Monday, December 31, 2007

Interest Groups, Principles, and Elections

This video of an interview with dirty trick master Roger Stone at is full of interesting quotes and nuggets that reinforce a number of my Rules of Interest Group Politics and Corruption.

Some of the best parts:

At around the six-minute mark, Stone discusses the idea that Strom Thurmond was a racist. Stone argues that Thurmond was a racist because that's what he had to be to get elected; when being a racist was no longer a good way to get elected, Thurmond stopped being a racist. Stone's point is simply a restatement of Rule 7: a politician's primary goal is almost always gaining and maintaining power, without which he cannot implement his preferred policies. It also implicates Rule 6: politicians cannot remain in power long without the support of their core interest groups. In Thurmond's case, his core interest groups changed their views on segregation and racism; without them he could not remain in power, so he changed his views on segregation and racism. Something else worth mentioning is that, as Stone discusses, Thurmond's change was a response to the people changing; in other words, Thurmond's changed position merely reflected the bottom-up changes that were already occuring.

Some other worthwhile points Stone discusses that are relevant to this blog:

1. The failure of the Reform Party was due to the fact that it had no core ideology. There was nothing for its constituent interest groups to unite behind because they had nothing in common, and so it was doomed to failure. While the GOP is not exactly on the verge of disappearing like the Reform Party did, Stone's lesson here is essentially what I've been harping on for ages: the Republican Party cannot succeed much longer with its old coalition: its core groups have ceased to have any common ground on which to unite.

2. The role of the Libertarian Party: Stone argues, correctly I think, that the LP will continue to exist because it is centered on a coherent ideology. Although that coherent ideology overlaps significantly with a part of the GOP's traditional ideology, the LP will survive because it provides an alternative for a good chunk of the GOP coalition. Thus the LP has an important role to play in keeping libertarians as a priority for the GOP (in Stone's view). While I don't think the GOP has kept libertarians as a priority in recent years, the disillusionment of libertarians (and the increasing likelihood of a Ron Paul LP run) with the GOP is going to force the Republicans to decide soon whether they should change some of their policies to reclaim most of the libertarian vote or just let the libertarians go. With the rise of Huckabee, I suspect this will be impossible to do in a way that will keep the ever-powerful evangelical contingent happy.

I also found the discussion of Eliot Spitzer interesting insofar as it implies (perhaps unintentionally) that Spitzer's self-financed campaign makes him unaccountable to interest groups, which means he is largely accountable only to himself. What this does is to allow Spitzer the ability to bully opponents and allies alike with little fear of retribution in terms of lost ability to win elections. Certainly Stone has a rather colorful history with Spitzer, so you have to take his comments on this point with a huge grain of salt.