The arrival of oligarchy in the political lexicon

Conservative David Frum, who was George W. Bush’s speechwriter, fingers anger against the oligarchic control of US politics as a major driver in the US election.

The tight grip of oligarchy upon the American political system slipped a little last night in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, voters cast their ballots for one of the most implausible candidates in modern presidential history—less because his rhetoric was so mesmerizing or his program so inspiring than as a protest against an expected winner perceived as a lavishly compensated servitor of organized wealth.

On the Republican side, the upset was, if possible, even more stunning. For 20 years and more, Republican presidential contests have operated as a policy cartel. Concerns that animate actual Republican voters—declining middle-class wages, immigration, retirement security—have been tacitly ruled out of bounds. Concerns that excite Republican donors—tax cuts, entitlement reforms—have been more-or-less unanimously accepted by all plausible candidates. Candidates competed on their life stories, on their networks of friends, and on their degree of religious commitment—but none who aspired to run a national campaign deviated much from the economic platform of the Wall Street Journal and the Club for Growth.

There is nothing exceptional about Frum’s analysis except for the fact that someone with Frum’s background is saying it. But what is quite extraordinary is how the world ‘oligarchy’, once used almost exclusively by the left or by those on the right to describe those states considered unfriendly to the US, is used so freely now across the political spectrum to describe conditions in the US.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    immigration, … tacitly ruled out of bounds.

    ?!?! Funny, nobody told any of the Republicans about this.

  2. says

    Concerns that animate actual Republican voters—declining middle-class wages, immigration, retirement security—have been tacitly ruled out of bounds

    To be fair: topics like healthcare, and cutting back ‘defense’ spending have a lot of popular support (way more than any of the candidates) yet other than republicans threatening to repeal obamacare, those topics are out of bounds.

    (I love how congresspeople, with taxpayer-paid medical care, don’t see this as an issue)

  3. says

    Frum wails about it, but takes no responsibility for his part in enabling it. Then again, Karl Rove did the same, trying to absolve himself of blame for empowering the “crazies” (as he called them), the ones who now hold power in the republican party. If you make promises in exchange for someone’s support, eventually they are going to expect you to deliver or they’ll come and take it by force.

    On the other hand, politicians and the media have abandoned the majority by toadying up to the rich, so they shouldn’t be surprised that a candidate like Sanders is now viable.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    @ Pierce R. Butler, 1:
    And yet, despite your contention that “Republicans” had been talking about immigration, Trump was able to stroll in and make it look like they hadn’t. Because, ultimately, talking was all they’d done, because their donors -- the people who matter -- like open borders and the free flow of cheap labour.

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