In his new book, Spoiled Rotten, Jay Cost explains “how the politics of patronage corrupted the once noble Democratic party and now threatens the American republic.” He talks about what exactly he means by that and even makes a political prediction or two in an interview with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You write that “the Democrats are the party of, by, and for the politically privileged few, at the expense of everyone else.” Is that even remotely credible at a time when Mitt Romney is running for president? His father was a governor, and he himself is a millionaire.
JAY COST: You don’t have to be poor to be what I call a “small-r republican.” It’s all about what you do with the power of government when you have it. Do you use it to serve the interests that installed you in power, or do you use it to serve the public good?
Nobody was a better servant of the public good than George Washington, and yet he was one of the wealthiest men ever to serve as president.
LOPEZ: And they — the Democrats — are “a threat to the American republic itself”?
COST: Right. The idea of republicanism is a government that is by, of, and for the people. The argument of the book is that the Democrats inevitably bless their core interests groups at the expense of the national good, meaning that they are a danger to the republican character of our government.
LOPEZ: What would Andrew Jackson do?
COST: Old Hickory was notoriously unpredictable. Nevertheless, given his limited-government worldview, his military background, and his home state, I’d guess he would be on the front lines of a tea-party rally.
LOPEZ: How might the history of the Democratic party be different if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated?
COST: JFK was really the last Democratic leader able to hold the older, more conservative elements of the party with the emerging bloc of middle-class liberals who today dominate the party leadership. Whether or not he could have sustained that is difficult to say.
I think he would have done a better job than LBJ, though I am not sure how much that says. Kennedy was inherently more cautious than Johnson. So he would have accomplished less in terms of legislative output. But then again, he would not have suffered nearly the kind of backlash that began in the mid-1960s.