Bo Richardson has guest written this article.
Almost a year ago I wrote a piece for Northwest Citizen outlining some political thoughts of the late Walter Karp. Karp was a contributing editor for Harper's Magazine and has been an inspiration for writers such as Bill Moyers, Christopher Hitchens, and Greil Marcus. Moyers called Karp one of the six greats of American journalism.
Karp divided political actors into two, and only two, kinds of people: hacks and reformers. Hacks are people motivated by self-interest, while reformers are morally driven. Republican and Democratic Party hacks share the same goal of keeping reformers out of power, and they collude to achieve this goal.
Rich Austin wrote some useful comments to this piece and asked the perfect question, getting to the heart of Karp's analysis: “Why then, do we the people keep re-electing hack politicians who are part of the problem?”
Karp says the goal of party hacks is to make sure your ballot offers only a choice between two party hacks. And it doesn't matter much which hack wins.
The hard won political wisdom is that if you wait till after the nominations to become politically active, you have already lost. The hacks control the levers of power in both parties, in this case, the nominations. They use this institutional power skillfully to limit our ballot choices to two hacks. Being forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils” is not an unfortunate accident of democracy, it is the goal of our entire political system.
George Herbert Walker Bush or Bill Clinton? Choose Bill Clinton and you get NAAFTA, and GAAT, and Clinton does away with welfare while the country runs the greatest budget surplus anyone can remember.
After Clinton left office, the New York Times wrote admiring pieces about the quasi father/son relationship between Clinton and the elder Bush. More recently, the New York Times reported that hard-right Republicans have been saying embarrassingly nice things about Bill Clinton.
Any Martian with a sense of humor would have immediately grasped that Clinton and Bush were on the same team. Put that Martian in a ninth grade civics class and brainwash him into believing the two parties vie for power by winning elections, and suddenly American politics becomes very difficult to understand and explain.
One reason some of America's most astute political commentators are British, such as Christopher Hitchens and the Cockburn brothers, is that Brits have not been brainwashed by the American school system. They can look at reality with fewer filters and contrast it against the bizarro world of propagandized media commentary.
There were hard feelings among grassroots Democrats during the last presidential primary over whether Obama or Ms. Clinton would be the more progressive presidential candidate and eventual president. With both Obama and Ms. Clinton now fully committed to war-without-end in the Middle East, and seemingly all other odious Bush policies, finding distinctions between candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton, and indeed John McCain, is merely grist for The Daily Show.
In plotting a strategy for reform, it is necessary to understand where power lies in our political system. But if one asked most Americans where the actual power resides, I don't think most would even understand the question.
Karp tells us political power in the American system resides in the two parties. The two parties have a gateway monopoly on nominating candidates for government office. As long as both parties are controlled by the super rich and criminal corporations, no progressive candidate will be allowed to rise within the political system. Hence the marginalization of reformers such as Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, Mike Lowery, Deborah Senn, Jesse Jackson, Russ Feingold, Paul Wellstone…
Thus, if you want input in the political system, you must go to work years before the election and get control of the nominations. Lockheed and Goldman Sachs figured this out a long time ago. Karp can help us re-learn the path to reform.