Oh, Bring Back My Party to Me!

Wildavsky, Aaron. "Oh, Bring Back My Party to Me!" Public Interest, Fall 1979.

When Betty Furness said (after a White House meeting with consumer groups) that no one ever talked to Lyndon Johnson like that, was she suggesting that Jimmy Carter lacks a presidential personality or is it that his Democratic predecessors still had the semblance of a political party behind them? If citizens suspect that the President might fail to be renominated almost out of embarrassment, as ff the country called a primary and no one was interested enough to show up, could that conceivably have occurred to a president who wasn’t only a particular person but also a political party? Is it true that the number and importance of single-issue “special-interest” groups has risen way out of proportion to their past power, or is it that the political parties that used to contain them (enforcing moderation and compromise, as those who felt the absence of clear and consistent issue positions used to complain) have declined? If those conniving old party bosses and their smelly smoked-filled rooms have disappeared, if a transparent participatory democracy, in which every activist has a say, has taken their place, if “open nominations openly arrived at” have fulfilled the Wilsonian insistence that parties serve leaders rather than the other way round-why are we so unhappy with the outcome? Has participation suddenly become a bad thing? Why is it that direct party democracy, in which the participants are activists who turn out every four years at primary time, arrayed according to biological attributes like age, sex, and race, has left the nation devoid of effective leadership?

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