned in general, whether consciously or not, rather with their own maintenance and advantage than with the public welfare.
Even if there were no parties, incompetent men would of course, be put up for office, and individual dishonesty would not be absent. But actually, what happens is that the party leaders look first, usually, for a candidate who will be "regular,” who will be pliant to the wishes of the Interests that support the party, and appoint as office-holders deserving party
For this the ablest and most scrupulous men are far less likely to be available. For some con. spicuous office, indeed, a man of fearless and independent character and of special training may be nominated by the party leaders. Owing to the scattering of responsibility in our political system, such a man cannot do much to dislodge the party grip upon power; and the prestige of having such a man in office may be a needed asset. But in general it is a good party man who is put up and pushed; if he is able, so much the better; but his party allegiance is a sine qua non.
Now parties are inevitable and useful organizations in a democracy, to formulate principles and carry on political propaganda. It is inevitable, also, that they should try to elect men who approve their principles and can be counted on to further them. It is, perhaps, also inevitable that they should degenerate largely into organizations for the securing of office, with principles a secondary consideration. But what must be clearly realized is that, as things are, it is the party-organizations that get most of our public officials into office. The incompetence of legislators and administrators is incompetence winked at by the party-leaders. The graft is party graft. When public moneys are wasted, it is not that the money is lost; it goes into the pockets of the party bosses, or into the pockets of people whom they are depending upon for help.
It is this situation that makes "reform" so difficult. An independent free-lance politician who tried to get his share of graft would find it a difficult matter. His best chance would lie in threatening to expose his colleagues if he were not let in on it. But he could be sure that the party organizations would do their utmost to oust him from politics and chastise his sins. The vast preponderance of graft is collective graft. It wears the camouflage of party policy, and is connived at out of party loyalty by many men to whom it has perhaps never occurred that it is essentially selfish and dishonest. It is the accepted game in politics.
As a matter of fact, politics are probably no more “corrupt” than business. People are in business mostly for their pocketbooks. A love of wielding power plays a large part in both business and politics, but making money is the main thing. The disinterested public servants in either are few. The average man accepts the situation, and takes his place in the game; the man who does not want to play that sort of game keeps out.
Thus when the voter scrutinizes the names of candidates on his ballot, the chances are that: first, there are few if any candidates who have a more idealistic conception of politics, or who, if they yearn for it, do not realize that they must conform to the general practice in order to get on at all; secondly, that if there are any such candidates, the voter, confused by the eulogies uttered on them all, or entirely ignorant of their qualifications, does not know which of them are these abler and more honorable ones; thirdly, that if he takes the pains to form an intelligent opinion on the matter and vote for the fearless independent, his candidate will be swamped by the great number of votes cast blindly, loyally, in favor of the candidates that the party organizations trust and back.
If any reader doubts this party control of our politics, let him seek appointment to office. The recog. nized route is through service to one of the leading party organizations and recognition by its local boss as a deserving party man. If you are a successful worker in furthering the party cause and are reasonably presentable, you may, if you seek it, presently receive the party nomination for some minor office. You will be opposed by a rival who has been serving the other leading party organization. Unless some unusual situation arises, one of you will win. If then you back the party measures, and so far as your position allows, help get party men upon the public payrolls, you may be boosted to higher office. But if you oppose the will of the party leaders, you will receive no further nomination.
There are, of course, exceptional cases. A man of remarkable personality, like Roosevelt, may win the ear of the public and succeed in spite of the party bosses. Even in his case, however, it took a war and an assassination to lift him to the presidency. He came back from the Spanish War a popular hero. He was nominated to the Vice-Presidency by the Republican party leaders in order to shelve himthe office being, in our system, one of singular impotence. If McKinley had not been shot, the political career of even so extraordinary a man and consummate a politician would probably have gone no farther. He was renominated because, once in the Presidential chair, he created a popular demand for his re-election that was irresistible. But when, in 1912, the popular will again demanded his nomination, the party leaders were able to thwart it. And the great revolt against the control by the "insiders” of the Republican party, although led with Roosevelt's customary enthusiasm and skill, came in the end to nothing.
In every age and country there have been those who have sought to control the government for selfish ends. In the old days the method was crude; a ruling class perpetuated itself and denied the people any share in decisions. Nowadays a government has to be controlled in subtler ways. The main reliance of the groups of people who make it their business to profit by controlling government is upon party loyalty. In the name of a great party they nominate some one who can be trusted to work with them; they then eulogize his virtues and abilities in campaign speeches and personal conversation; the newspapers which are working with them join in praising him and disparaging his rival; his election is made to seem a matter of vital principle; and in the general ignorance of his actual qualifications, the party loyalty so assiduously cultivated can be usually trusted to float him into office.
The rewards of this control of government are manifold. Offices are distributed to party-workers, including purely sinecure offices, for which no work to speak of is done. Appropriations are made for public improvements, for schools, postoffices, harbor dredging, or what not, and contracts awarded to friends of the party leaders. Water-power franchises, public utility franchises-all sorts of measures benefiting this set of people or that are passed. Bills which would curtail the powers and privileges of this or that business are throttled-not, however, until the Interests threatened realize the danger they were in. There are, of course, all sorts of ways in which those who benefit by the passing or knifing of these bills reward their friends who pull the wires. There may be a cash payment for services, there may be an election to a valuable directorate, there may be a purchase of property owned by the deserving politician at a handsome price. In some way or other