Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
As the pundits tell us, this election year is all about “anti-establishment” voters. People don’t trust the system and the party leaders. They want big money out of politics, more transparency and less pork. But according to journalist and Brookings Institution fellow Jonathan Rauch, the loss of the old way of doing politics has ushered in an era in which chaos rules, trust is eroded, and nothing can get done. His story, “How American Politics Went Insane,” is on the cover of the latest issue of The Atlantic. He joins Diane to talk about how we got to this point, why he’d like to see some political reforms dialed back and what it would take to get our political system functioning again.
- Jonathan Rauch Senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution; contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly; author of the ebook "Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The political insider is not a very popular figure these days. The one who does deals in the back room keeps track of favors and stops a bill with pork. But political journalist Jonathan Rauch thinks this kind of middle man is what's missing from our politics and without that, we're falling into chaos. Jonathan Rauch is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's author of the cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMHe joins me in the studio. His article is titled, "How American Politics Went Insane." I'm sure many of you have thoughts you'd like to share with us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Jonathan, it's good to see you.
MR. JONATHAN RAUCHIt's great to be here, Diane. What a pleasure.
REHMThank you. I must say this cover is quite dramatic with poor Uncle Sam crouching in the corner and the title, "How American Politics Went Insane." You talk about a chaos syndrome that we're facing. Explain what you mean.
RAUCHWell, the basic idea of this article, Diane, is not complicated. It's that politics in America is not self organizing. You get people who vote every two years and you get lots of politicians who got to do huge amounts of organization every single day to pass a bill, to create coalitions, that kind of thing. And to do that, you need some stuff that works. You need people like political hacks who are going to be there every day, day after day, making sure the candidates get vetted and the money gets raised.
REHMYou need to define political hack.
RAUCHSo political professionals are people who work for parties in many cases or political machines. They're elected officials. They can be people like Mitch McConnell, who's the Senate majority leader. These are the people who do politics for a living. They're not necessarily elites. They're not necessarily well educated or rich or anything else. They just year -- they're there year after year doing the hard work. And you need people like that. So chaos syndrome is what happens when you spend the last 40 years, effectively, disempowering those people who, in one measure after another, that takes away their tools and marginalizes them.
RAUCHAnd it turns out that the only problem with getting rid of hacks is that without them, there's no one to do these difficult jobs. It gets very difficult to do basic governance, like pass an appropriations bill or to have a campaign that's recognizably organized in politics.
REHMBut what about when the central figure, you just mentioned Mitch McConnell, becomes the obstructionist himself?
RAUCHWell, hacks will sometimes obstruct. That's part of the deal. But they don’t only obstruct. When they choose not to, these are the people who organize deals and get things done. He can call up Harry Reid. He can organize his caucus when he's got the tools and say, look, if you'll give me the vote I need on this debt limit bill, which is important, but hard to pass, or this Medicare change, important but hard to pass, how about a nice little airport for you district? Or how about a little bit more campaign help or money flowing your way?
RAUCHSo he can organize those things and make them happen. Without his ability to do that, it doesn't matter how good the idea is. It's not going to happen.
REHMYou know, I guess the immediate reaction I had is that what you need to have in place to carry out, to carry through on what you've just said is a mentality toward compromise. And that is what has certainly been lacking in, at least, the last eight years, if not much more.
RAUCHWell, you'll get no argument from me. I've written that early and often. But could I make a friendly amendment, Diane? It's not enough to have a mentality for compromise. You also need to have mechanisms for compromise. Compromise requires a lot of people to make hard decisions and go back home and say, in their district, look, I voted for this thing and it's not perfect. What that person who compromised needs is some privacy first, in order to create a deal. We've stripped away most of the privacy on Capitol Hill.
RAUCHIt's all done out in the open. That makes it hard. And then, the leaders who need him to vote for that bill, he wants to vote for it, they need to give him some political cover. They need to say, you know what, we're going to help protect you from a primary challenge from some extremists. They can no longer do that thanks to the primary system that we've now got. They can no longer give him pork. We've eliminated earmarks, campaign money. Very difficult to transfer and raise now. So we've taken away all of these tools that legislators need in order to do the mechanics of compromise.
REHMYou, in this article, "How American Politics Went Insane," you use a very loaded term, political sociopaths. Who are they and what do you mean?
RAUCHSo I use the term in a pretty specific way, but it's a strong word 'cause I wanted people to think very hard about what's happening here. A political sociopath is not a crazy person out on the street. It's someone in politics who doesn't care how other politicians think about him or her and doesn't need to care. It's a complete free agent who doesn't need to have any conscience at all and can be simply self-motivated all the time. So the system -- one of the great things about political machines and parties and hacks, is it would screen out these people.
RAUCHIt would say, you know, we're going to test you for loyalty. You're going to run for county commissioner before you run for Senate or president. And then, you're going to work your way up through the committee process. So we get to find out if you play well with others. We don't really do that anymore and the system that now screened out those people is screening them in. I would argue, and some people will disagree, but I'd argue that of the four final big candidates in the presidential race, that's Clinton, Cruz, Sanders and Trump, three of the four met the definition for political sociopath.
RAUCHThey were completely self-propelled. They didn't care what the party thought of them. They were going to do it their way. If those people got elected, they cannot govern 'cause no one owes them anything and they don't owe anyone anything.
REHMWho's the fourth?
RAUCHHillary Clinton, who is not a political sociopath in that sense. She is someone who has raised lots of money for other Democrats, who has engaged in party building. She is still doing it on the old fashioned model of try to build a team effort.
REHMSo you would describe the other three as political sociopaths.
REHMAnd how does that auger well or not for election?
RAUCHWell, there's nothing new about political sociopaths.
RAUCHWe've had them forever. They have a valuable role to play. You want outsiders and disrupters and people who are really only worried about themselves to come in and shake the process. But here's what you don't want. You don't want them to be able to shut down the United States government as a career move. Ted Cruz was able to do that because there's no longer enough of an establishment left that anyone could stop him. Jesse Helms, you remember Jesse, senator from North Carolina, Republican, was the same type of disrupter, a political sociopath, as I call him, in his day and an ideologue, someone who was very happy to stage a filibuster day or night, no matter what anyone thought.
RAUCHBut even if he had imagined trying to shut down the U.S. government, there was no way for him to do it. There were too many other people who were involved in the process who could say, no, you don't get to do that. The government stays open. So when Speaker John Boehner, I'm sure you remember the famous moment on the Leno show when he said -- he was asked why the government shut down, which no one wanted. He didn't want it. He said, a leader without followers is just a man taking a walk.
RAUCHWe've got a crisis of followership right now, not a crisis of leadership.
REHMSo in the beginning, you'll have to go way, way back to talk about the men who established this country and surely, there were sociopaths among them who thought not only for the good of the country, but thought about their own rise along with the good of the country.
RAUCHYou know, I don't know. I haven't applied that framework to those particular people. But here's the important thing. It is natural for people to care about themselves and their careers.
RAUCHThe important thing isn't that no one ever engage in this kind of self-motivated political behavior. The important thing is to assist and be able to cope with it and that's what the founders were concerned about. They said, suppose you get a political sociopath. Suppose you get a figure who's got an authoritarian style, tons of money, doesn't care what other people think about him, willing to break every rule in the book. And suppose that person gets into high office. Well, you're going to surround that person with checks and balances to make the system safe.
REHMJonathan Rauch, he's written the cover story for The Atlantic magazine. It's titled, "How American Politics Went Insane." We are going to open the phones, take your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Jonathan Rauch is with me. He's written the cover story for this month's Atlantic magazine. The article is titled, "How American Politics Went Insane." In the article he describes our political system as suffering from chaos syndrome. He says that Donald Trump did not cause the chaos, that the chaos caused Donald Trump. What do you mean by that?
RAUCHIf you spend 40 years waging a war on your political class, your political professionals, weakening the parties, taking away the tools that they need to organize their world, it's going to get very hard for those people to set political norms and boundaries. And at some point, they get so weak that they're not able to resist and insurgent from outside who comes along and say, well, I'm just taking over the place. I'm changing the rules. I'm doing it my way. That's what Trump did.
RAUCHIt's also to an extent what Ted Cruz did. His business model in the Senate was to campaign against his own leadership and against his own party, shut down the government, go back to the grassroots and say, all the other Republicans in Washington are evil. And he turned that into an almost successful presidential campaign. A lot of people are going to watch that and emulate it.
RAUCHBernie Sanders, number two in the Democratic presidential race, is not a Democrat. He was an Independent. He registered as a Democrat on the last possible day, saying I'm only doing this because it's my better shot. So parties are no longer able to even keep outsiders out of taking over the party. That's not a problem of a misbehaving establishment or an out-of-touch establishment, that's a problem of not having an establishment.
REHMWhat did -- or how does Paul Ryan's acceptance of Donald Trump fit into that picture?
RAUCHIt has been startling to watch, Diane, the collapse of what little was left of the Republican professional political machine. I cannot say that I approve of what Paul Ryan did in accepting Trump. I mean, he said on the same day that Trump was a racist in his denunciation of a Mexican -- of an American, sorry, judge as a Mexican. And then said, but he's the nominee, I accept him. That's an amazing thing and a very disturbing thing. But I also feel for Paul Ryan because he's helpless. He does not have a party that's organized enough or has the tools that are necessary to defeat this guy who's essentially taken over the party.
REHMHow would going back to a smoke-filled room have helped this entire nominating process?
RAUCHWell, the first thing I should say is people say, you know, you're just -- this is all nostalgia. And of course, no one is saying, rebuild Tammany Hall the way it was 100 years ago. You couldn't do that even if you wanted to. And I don't want to. But what I keep trying to point out to people is that what's happening now is not the product of random outside forces or a neutral system. Over the past 40 years, we have passed rule after rule and law after law that rigs the system against insiders and parties. It is much easier to go out, get $10 million and drop that money in a political campaign as an outside group with no loyalty to a party, or no real loyalty to a candidate, than it is for a political party to do the same thing.
RAUCHSo we've pushed the money outside. We've taken away the pork that they needed to do. We've taken away control of the primary process, the nominating process. We can restore these things as a matter of volition.
RAUCH...and re -- and de-rig the process first. The nominating process needs to have an important role for insiders and parties. They shouldn't be the only voice, but they need a voice. Because they're the people who are there every year to govern after the election. They're worried about the party brand. They're worried about winning the general election. Something like super delegates in the Democratic Party is a good way to have a mixed system, where the people get to speak but the party gets to speak.
RAUCHWe can do more of that. We could -- there are all kinds of ways state parties can do it and some of them still do send unbound delegates to a convention. So delegates can look at the field and say, okay, what makes sense here for the party? Or require candidates to get support from elected officials in the party in order to get on the ballot.
RAUCHSecond, right now it is difficult for American political parties to raise money and spend that in campaigns on their own candidates. That's just crazy. That should be easy for them to do. The money should be flowing into the parties to make them stronger, give them more of a voice.
RAUCHThird, all this stuff we've done to make earmarks and pork-barreling difficult, undo it. That's congressional rules changes. It doesn't solve the problem but it helps.
RAUCHFourth, the seniority system in Congress, the committee system, all of these ways that middle management in Congress was engaged and tested and proved their worth over many years in order to get committee assignments, restore regular order, move back toward a seniority system. And lots of people in both parties on Capitol Hill want to do that right now.
RAUCHAnd, fifth, start rethinking the fetish for having every decision constantly opened to public scrutiny. You can't make a deal in full public view. You've got to make a big deal, package it together and then be able to walk out the door together and sell it to the public.
REHMBut, you know, Jonathan, it does strike me that when the Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, stands up on the first day of President Obama's presidency and says, our goal as a party is to ensure he is never elected again. And we will block every single thing he attempts to do. Is the party behind him? Is the party in synch when Mitch McConnell steps out and says that? I heard no objections to that. It was an open statement. What do you make of that in terms of party unity, party loyalty, how parties operate?
RAUCHSo you and I can say that that was a bad strategy. We can say it was an irresponsible strategy. And we can talk about that. But it was a strategy. And he was able to execute it. But that was a few years ago. Increasingly we're living in a world where party leaders really aren't leaders of anything anymore and can't execute any strategy unless everyone in their caucus agrees to do it. In the House of Representatives right now, small groups of extreme conservatives are basically able to hold the whole place hostage.
RAUCHI would rather be in a world where an opposition party leader can adopt a bad strategy and drive it and pay the price for that than a world where political leaders in both parties have a very hard time adopting or leading any strategy at all, where the government shuts down because no one can get organized enough to keep it open.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers.
RAUCHI'll bet we do.
REHMI'm going to open the phones. You bet, they're all filled. So I won't offer the number again right now. But if you'd like to send an email, drshow.org. Let's go here to Mustafa in Orlando, Fla. You're on the air.
MUSTAFAHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
MUSTAFAYeah, Mr. Rauch is right. I have a hundred questions.
REHMBut just one, please.
MUSTAFAI understand. I just wanted to make a comment about some of the things he said. I'll try to make it as short as possible. If I do drag on, please do let me know.
MUSTAFAI wanted to talk about, right at the beginning he said, you know, this whole idea that politicians need to be able to make the deals and they're the political hacks. That is completely absurd to me. Because what that is actually doing is making this a lobbyist society, which is what it has become. I mean, you vote for this bill and maybe I'll, you know, I'll get you an airport in your district. I mean, that is absolutely ludicrous. That is what is leading us away from what needs to be done for the country. Because that particular bill is doing something to the country, whereas the focus of that deal is being made to where, oh, in their own district they get something. But they go and vote for that bill. And that, it hurts the nation as a whole.
MUSTAFAAnd then the issue that there are more lobbyists, more officially registered lobbyists on Capitol Hill than congressional staffers, I mean they're -- that's 16,000 to 13,000 I think from the last count. That shows you where this is going, the whole...
RAUCHSo I think Mustafa's call typifies a lot of what I hear by way of pushback to this article. Like, really? Lobbyists? Smoke-filled rooms? You're going to have pork deals based on pork barrel and not the public interest? So here's the thing. The idea that every two years we're going to elect people and they're going to go to Washington and do the right thing, and the decisions will just happen because there's going to be a majority for all the right things to happen is fiction. Maybe that's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But in the real world, the reason we have stuff like pork and what political scientists call transactional politics is, in order to get people to follow, you need to give them incentives. It's a tool.
REHMThis one is going to make you feel good. We have a treat that says -- a tweet, not a treat but a tweet, that says your guest is absolutely right. LBJ had the tools and was able to get things done by making deals. And that was much better than today.
RAUCHYou know, one of the things that I would point out to Mustafa is that people were happier with politics when leaders had the tools to lead. The system did a better job producing for them then, when it had those tools, than now when it doesn't. And the tweeter is exactly right. The 1964 landmark Civil Rights Bill passed on a narrow margin because LBJ gave a research center to a key Republican vote. That was the price of passing that bill. Without that tool, we wouldn't have it. Now tools can be used for good or for ill. But in a world without tools, we're chimpanzees.
REHMLBJ was the ultimate deal maker.
RAUCHWell, there have been a lot of them, you know? I've been in Washington now for 30 years and I grew up sort of in the lap of observing Jamie Whitten, legendary Appropriations Committee chairman, backroom deal maker. He was a guy from Mississippi. He had a deep southern drawl. You couldn't even understand what he said. He dwelled in the backrooms. He never even had a press conference. I used to think he was a troglodyte. And now, you know, I learned wisdom. That guy knew what he was doing.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's another email from Daniel, who says, it would seem to me, insiders are doing quite well but perhaps on a different scale. Republicans take their marching orders quite well from some insiders. They rarely ever diverge on sensible issues, even when it makes sense.
RAUCHWell, I don't know. Does that sound right to you, Diane? I mean, they won't take orders to keep the government open, when the leadership understands that shutting the government's going to be a catastrophic defeat for the party? They can't get a debt limit bill passed? They haven't got -- Congress hasn't done regular appropriations for 20 years? And they can't award the nomination to a member of their own party? That is not party control, that's party collapse.
REHMAnd then an email from Harriet. Does your guest think things would improve with a deal-maker-in-chief, Donald Trump?
RAUCHWell, Trump's a business deal maker. There's a lot of dispute about how good or bad he really is at that. But politics is a very different world because in politics you don't just get to sit there, give orders, and either the deal happens or it doesn't.
REHMThe wall goes up or not.
RAUCHThat's it, the wall goes up or not. In politics, everyone's independently elected. That's 535 members of Congress and the president and the vice president. To get them to do anything, you've got to persuade them. You've got to incentivize them. You've got to protect them if they take a hard vote. Trump has none of the developed skills that we see in long-time politicians to do that. And he doesn't know -- he doesn't owe anyone anything. So if he gets elected, everyone on Capitol Hill will do exactly what they're doing right now and say, well, that's fine for you but has nothing to do with me. I'm doing my thing. So we'll see even more chaos, I think.
REHMOf course, President Obama himself, you talk about openness and a transparency, and yet President Obama promised health care reform negotiations would take place in public. But he could not keep that promise. Why not?
RAUCHOf course he couldn't keep that promise. The thing about a big business deal -- the reason Trump's deals are done in private and not in public is nothing is settled until everything is settled. There are many, many parts of this package -- thousands of groups and hundreds of legislators that all have to sign on and they all need to know what the package looks like. And you've got to have some privacy in order to have candid conversations and do the tradeoffs. And that's reality.
RAUCHThat's what Obama bumped into. One of his shortcomings as president, he was only in the Senate for four years. He was not a particularly effective or well-connected senator. When he got into government, he found it was pretty difficult, after the first two years, to draw on networks to get things done. So there's a cost for that.
REHMSo you're saying he did not form the coalitions he should have as soon as he got there.
RAUCHI'm saying that he -- because he didn't have the kind of deep roots that professional politicians often have, he had less capital to draw on. But that said, he was much more of an insider than somebody like, say, Trump or Sanders.
REHMAnd Trump, you think, would simply come in, say what he wanted to do, but not necessarily be able to carry it out.
RAUCHYeah. He would have a hard time getting people to follow.
REHMSounds like Brexit to me. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your emails and your phone calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. Jonathan Rauch is my guest. He has written the cover story for this month's Atlantic magazine, titled "How American Politics Went Insane." Here's an email I think you will find agreement with. It's from RW, who says, last night I was at our Democratic town meeting in Barrington, Rhode Island, as a town committee member. The meeting began with a visit from our governor. She answered our questions, provided insight, then we heard from candidates for local, state and national office.
REHMWe had good discussions, voted to endorse a slate of candidates. I could not agree more with your guest, government is a business where the profit is the public good and the creation of a stable society. You need professionals. What we don't have are social studies classes in schools that actually represent the study of how our society is organized and its individuals members are responsible to each other. That's a fine email.
RAUCHYou know, that's impossible to improve on. So I won't even try. I'll simply say that I think RW really hits it squarely, and I'll give a friendly amendment in the form of good news. Despite the breakdown of party organizations, it's not complete. We still have a lot of positive infrastructure out there, state parties, which I just did a big study, both Democratic and Republican, are still out there. They're still building networks.
REHMAt the state level, yeah, right.
RAUCHAt the state level they still have the networks, they still have the precinct walkers gather the data. They're terribly underfunded and outgunned by the outside groups because they're disadvantaged in the current law. But they're still there. And if we let the oxygen begin to flow back into their lungs, they will re-inflate.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting because Jim Fallows, your colleague who also writes for The Atlantic, with his wife has been flying around the country and dropping in on local governments and local operations, which they say are working quite well. So some disconnect seems to have happened between the local and upper-echelon political levels.
RAUCHWell, with parties, they've been weakened top to bottom. But the point is they may be weakened, but they're not dead. So we're at a point in the American conversation where we have a decision to make. Are we going to keep demonizing our political parties and professionals, which is like, in RW's term, it's like getting rid of all your middle management in business, or are you going to say you know what, let's start rebuilding those institutions because we need them.
RAUCHIf we do the latter, we can do it.
REHMAll right, and here's a tweet. Your guest ignores the role media plays in politics and its increasing failure to inform and not sensationalize.
RAUCHGet no argument from me, Diane. Here I am on your show, old media. I'm with Atlantic month -- we're the oldest old media. We're the second-oldest continuous publication in America. And the new media, very mixed blessing for all the reasons you know. But you can't do everything in one article, so I didn't take that on. I would point out one thing, though. When the media get very fragmented, so conservatives are all on Fox News, and liberals are all on MSNBC, and you've got the Twitterverse, and Donald Trump is out there, when you get that kind of fragmentation, it's even more important to have structures like parties and professionals who can get organized to get a coherent measure, a message together.
RAUCHIf you want evidence of that, look right now, today, at what's happening to the Republican Party, how ineffective it is, how disorganized it is in an ability even to put a simple message together in a fragmented environment.
REHMAnd to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Robin, you're on the air.
ROBINThank you for taking my call.
ROBINThe whole history of compromises has been terrible to working people, women and African-Americans. From the continuation of slavery in 1804 to the Missouri Compromise to the disenfranchisement by the Dixiecrat-Democrat Compromise, to the -- all of these things, these compromises have been rotten for working people. Now let me take up the '64 Civil Rights Act and Donald Trump, who are the two latest compromises. The Civil Rights Act of '64 didn't get written until '63, when tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington, and Kennedy was forced to write the Civil Rights Act.
ROBINAnd the continuing pressure of the civil rights movement caused that to be passed, not some rotten deal by a rotten politician. The worse, the most recent example of a rotten deal and a rotten compromise is the Republicans compromising to let a racist run their campaign, run their party. But it isn't really a compromise. Both of these parties are parties of compromises at the expense of working people.
RAUCHWell, I don't know if Robin's still on the line or not, but I would wonder if we're not compromising, then what do we do. Do we just somehow, everyone agree on the solution because 100 percent of us are suddenly going to agree? Do we make all the disagreements go away? Do we make the politics go away? The reason it took until 1974 to get a civil rights bill passed is that you couldn't get it through the House or the Senate because you had some obstructionist powers that were not willing to compromise.
RAUCHMost of the things that we get done, in fact virtually all of them, are compromises. That's how the Constitution works. It's a compromise-forcing mechanism. It doesn't give any one part of the government the ability to do anything without the consent of the others. So I would respectfully submit to Robin that you may not like all the compromises, you may even hate all of them, but a system that can't compromise is Libya, right, it's Lebanon during the civil war, it's Syria, it's a government-free zone.
REHMHowever, what you call compromise and what Robin is referring to vis-à-vis Trump may be a fold rather than a compromise.
RAUCHOh with Trump, yeah, for sure. In Trump's case, it's not a compromise, it's an outsider, a disrupter coming in, basically using, using his ability to galvanize not a majority of Republican primary voters but a plurality, a mere plurality of a minority of Republican voters, who actually vote, and take over the party. So yeah, that's not a compromise issue. I worry, though, Diane, because I hear so much of what Robin said.
RAUCHI think his view is much more typical in America than mine. People say politics, politicians are all just corrupt, the deals are all just terrible. That's why I'm voting for Trump. It's a big middle finger in the face of the establishment. And that's -- that's a worrisome thing if you believe in self-government.
REHMOkay, let's go to Winchester, Virginia. Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELThank you for taking my call, Diane.
MICHAELI was just wondering where the -- where we stand with the possibility of our congressional members being limited for how many times they can run through, you know, caps on how often they can run or for how long. We have a lot of people in office right now, you know, 30, 40 years or more, and so they have a lot of attachments to things other than the American people. And wondering where that would help with some of this compromise, if giving them term limits might help with that.
RAUCHI think term limits make the problem worse.
RAUCHIt's a non-issue in the federal government because the Supreme Court says you can't do it. because you need people who are there for a long time, who need to come back again and again and live with the consequences of their action. The government of short-termers is a government of people who can come in, protest vote and then leave and not worry about is the government still working a year or two later.
RAUCHSo you need some of both. You need people who are short-term and long-term, but I think it would be counterproductive to rig the system so that people with a long-term stake don't have an equal voice.
REHMAll right, to Bethesda, Maryland, Robin, you're on the air.
ROBINHi, thank you, Diane, for taking my call.
ROBINI agree that compromise and negotiation is what works for primary relationships, for businesses and for politics. But the problem, the way that I see it, is that the Republicans are making negotiations based on self-interest, not on what is for the greater good. And I see that time and time again. The negotiations are happening, they're getting houses in beautiful neighborhoods or, you know, you know, vacation places or parks all over the place. And that's why I believe that the Republican Party is just, you know, having bully run it from this point on because that's what they've been doing with the greater good. And I'll take my comments off the air.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling.
RAUCHSo I'm guessing that this caller is a Democrat and would -- might or might not be surprised to hear that Republicans say exactly the same thing about Democrats. One of the issues we're dealing with is that everyone thinks their own view is the public interest and that the other side is behaving parochially, and the way the Constitution forces us to deal with that is by sitting down and negotiating it out. That's the only way to do it.
REHMWhat about people who believe that no matter how the system works at this point, it's rigged, that they have lost so much faith in ordinary party politics moving forward in anything other than their own parochial interest, they just lost faith?
RAUCHWell, we're getting that message loud and clear. I'm -- as you can tell, I'm as establishmentarian these days as they come. And this is the unmistakable message I'm getting. People just do not trust the system to act in their own interest. That's a big, complicated question. My piece of that is saying, you know, the system isn't functioning well for anybody right now. It's not even doing the basics of legislating. The parties can't organize, especially the Republicans, can't organize their own political races.
RAUCHSo let's start working on making the system able to function. That's going to improve the odds that it will work better for more of the people more of the time.
REHMWhat about public funding of campaigns? Do you think that money taken out of that system on or by individuals would change things?
RAUCHYou know, I used to argue for public funding. Now I think it's a side issue or maybe destructive because it helps politicians be more independent of their leaders because they're getting the money directly into their bank account, helps them be irresponsible. But that said, in 2016, Diane, if there was ever a time when we discovered that money is not the problem, it's this year. Bernie Sanders completely self-supported off of small donations.
REHMTwenty-seven dollars per person.
RAUCHThat's right. Well, that didn't solve the Democrats' problem. But even more so, Donald Trump, this is a guy, to the extent he's funded at all, is self-funded. He's getting a little bit of money from the outside, but this is not big money in politics. This is the opposite of big money in politics. This is anything goes at any level.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's another tweet. I agree with your guest because the old system incentivized working together, relying on experts and stability for the overall system.
RAUCHWell again, that's -- a friendly amendment. The big deal isn't experts. What political parties and machines and hacks, they tend to be ordinary people in many cases, though often -- you know, they've been there, and they worked through the ranks. But the point that that tweet makes is so important. Politics is a team sport, and these days we're playing it like third-grade soccer. Everyone's just mobbing the field to try to get to the ball. That's not going to work. We've got to reestablish incentives to play well with others.
REHMAll right, last question from Ray in Richmond, Virginia. You're on the air.
RAYGood morning, Diane.
RAYAnd Jonathan is spot on with his comments and facts. I'm an ex-New Yorker living in the seat of the Confederate...
REHMOh dear, he's gone. He says our problem is that we only have two parties who refuse to negotiate. We are doomed to continue down this red-blue path. Now what about a third party?
RAUCHWell, A, it's not going to happen. And B, let's fix the parties we've got. When they're more functional, they actually work better. We've seen the parties come together and make a small but still very worthwhile budget deal, for example just last year. But they need to be able to do that when they're willing to do it. And today they're not able to do that often even when they want to do it.
REHMWhat's the first step you would advise?
RAUCHThe easiest thing to do would be to lift caps on donations to political parties so that money starts flowing to -- through the parties on its way to the candidates. That would put parties back in the center of the process and give money a relatively safe place inside the system to go.
REHMJonathan Rauch, his article in this month's The Atlantic magazine is titled "How American Politics Went Insane." Thanks for being here.
RAUCHA treat as always.
REHMThank you, and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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