The Broken Engine of Progressive Politics

O
ver the centuries, Americans have built themselves a great engine for
political change. We cannot understand our present situation without
understanding how this machinery was built, how it has been transformed, and how
it threatens to catapult us to disaster in the twenty-first century.

The engine contains three moving parts. The first consists of political
movements that have repeatedly catalyzed sweeping transformations over the
course of American history. From the days of George Washington to those of
Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans have regularly mobilized themselves for
fundamental change, sometimes propelling government in radically new directions.
Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the civil rights revolution are obvious
examples.

The second part of the machine links popular movements to political parties.
During the nineteenth century, rising movements consistently transformed
themselves into new parties. From Jefferson's Democrats to Bryan's Populists,
these movement-parties became the engines of basic change, sweeping away
previous coalitions and compromises in the process.

The rise of movement-parties created conditions for the construction of the
third piece of machinery: the plebiscitarian presidency. Above all else, the
Founders feared that presidential demagogues might destroy the republic by
making populist appeals in the manner of Caesar or Cromwell. But movement-parties
promised to transform the presidency into a more controllable vehicle
for the expression of the popular will. By the end of the nineteenth century,
Americans had created the movement-party-presidency as their central mechanism
for political transformation.

In the twentieth century this machinery has been transformed again. As
parties have grown weaker, the change engine has worked mainly with two
parts—movements and presidents. Today only conservatives seem capable of recreating
the classic movement-party-presidency. Progressives will continue to lack a
comparable engine for change unless they learn how to put movement, party, and
presidency back together again.



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THE FOUNDERS' TRANSFORMATION

The Founding Fathers did not rely on the mechanics of a political party to
project themselves onto the center of the political stage. Rather, they
established a connection to their fellow Americans by organizing the first
successful colonial revolution of modern times. George Washington was a
guerrilla leader, Alexander Hamilton his clever adjutant. Each developed roles
that have been reenacted in countless revolutionary enterprises of the past two
centuries—as did Thomas Jefferson in writing rabble-rousing pronunciamentos, and
John Adams, in rising to fame as a radical lawyer.

Many of these men turned in exemplary performances. Washington refused the
temptations of military despotism, though Hamilton was more equivocal; Jefferson
was peculiarly brilliant as philosopher-ideologue; Adams, particularly sober for
a revolutionary lawyer. But their exercises in Enlightenment statesmanship
should not disguise the revolutionary basis of their political standing. If
there was a central institution in their popular movement, it was the
Revolutionary Army—and the willingness of patriots to fight and die for their
country.

This background helps explain how the Founders had the chutzpah to speak in
the name of "We the People" at Philadelphia in 1787. After all, the convention
was an illegal assembly and called for another round of illegal conventions
sitting in each of the states to ratify the new Constitution. Such actions could
seem plausible only because of the precedents that Washington and his friends
had established during years of revolutionary agitation—when they had repeatedly
violated fundamental laws in the course of their extraordinary campaign of
popular mobilization.

In claiming the authority to speak for the People at Philadelphia, the
revolutionary elite urged their movement-followers to make one last effort to
complete their generational struggle for political self-definition. But the men
of Philadelphia had achieved their positions without the help of a political
party, and in their eyes, "party" was a synonym for faction—and faction conjured
up images of selfish lack of concern for the public good. The founding equation
of party with faction and faction with evil has turned out to be typical of many
other revolutionary movements of national liberation. For the first generation
of leaders, faction means weakness before the imperial foe, and borders on
betrayal: we will all hang separately if we do not hang together.

This attitude is hard to transcend, and Washington did not try. He included
both Hamilton and Jefferson in his first cabinet and desperately hoped to keep
these factional leaders in common harness. When the split came, the old
revolutionary's fears seemed justified: Federalists prosecuted Republican
editors, and the Republicans fired back with manifestos from Virginia and
Kentucky denouncing the Federalists' efforts to stamp out sedition. As in so
many other cases, the fracture of the revolutionary elite threatened a cycle of
incivility more easily started than stopped.


THE RISE OF MOVEMENT-PARTIES

The real constitutional miracle did not happen in Philadelphia in 1787
but in Washington in 1801. Both sides had used the presidential election of 1800
to demonize one another with remarkable energy. The Federalists were English
stooges bent on tyranny; the Republicans were French atheists threatening a
reign of terror. It would have been easy for John Adams to exploit these
passions and reject the legitimacy of his narrow defeat at the polls, but
instead he handed the presidency peacefully over to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson
and his followers understood their victory in movement terms. They had, like the
Founders, appealed to the People, and once again their appeal had been
successful. But this time, their movement had taken the form of a party.

To be sure, Jefferson understood his party as a party that would end all
parties. Now that his Democratic Republicans had won their titanic struggle
against the fiendish Hamiltonians, there was no need for further party contest:
we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. The government was now in good
hands, and would remain so until that dread day when yeoman agrarians were
overwhelmed by urban corruption.

But alas, the devil would not down. As a movement-party settles into power,
it suffers predictable problems of success. New problems arise, generating new
ideological splits; new party politicians come to the fore, more interested in
patronage than ideas. Over the years, an opening emerges for a new
movement-party to challenge the political establishment.

And, in fact, each generation of the nineteenth century created such a party
to fill the void. Jackson and his Democrats, Lincoln and his Republicans,
followed the Jeffersonian script. In each case, the new party called the People
to take control of their government away from the depredations of a corrupt and
malign center. And in each case, the People answered by returning the new party
with a mandate to renew and redefine the foundations of the republic.

After the Civil War, the pattern almost repeated itself. The new challenge
came from the rise of industrial capitalism. Like their fathers, grandfathers,
and great-grandfathers, anxious Americans sought relief in the formation of a
new party, the Populists, in an effort to sweep away the corruptions of the
entrenched elites of a previous age. But this time the rising movement-party
lost, and with the defeat of William Jennings Bryan, America came to a
watershed.

The relationship between movement and party would change in the twentieth
century. But to understand this shift, we must take a detour into constitutional
structure. The rise of movement-parties in the nineteenth century had a profound
impact upon founding institutions that had not been designed with them in mind.
These constitutional changes, in turn, would help reshape the relationship
between party and movement in the twentieth century.


JEFFERSON'S BREAKTHROUGH

While the Founders did not anticipate the rise of parties, they fully
expected the People to amend the original Constitution. Unsurprisingly, they
supposed these future exercises of popular sovereignty would proceed along the
same lines the Founders themselves had pursued. Just as Madison & Co.
despaired of constructive action by the do-nothing Congress meeting under the
Articles of Confederation, the drafters of the 1787 Constitution anticipated
that future movement-leaders might despair at the do-nothing Congress meeting
under the Constitution. Just as the old revolutionaries had convinced state
legislatures to send them to the Philadelphia convention, Article V of the new
Constitution authorized future activists to convince state legislatures that
another federal convention was necessary. Article V then allowed another end run
around state legislatures by permitting ratification by special constitutional
conventions.

But Thomas Jefferson had been in Paris, not Philadelphia, in 1787, and he did
not feel bound by this part of the deal. His new party of Democratic Republicans
could have organized its campaign around a set of constitutional amendments that
would, if enacted, have placed firm limits on the centralizing aspirations of
the Federalists. After all, the 1790s had seen successful campaigns for 11
amendments that aimed to restrict the powers of the federal government. Why not
campaign for more, abolishing the Bank of the United States and other nefarious
aspects of the Hamiltonian program?

Jefferson had other ideas. Rather than focusing on constitutional amendments,
he aimed for the presidency, and in so doing, revolutionized the Founders'
understanding of the office. The last thing the Framers wanted was a populist
demagogue gaining the chief magistracy on the basis of some rip-roaring program.
Their electoral college was a clever device to remove the presidency from such
dangerous promises. It tried to encourage the electors to pick men like
Washington whose past service to the republic suggested that they would not
succumb to Caesarist ambitions.

But so much the worse for the Founders. Unsurprisingly, Jefferson's
transformation of the presidency into a plebiscitarian institution caused a
constitutional crisis. The party takeover of the electoral college threw the
election of 1800 into the House of Representatives, which threatened to deprive
Jefferson of his partisan victory. After the party leader survived this ordeal,
he won the enactment of the 12th Amendment, which linked the election of the
vice president to the president. This managed, however ineptly, to make the
electoral college more responsive to the dictates of party rule.

Jefferson was perfectly aware of the anomalous use he was making of the
presidency. He tried to respect previous constitutional understandings by
modulating his rhetoric. Rather than trumpeting his role as tribune of the
People, he preferred to use his congressional leaders as tools for his
programmatic designs. Nonetheless, when John Marshall's Supreme Court put the
presidency in its place in Marbury v. Madison, Jefferson launched a
furious counterattack that aimed for nothing less than the impeachment of all
the Federalist justices. The assault narrowly failed, but it foreshadowed future
combats between movement-party presidents and Supreme Courts skeptical of large
claims of transformative mandates from the People.


POWER TO THE PRESIDENCY

The pattern repeated itself during the next movement-cycle. The electoral
college misfired in 1824, depriving Andrew Jackson of his popular victory. But
the People's tribune was not to be denied; he was elected in 1828, and the
movement-party-presidency was in full swing by the end of his administration.
What is more, Jackson was louder about his plebiscitarian ambitions than was
Jefferson.

And he was more successful in his struggle with the Supreme Court. His veto
of the Bank of the United States challenged Marshall's Federalist vision of the
Union in the 1819 decision of McCulloch v. Maryland; and by 1837, Jackson
and his party successor Van Buren succeeded in packing the Court with justices
who elaborated the basic principles of the Jacksonian Constitution in opinions
that would have driven John Marshall to despair.

During all this time, no political movement managed to amend the Constitution
by traveling the route described by the Founders in Article V. This fact helps
us understand Lincoln's victory in 1860. If the presidency had remained as a
nonpartisan chief magistracy, southern secession might have seemed an
extravagant overreaction. The South, after all, still controlled the Supreme
Court, and the Republicans would have been a minority in both houses of Congress
after the election of 1860. But the movement-party-presidency had already
demonstrated its constituent power twice. If Jefferson and Jackson had so
powerfully played the part of People's tribune, what might be fairly expected
from Lincoln?

Southern secession paradoxically provided the Republicans with the
congressional majority they otherwise lacked. As time moved on, we might have
seen a replay of the Jacksonian triumph over the Supreme Court. Under this
scenario, the Lincoln administration would have appointed a series of justices
who undertook to overrule Dred Scott and declare that free blacks were
full citizens of the United States. Another opinion might have upheld the
constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet another might have given
a rich definition to the rights of national citizenship. During the war, there
was movement in this direction, as Congress expanded the Court to ten justices,
and Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase chiefly be cause, in his words, "we wish for
a Chief Justice who will sustain what has been done in regard to
emancipation."

But John Wilkes Booth put an end to this development. By placing Andrew
Johnson in the White House, Booth managed to loosen the Republicans' control
over the presidency at a critical constitutional juncture. When Johnson defected
from the movement-party, Congress deprived him of the power to make Supreme
Court appointments by shrinking the Court whenever any justice died or resigned.
This prevented Johnson from packing it with conservatives, but Republicans also
lost the opportunity to pack it with reformers who could have overruled Dred
Scott
.

As a consequence, the Republicans had little choice but to fall back on the
higher lawmaking resources provided them by Article V, which gave Congress power
to propose constitutional amendments. Still in control of Congress, the
Republicans sought to overrule Dred Scott by proposing the 14th Amendment
and took drastic action to assure its ratification over the protest of southern
whites.

But the fact that Johnson's defection forced Republicans to rely on the
Federalist forms of Article V should not disguise the importance of the
movement-party-presidency pattern in gaining credibility for the
Republicans' claim to higher lawmaking authority in the name of the People.

And the same is true of the next generational cycle of movement-party
politics. The Populists ultimately failed to gain the support of a majority of
Americans for their call for constitutional redefinition and renewal. But once
again, the decisive test came in a contest for the presidency. The defeat of the
movement was only evident in the aftermath of the Bryan-McKinley contests of
1896 and 1900.

By the turn of the century, generations of political practice had not only
established the movement-party as an enduring aspect of popular self-rule in
America; movement-parties had endowed the presidency with a plebiscitarian
potential that mocked the Founders' institutional expectations. Both in victory
and in defeat, the presidency had become the central focus of movement-party
efforts to win a popular mandate for fundamental change.

The Founders were not opposed to such transformative mandates. But, as
children of the Radical Whig tradition, they supposed that the People would
express their will in popular assemblies, not through the presidency. In the
nineteenth century, however, this founding pattern had come into play only
during Reconstruction, and especially when the movement-party-presidency pattern
had been disrupted by an assassin's bullet.


TWENTIETH-CENTURY VARIATIONS

Looking back over the twentieth century, different patterns emerge. Movements
begin to detach themselves from parties. So do presidents. But by the end of the
century, the reemergence of the movement-party-presidency has become a real
possibility. Before considering whether it is a desirable one, consider how we
got to where we are.

The defeat of populism began the unraveling of the nineteenth-century
pattern. Given the Republican Party's massive victories for the status quo
during the 1890s, movements for change began to despair of victory through the
party system. Some, like labor under Samuel Gompers, took an antipolitical turn.
Others sustained political projects but achieved them through nonparty means.

Consider women's suffrage. The first generation of women activists had great
hopes for the Republican Party, only to see them betrayed during
Reconstruction—leading the disappointed '48ers, and their successors, to organize an
independent movement for the franchise. A victory of the Populist-Democrats
might have reoriented this movement. But once this movement-party was defeated,
the suffragists had no realistic choice but to go their own way. As a
consequence, the countless rallies and marches organized by the movement did not
help build a party that could easily outlive the ratification of the 19th
Amendment. And the same is true of the Anti-Saloon League. A great deal of the
moral energy of early-twentieth-century politics dissipated into nonparty
channels.

The nineteenth-century pattern was also being undermined by the presidency.
While movement-parties struggled to put the likes of Jackson and Lincoln into
the White House, nineteenth-century presidents had remarkably modest rhetorical
pretensions. They largely sat on the sidelines during campaigns and let the
party do the talking; and when in office, they contented themselves with
innocuous remarks, rising to the plebiscitarian occasion only at rare moments of
high constitutional drama.

Theodore Roosevelt, in contrast, began to liberate the modern presidency from
party by constructing direct links to the People. Self-consciously shaping
public opinion, he met regularly with the press and went on speaking tours
throughout the nation, appealing for popular support for his program over the
heads of party leaders. If Roosevelt had regained the presidency in 1912 on the
Progressive Party ticket, he might have revived the movement-party pattern, with
the Progressives displacing the Republicans.

But, paradoxically, Roosevelt's effort only discredited the movement-party
model by allowing Woodrow Wilson to squeak into the White House on 36 percent of
the vote. Thanks to the Bull Moosers, the president was now a college professor
seized with the power of an idea—that the presidency must become the seat of a
popular tribune, towering over the petty provincialisms of nineteenth-century
party politics. For the first time since 1800, the president went in person to
Capitol Hill to present his State of the Union address. Congress would learn to hear
the voice of the People, as spoken by the president.

Not that Wilson's political practice accorded with his lofty vision. On the
contrary, his successful initiatives owed a great deal to old-fashioned party
politics, and his greatest adventure in the new presidentialism ended in tragic
failure. Returning in triumph from Versailles, Wilson saw his treaty to end all
wars defeated at the hands of a Senate curiously indifferent to his claim to
speak for We the People not just of the United States, but of the Western world.

By the 1920s, the party-based political engine of the nineteenth century had
already been disrupted. Movements unaffiliated with parties had succeeded in
putting their mark on the Constitution with the income tax, direct election of
the Senate, Prohibition, and women's suffrage. And the presidency had been
making ostentatious claims to speak for the People without the encumbrance of
party. The old movement-party-presidency pattern had begun to drift out of the
lived experience of Americans. In the 1920s the last Americans who had seen a
successful movement-party make its mark on the Constitution—the generation that
had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction—were hurtling toward the
grave. The future patterns of popular sovereignty were becoming unhinged from
the past.


THE MAKING OF THE MOVEMENT-PRESIDENCY

And then came Franklin Roosevelt, and the construction of what I will call
the movement-presidency. Building on the precedents of the Progressive Era,
Roosevelt used the media to speak directly for the leading movements of his
time: the farmers, industrial workers, and liberal intelligentsia and
professions. Fulfilling Wilson's dream, he reached out beyond the narrowness of
party politics to construct an image as spokesman for the People in a way that
tens of millions found compelling (and others detested, but recognized as the
central political reality of their age). What is more, he used this authority to
preside over a constitutional revolution similar to, but more massive than, the
one achieved by the movement-party-presidency of Jackson. As in 1837, so in
1937, a plebiscitarian presidency was successful in inducing a reluctant Supreme
Court to recognize that the People were demanding a fundamental change in
constitutional doctrine; by the early 1940s, a reconstructed Court was
elaborating fundamental principles of New Deal constitutionalism that endure to
the present day.

But in one key respect, Roosevelt was a failure. Rather than leading a new
movement-party to power, Roosevelt sought to reconstruct an old one. The climax
came in his remarkable effort to purge the Democratic Party of leading
conservatives in 1938. Roosevelt publicly threw his weight behind a set of
challengers to conservative Democrats in Congress, urging his followers to heed
the voice of New Deal liberalism and repudiate the provincial politics of the
past. But this appeal failed, especially in the South, and as the Roosevelt
years came to an end both parties were split: the Democrats, between northern
liberals and southern conservatives; the Republicans, between their party's
progressive and laissez-faire traditions.

The confusion was compounded by the next generation's constitutional agenda.
The civil rights movement exposed the ideological fault lines of the Roosevelt
regime but did not try to form a new movement-party on the nineteenth-century
model. Instead, it pursued its transformative objectives with the aid of a
cross-party coalition of Republican progressives and Democratic liberals: Earl
Warren and Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen and John F. Kennedy were all crucial
to the enterprise. But at its core was a replay of the movement-presidency
pattern. Before Kennedy's assassination, the prospects of a constitutional
revolution remained uncertain. The balance shifted when Lyndon Johnson placed
the presidency squarely behind the movement-politics of Martin Luther King,
gained the bipartisan support needed for crucial legislation, decisively
defeated Goldwater in the 1964 election, and consolidated the achievement with
more landmark legislation, administrative decisions, and liberal judicial
appointments. By 1968, the status of Brown v. Board of Education had been
transformed—from a profoundly contestable interpretation of the Reconstruction
amendments to the foundational decision of modern constitutional law.

But in leading the People to a new constitutional solution on behalf of civil
rights, Johnson was also destroying the uneasy alliance between southern
conservatives and northern liberals that Roosevelt had left behind as the
Democratic Party. The movement-presidency had become a party killer. During the
next generation, much of the white South realigned itself with the Goldwater
wing of the Republican Party—adding a new strand of religious moralism in the
process.

In the meantime, the new liberalism of the 1960s was replicating the fate of
the Populists at the turn of the century. After the Democrats' debacle at the
Chicago convention in 1968, the party rewrote its rules to allow greater
inclusion of the insurgents swirling around the periphery. For a moment, the
liberals' success in nominating George McGovern in 1972 promised a new
integration of movement, party, and presidency into an engine of sweeping
political change.

But it quickly became apparent that this prospect appalled a majority of
Americans, for whom even Richard Nixon's transparent cynicism was a welcome
relief to McGovern's intense moralism. To be sure, the devastating defeat of
1972 did not stop the new liberalism dead in its tracks. As in the aftermath of
Populism, more moderate politicians successfully steered some of the insurgents'
themes into important legislative achievements. Just as turn-of-the-century
politicians mined Populist themes in enacting the progressive income tax and the
Clayton Act, the same thing happened during the 1970s, especially in civil
rights and environmental law. Indeed, this process of moderating adaptation is
visible as late as George Bush's sponsorship of the Americans with Disabilities
Act. But the new liberals' larger ambition of using the Democratic Party as a
vehicle for a sweeping regime change was defeated in the same manner as the
Populists'; just as Bryan was overwhelmed in 1896 and 1900, so was McGovern in
1972.

This set the stage for the next round of presidential leadership. In many
ways, the election of Ronald Reagan served as an ironic commentary on Franklin
Roosevelt's ambitions. Like Roosevelt, he wanted to use his movement-presidency
as a springboard for creating an ideologically purified party that would
repeatedly triumph over a disorganized and dispirited opposition. And once
again, the result fell far short of his ambitions. Just as Roosevelt failed to
expel southern conservatives from positions of congressional leadership,
Reaganites were obliged to accept George Bush as their new leader—a man who, for
all his symbolic gestures to the new right, devoted himself largely to an
old-fashioned agenda of internationalism, fiscal responsibility, and
cautious fine-tuning of economic regulation.

Despite this setback during the Bush years, it has been the modern
Republicans, not the Democrats, who have increasingly become a movement-party,
though one that has yet to show it can win consistent majorities for its mixture
of laissez-faire economics and traditionalist morality. This success in
relinking movement to party is attributable, in part, to a variation on an old
theme. The great movements of the nineteenth century established new parties and
did not try to conquer and reorganize old ones. But the Republican Party
is largely a new party. Its current southern leaders built the party from
scratch and display the ideological intensity of most first-generation movement
elites. Another part of the story should focus on the effort by activists from
the religious right to take over the state and local party apparatus. This
eagerness to merge movement into party is owing, I suspect, to the calculation
that blatantly religious politics has limited appeal in American life.

At the same time, the Democrats find themselves reeling at the hands of a
president from their own party. Like Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton is turning
into a party-killer. But the logic of his intervention is quite different.
Johnson followed in Roosevelt's footsteps—taking aim at southern Democracy in an
effort to expel this conservative faction from a triumphant liberal party that
could sustain itself in power indefinitely. While Roosevelt failed, Johnson's
assault on the party's base in the conservative South ultimately succeeded—just
as liberalism was losing its ideological grip on mainstream America. After a
vain effort to use the presidency to revive New Deal liberalism in his campaign
for universal health coverage, Bill Clinton is spending his final six years in
office seeking to undo the Roosevelt-Johnson achievement. The obstacle is
northern liberals who resist a pragmatic reorientation of the party to embrace
such leading Republican ideas as cutting taxes for the rich, cutting welfare for
the poor, and spending vast sums on prisons. Of course, the Democratic policy
mix retains enough liberal themes to distinguish it from its increasingly
extreme Republican competitor. But the days of the movement-party-presidency on
the Democratic side are past, at least for now. The party is increasingly
dominated by professionals interested in adapting their message to maximize
their chances of victory in the next election, without the sense that they are
engaged in any longer-run project.

As a consequence, the conduct of activists on the left contrasts sharply with
those on the right. While such Christian leaders as Ralph Reed seek to build a
deeper organizational base at all levels of the Republican Party, progressives
pursue a different strategy. Leaders of the feminist movement, the environmental
movement, the civil rights movement, and the labor movement are all concerned
with building up their own organizational bases. They use the Democratic Party
only as a useful instrument for achieving particular goals. Since so much
liberal energy is displaced onto nonparty movements, it is all the easier for a
president like Bill Clinton to reposition the party into a more pragmatic
stance.

To put these differences in a slogan: Republicans are becoming a
movement-party while Democrats have become a party of professionals, interested in doing
what it takes to win the next election.


THE RIGHT'S EDGE

The historical foundations for these emerging realities are worth a lot more
study. I have tried to do my share in a new book, We the People:
Transformations
. But for now, it is more important to reflect on the
potential implications for the future.

Begin with the good news for the right. The movement-party-presidency pattern
has proved itself, time and again, to be the great engine of constitutional
transformation in American history. There is every reason to suppose that eight
years of a team like Kemp-Gingrich-Lott would revolutionize the landscape of
American law on both the statutory and constitutional levels. The Republican
movement-party, however, does not seem capable of gaining repeated shows of
majority support for its transformative program. Ronald Reagan's
movement-presidency failed to sweep the Democrats out of power in Congress; Newt
Gingrich's movement-Congress only served to reinvigorate a Clinton presidency
that had seemed in terminal decline.

This is, of course, good news for liberals, who were preparing themselves for
a thorough-going dismantling of the welfare state and the liberal
constitutionalism inherited from the Warren Court. The new Democrats will be
more or less a party of the status quo in the important areas of
internationalism, Social Security, environmentalism, and tolerance.

But there is lots of bad news as well. There will be no serious effort to
deepen the promise of social justice. It would take a movement-party to
accomplish this, and there is no such party in sight, only a proliferating
number of movements for labor, the environment, women, blacks, gays, and the
disabled—each trying to wheel and deal with a cadre of professional politicians
for marginal gains.

Similarly, Brown v. Board of Education will remain the great paradigm
for liberal lawyers, who seek to gain a similar degree of protection for women
and gays and other victims of discrimination. They fail to appreciate, however,
the special political circumstances that allowed the NAACP and the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund to win bipartisan support for their great victories from the courts
and ultimately from the president and Congress. While repeated victories of a
professional Democratic Party might allow the Supreme Court to elaborate the
Brown paradigm a bit further—as the Court did recently in striking down
Colorado's anti-gay ordinance—there is absolutely no reason to expect any
fundamental advances.

Consider, for example, the possibility that our Constitution may one day
contain a guarantee of a minimum standard of living like those found in the
constitutions of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other civilized nations.
There was a time, not so long ago, when such leading scholars as Frank Michelman
and Charles Black imagined that American courts might lead a similar
constitutional development. Such a project is now utopian, not because the
constitutional text has changed, but because only a liberal
movement-party-presidency would seek to nominate Supreme Court justices who would seriously
redeem the promise of "equal protection" for those millions of Americans
deprived of a fair starting point in life by the free market.

The Constitution, in short, will not protect us against the most serious
challenge to American democracy in the next generation: the increasing gap
between the rich and the poor in our country. If progressives are to confront
this aching problem, they will have to move beyond movement to party. They
cannot afford to remain labor activists, or black activists, or feminists or
environmentalists or philosophically detached liberals. They must work together
for a generation before the Democrats can be transformed into a
movement-party—or before some new entity is formed that could discharge a similar function.

At present, there is no sign of anything like this happening. Even if a
majority of Americans ultimately reject the diagnosis of the nation's problems
proffered to it by the movement-party of the right, the party system seems
singularly unprepared to meet the challenges of rising inequality generated by
the emerging world economy. As the gulf between the rich and poor widens, the
very notion of common citizenship will begin to seem an idle illusion. As
America confronts a new century, the future is grim.


Although the Republic's Founders dreaded the divisiveness of "facton," political parties have proved essential to the promise of American democracy. See "Party Decline: A Primer", by Amy D. Burke

In the mid-1970s, the founding fathers of the New Right almost walked away from the Republican party, but they realized it was too valuable to be junked. There's a lesson for liberals here. See "Old Party, New Energy," by Jason Zengerle



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