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The abrupt overthrow of the majority in the House of Representatives in the middle of the presidential term, which has become the regular practice, has exactly the same significance, strange and inexplicable as may often appear the behaviour of electors who change their opinions so soon and at such an illtimed moment. The saying "madness and method too” is appropriate here. Congress engrossed in the rivalries of private interests breeds too many malcontents, and, as it has ceased to be a field for discussion and criticism, it does not even offer the dissatisfied the relief afforded by grievances and recriminations put forward and ventilated in broad day. Exasperated, rightly or wrongly, the malcontents combine in a fortuitous way, sometimes under the flag of one party, sometimes of the other, and fall upon the majority in power, submerge it under a “tidal wave,” or crush it by a “landslide” the terms used to denote the great revulsions of the electorate, now become periodical. This is the game to which the Caucus régime has reduced the play of the party system, so ingenious and so efficacious in the eyes of its theorists.
There are, however, men of sound judgment who hold that the confusion of government, and, in particular, that of congressional government, is due rather to the separation of powers which has not allowed the party system to be practised in Congress more fully under conditions such as obtain in the English Parliament with Cabinet rule. But are not these critics of the present congressional régime, who have argued their point, some with ability and vigour, others with more zeal than discretion, too wedded to political forms as apart from forces? Is not the absence in Congress of rigid party organizations holding as in a vice the contingents sent into the House; of a regular opposition, always in battle array, securing the advantages of publicity and criticism for the labours of Congress; and, lastly, of recognized party leaders directing these labours and imparting to them unity of views and consistency while relying on the compact and disciplined masses of their adherents are not these deficiencies, which are ascribed to the régime of the separation of powers, rather the effect than the cause of the evil? In any event, do they not rather indicate that a frame-work of party government is wanting, of the type sanctioned by English experience, a very useful framework perhaps, but to which an inside is indispensable? Now, the inside here is inadequate, it would not have substance enough to fit into the frame-work, even if the latter were forthcoming: the Caucus has impoverished and emasculated it.
To sum up, in the predicament in which the Caucus has placed it, party is utterly incapable of serving as an instrument of government; it is reduced to the level of an electoral contrivance.
This state of things will appear still more evident if we enquire more closely what has become of the element which, under representative government combined with the party system, constitutes the most visible tie between Parliament and the country, between the official political sphere and outside public life — the political leadership. Real leadership can be obtained in a political community only on four essential conditions: the men capable of exercising the leadership must have easy access to public life; these men who are allowed political influence must assume the responsibility attaching to it; for this responsibility to be a reality it must be enforced by proper control; to be efficacious the action of the leaders must be sure of continuity. Now, under the Caucus régime, ideas, convictions, character, disqualify a man for public life; they make him, to use the regular expression, "unavailable," whether it is a case of filling the Presidency of the Republic or the office of mayor of a city. The party Organization always gives the preference to colourless, weak, easily managed men. In any event its assent, its visa, is required for entering public life; and to win its favour, the aspirant must lower himself to the persons who direct it and keep it going, that is, the acolytes of the Caucus. As men of eminence who respect themselves decline, or seldom consent, to do this, all those who should occupy the foremost places in public life are, as a rule, ipso facto eliminated therefrom. And if they aspired to wield the authority of a leader outside the ranks of officialism, they would again be stopped by the Caucus régime, unless they are satisfied with acting through the press.
In fact, should they wish to gain admittance into the councils of the party, into its extra-legal organization, the professional poli
ticians are there before them. Should they seek to carry
their fellow-citizens along by their personal influence, they cannot succeed under a widely extended suffrage without the co-operation of many persons, without a crowd of go-betweens, however great their ability and however high their personal position. That co-operation must be bought in the manner sanctioned by the spoils system: the Caucus has implanted this system too deeply in American public life for it to be possible to get “workers” in any other way, at least for a length of time. If, in theory, the first duty of a leader consists in giving his adherents ideas, his first and only duty, in the United States, is to give them places. To be able to bestow these he must have some sort of hold over the party machinery. One is therefore in a vicious circle whichever way one turns.
The social conditions of American life aggravate the situation. The steady growth of the large cities and the social and economic differentiation at work in them prevent men capable of leading from making themselves known and from getting accepted over the heads of the politicians. The levelling spirit with which the American appears to be imbued does not, again, create an atmosphere very favourable to the development of leadership. It would, no doubt, be rash to maintain that natural superiority, that which springs from character and intelligence, is disregarded in the United States; it is just as much appreciated there as anywhere else. But the Americans are in no way a “deferential people, politically deferential,” after the heart of the Bagehots. Even deference in general except to women is much less developed among them than in the communities of the Old World, steeped in hierarchical traditions. They consequently do not feel the need of cultivating it in the political sphere in particular, and, it must be added, they have hardly any opportunity of so doing. For the natural leaders, of whom American society has a potential supply, abstain from assuming the political leadership; they shirk the service of the commonwealth from selfish motives.
Again, the men who have entered the official sphere of public life shrink from asserting their political individuality there; they have not the courage of their convictions, if they possess any; they avoid taking up a decided line in the clash of opin
ion; they are always “non-committal,” for fear of compromising themselves and from a wish to be "safe.” The unreasoning discipline which the Caucus enforces on behalf of the party, and the innumerable concessions and humiliations through which it drags every aspirant to a public post, have enfeebled the will of men in politics, have destroyed their courage and independence of mind, and almost obliterated their dignity as human beings. The sign of the party is their conscience, when there are no powerful private interests that have precedence; the waves of popular feeling are their compass. And one seems to be listening to the echo of a far-off voice, that has long since died away, when one hears a political veteran like Senator Caffery of Louisiana proclaim (in 1896): “I have my own conscience and judgment to answer to above all censors. When my political action is called up before the bar of that conscience and judgment, I must, and do, present to it a record in entire accordance with their requirements. А Senator of the United States is not a mere piece of political machinery to register the edicts of popular majorities, swayed and ruled by the superheated zeal of partisan politicians.” When one hears a young Representative, like Mr. Littlefield of Maine, in the course of the last session (1900), give his party a piece of his mind, tell it plainly, in open Congress, that it is trampling on law and justice, one turns round, one looks to see whence comes this voice, whose accents sound so unfamiliar because they have not been heard for so long. From one end of the political scale to the other there is only too great a tendency to evade responsibility. However low the standard of the State Legislatures has fallen, however firmly corruption and waste of public money appear to have taken root in them, it is not so much dishonesty which is the principal failing of the great majority of the members as their timidity, their want of civic courage. Along the whole line, therefore, public men evolve leaders who do not lead, who deliberately put in practice the well-known saying:
1 A story, probably invented but characteristic, is related of a Senator of the United States who was told by the leaders of the party organization of his State that it was time for him, now that he was a Senator, to do the correct thing as regards his family life and get married. The new Senator declared that if the members of the committee agreed upon a lady, he would marry her.
“I am their leader, I must follow them.” But as in political life, even more than in ordinary life, those who lose heart soon lose their following, the authority of public men has sunk to a low ebb. On the great national stage there is no longer any public man who can address the whole country and obtain a hearing (except the President, whose utterances in stirring times, like that occasioned by the war with Spain, naturally attract general attention, whether they are the words of wisdom or not); the nation no longer possesses public men who go before it to light it on the way, who lay down the main lines of policy, who frame great measures. The fallen leadership is picked up in one place by the press, in another by willing citizens, who meet in conferences, or form leagues to initiate measures imperiously demanded by the general interest; it is wielded by men not in public life, and in an irregular and spasmodic way: In the lower sphere of the States and the cities the type of public man has become a still poorer one; with but few exceptions, the best are those who have no history.
The public man loses heart and shirks responsibility all the more readily that there is hardly any one to keep him up to the mark. Unlike the English M.P., who is supervised by the militant members of the caucus of his division, in the United States a Representative who is unfaithful to his trust has nothing to fear from the party committees; no doubt they hold him in check, but by no means in order to keep him in the path of political righteousness; for this last they care not a rap; they look to nothing but the interests of the “organization” and of its financial supporters, and it is in this connection only that they put pressure on the Representatives. In other respects, the Organization is rather inclined to shield them with the party ægis against the best-founded attacks and accusations; the party press does the same. And when the independent press gives the alarm against those who betray the general interest, the public does not pay heed enough, because it is sick of newspaper invective, and, above all, because its interest in the public weal is exhausted with the elections. As the Caucus has given an extraordinary importance to the election business, to the sayings and doings relating to the candidatures, and to the votes which it works up by making