"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
Daniel Webster penned those words in a legal brief in 1819.
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It would be pleasant to think that Webster's caution is firmly imprinted on the minds of those participating on this last day of the biennial process of candidate selection. Not as pleasant as thinking of what one might do with the proceeds of a winning lottery ticket but the outcomes are roughly as likely. It would also be pleasant to imagine that the voters of Webster's day bore his admonition in mind as they marked their ballots and that our current situation is a form of degradation from a Golden Age of reasoned judgment by knowledgeable electors but that would be a monstrous lie were it to be asserted. The fact is that Webster became a Federalist Whig in precisely the same manner in which George Bush became a Republican which in turn is how some eighty percent of those who will cast votes in the coming election came to be affiliated with their party of 'choice'. If it didn't happen in the crib, it happened in the nursery and if it didn't happen in the nursery, it happened at the dinner table. That premise has held true for some 220 years and is unlikely to change any time soon.
Except - well, the shift that occurred around the time of the Civil War, and the shift that occurred following the '29 crash, and now, perhaps. When Daniel Webster declaimed "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." in 1830 he was already well engaged in the struggle which would not reach conclusion until some fourteen years after his death in 1852. By the time the question of federal unity was resolved the Federalist Whigs had disappeared and the Republicans were well launched upon an exercise of retaining power that would endure until its by then ossified leadership failed to respond to a catastrophe largely of its own making. Rigidity, rather than the hoped for wisdom, seems to have come as the party aged and the Republicans paid the appropriate price as millions of voters abandoned a party afflicted with sclerosis for a party which from its cradle had promised much to those who had achieved little.
The Democrats fulfilled their promises to such an extent that within fifty years the class of those in true need had practically disappeared. A remarkable achievement which some find truly laudable. Unfortunately (or very, very fortunately), the same ossification problem which afflicted the Republicans in the '20's has been afflicting the Democrats since the early '90's. Their largest client groups are declining either in size (the unions) or in potency (the segregation of blacks into politically meaningless enclaves). Having fulfilled its promises, the Democratic Party's reason for existence (other than to exercise power) is now in question.
Will the '06 election provide further evidence of the party's obsolescence? Perhaps not. The machinations of the last decennial reapportionment increase the probability that the Democrats will totter on for a bit. September 11, 2001 was not as transformative an event as that which occurred from October 24th through October 29th, 1929. The spending patterns of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee indicate that they expect to seriously contend the 2008 election. In fact, the spending patterns show that they are primarily focused on the 2008 campaign rather than upon actually attempting to secure a majority in either house. One might wonder where that particular spark of genius originated. Rahm Emanuel knows - but he ain't telling.
Tomorrow I'll take a close look at Iowa - home of the first indicator of a Presidential candidates viability.