Who shapes politics? The question is not quite so easy to answer as it may seem. In what some politicians consider the good old days, politics was fashioned by the public official running for office, a handful of political associates, party leaders and a few old boys in the establishment media network.
In the modern period, party bosses have all but disappeared; the media network has expanded to include, comedians, Hollywood starlets and bloggers; both political parties have been shorn of much of their power through campaign reforms; primaries have made party convention decisions much less decisive; and politicians – if they are not incumbents – may have half a dozen reasons for entering the campaign jousts.
Albert Camus was once asked why a friend of his had committed suicide. He gave the question some thought and replied that a man may have two reasons for committing suicide. Just so, a man or woman may have multiple reasons for entering a political contest.
Consider the meandering modern campaign as represented by life and times of Susan Bysiewicz. Having served as Secretary of State for a number of years, Ms. Bysiewicz decided she would like to be governor of Connecticut. Her short lived 2006 gubernatorial campaign ended abruptly when she withdrew from the race. Ms. Bysiewicz then decided to run for governor in the 2010 election. Her prospects seemed promising: In a poll taken at the time, 44% said they would vote for Ms. Bysiewicz, while only 12% said they would vote for then Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, her nearest competitor. Ms. Bysiewicz dropped her gubernatorial bid in January following an announcement by then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that he intended to run for a U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Senator Chris Dodd. Ms. Bysiewicz’s run for attorney general was frustrated by an ambiguous rule that seemed to require those running for attorney general to have trial experience.For the record, this commentator and others argued that the rule, since amended, was ambiguous, dumb and possibly unconstitutional, according to a provision in the state constitution that sets only an age requirement as a condition for public office. When U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman announced his retirement from the Senate, the prize upon which Ms. Bysiewicz had set her eyes, perhaps from the very beginning of her battered career as a public servant, finally seemed accessible. Ms. Bysiewicz ran for Mr. Lieberman’s seat but lost to Chris Murphy.
In the good old days, some political boss reeking of cigar smoke would have piloted Ms. Bysiewicz from her position as Secretary of State into the U.S. Senate without all the painful twists and turns.
That was then.
Since the days of John Bailey, Connecticut’s last Democratic Party boss, and Governor Ella Grasso, about whom Ms. Bysiewicz wrote a book, campaign financing is done “off shore” by political operatives not formally associated with state parties; heads of state rather than emasculated party chairmen have become political musclemen; the context of state political campaigns is written and directed by hired political guns in the Washington D.C. Beltway; and meandering politicians are the rule rather than the exception.
The modern political theatre resembles nothing so much as the Luigi Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” When the Pirandello play was first shown at the Teatro Valle in Rome, people in the audience, used to a more formal structure in which directors and playwrights rather than the characters of a play determined the thrust of the performance, cried out "Manicomio!" (“Madhouse!”) In the modern political theatre, madness appears normal, and all the characters invent their own personas.
The definitional borders of our politics – most importantly its constitutional borders – are disappearing. Social borders and social compacts also are disappearing. Why should it surprise us that politicians wander, dazed and sometimes lacking a moral compass, through a borderless social and political wasteland? Without confining limits, politics is free to flow as it will across a barren flatland. Without ideas – and most importantly, without a commitment to ordered liberty – thinking is suspended, as if in a dream. Without firm political and social structures in place, liberated politicians energetically set about fashioning gilded cages for the governed.
In any autocratic form of government, especially one in which experts rule, the ruling authority requires only your money – not your permission – to govern. This anti-democratic afflatus is, for the committed authoritarian in a one-party state, a red badge of courage, a boast and a brag. In the autocratic permanent administrative state, one of the few spheres of human activity left unregulated in a politics without limits, everyone is free in his own way: Rulers are free to rule; and the ruled are free to obey.