Karp’s take on the restoration of self government

Anthony Del Signore

Anthony Del Signore has just started an internship with the NYC Independence Party and IndependentVoting.org.  Anthony is a political science student at PACE University. He has been reading Indispensable Enemies and wrote a post looking at the last chapter of the book.

Chapter 14 – The Restoration of Self-Government

“Augmenting the Foundations of Liberty”

“Throughout the majority of Walter Karp’s book Indispensable Enemies, the means, structures, and powers of the two major political parties take center-stage in a scathing repudiation of the status quo. Chapter 14, “The Restoration of Self-Government,” on the other hand, takes a much different tone. This tone is hopeful that party collusion, municipal annexation, and ever-powerful party stalwarts can be revolutionarily usurped through an augmentation of liberty and self-governance.  But these ideas are not novel or never heard of before. Karp takes his blueprint from our Founding Fathers, who wrote extensively on the merits of localized self-governance.

To structure his chapter, Karp relies on Thomas Jefferson’s two “fundamental means” to restore self-governance. First, local self-government must be extended to every member of the Republic. Second, “republican education” (or in this sense, a sort of civic engagement experience in which each individual can think for him or herself how to secure freedom). Working in conjunction, they would stem the tide of rapid municipal annexation and bring autonomy not only to the political life of the present, but the political life of the future.

The question Karp strives to answer first and foremost, is, are local assemblies the strength of a free nation? He states:

“… [A] mass of citizens with no direct share in power, no local assemblies, no local political arenas, is easy for political usurpers to control” (pg. 304).

This statement actually has two meanings. The phrase “political usurper” can mean the dominant party bosses of either the Democrat or Republican parties. Or it can mean a “restoration of what has been deliberately destroyed” by a thoughtful and engaged local citizenry (pg. 304).

In 2014, we see both meanings in action. In ever increasing numbers, America is becoming centralized and urbanized politically. More than 50% of Americans live in cities. Now, towns are merging with others to ensure financial survival because of a shift from the industrial economy to the emerging “silicon valley” economy. This is securing party control in state elections as the electorate turns into an “urban mass” disinterested in politics. On the other hand, we are beginning to see pockets of independent, localized movements, able to come together because of the internet. The rise of the Tea Party movement, Occupy Wall Street, and many localized chapters that I am sure many of you are familiar with are only known because of the internet.

Karp goes on to describe invisible “lines” that are drawn seemingly arbitrarily to separate townships from cities and stifle political action at the individual level. To combat this, every citizen should belong to a community which has relevant political power. This community should have localized authority which can speak on behalf of its citizens. Karp carefully states that this does not mean towns cannot merge for financial reasons. However, they should not merge for political ones. I have always been a proponent of the local community boards in New York City having actual power to influence change. A localized approach would give them that power. But, for people to become civically engaged, according to Karp, they have to be taught how to do so. This is where republican education comes into play.

Republican education, at its core, is a study of political history and a dismantling of the education bureaucracy. According to Karp, this is a revolutionary change in teaching from his time or even today. For example, he equates contemporary history lessons to the obliteration of political history. In essence, Karp argues the political “oligarchs” are fastening a message which keeps students disinterested in individual thinking and ensures division so that the parties can further ensure security once these students mature. How this can be changed is through localized control of education. One can only assume that Karp would not be thrilled with such measures as New York State Regents exams and Common Core which standardize requirements for proficiency in a number of subjects for wide swaths of students. However, in conjunction with newly established ward governments, Karp believes the educational pursuits of trade would give way to a more enriching educational experience.

While this may be true, the reality of 2014 is that education is still merely a “vocational training camp.” With higher education being the business that it is, this trend does not seem to be dissipating. Parents and students alike are staring at tuition bills calculating how much they need to make in salary once they or their children graduate to merely get by. Fields once thought to be bastions of security, such as law, are becoming perilous career choices. With localized education, perhaps some of these problems may be solved. However, in an ever-expanding globalized economy, is this solution even viable? Perhaps a more enriching experience can be gained on the internet where thinkers of all stripes can lay their own foundations at very inexpensive rates. Perhaps this is the future of republican education. This blog is a testament to that.

More than ever Karp’s vision in “The Restoration of Self-Government” is gaining traction. The idea that closed primaries are a detriment to our democracy and that funds should not be allocated to those closed primaries is something many people are beginning to understand and agree with. We are at the precipice of political reform. While all of his visions may not come to fruition, a step in the right direction is something he would be proud of.”

I am looking forward to our conversation on Sunday at 7 pm EST.  The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#. 


Foundations of Party Power

Dr. Jessie Fields took a look at Chapter One–The Foundations of Party Power.

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception

“The two parties function in symbiosis.

In the first chapter of Indispensable Enemies Walter Karp debunks the assumption that the two party’s main principal of action is to win elections and that parties operate as instruments of representative government. He gives many examples that occur primarily between the years 1900 and 1970 of party leaders running weak opposition against each other, sabotaging insurgents of their own party or supporting the other party’s candidate to maintain control of the party organization. Karp describes the power of the parties: “When a party organization is in control, its leaders do not merely put up candidates for elective office, they control what a substantial number of these men do once elected. Such a party does not merely “manage the succession to power”, it has power and it wields power.”

He highlights century long statewide two party relationships in which one party dominates statewide and another controls certain urban areas with little change in the relative status of the two parties in each state despite enormous social and cultural changes in the society as a whole.

Karp examines how party politics divides the residents of the states and the country pitting one community against another. “Persuading one segment of the citizenry to blame another segment for its troubles is a constant practice of party organizations.”

His examples of how the parties respond to insurgents and independent grassroots movements seem very relevant today. Especially here in New York City where Adolfo Carrion the former Democrat and Bronx Borough President who worked in the Obama administration and who became an independent and ran for Mayor, was shut out of the debates and almost all media coverage.

I am tempted to ask what Karp would make of today’s extreme partisanship in Congress and the various states and the development of the independent movement and the fight for structural political reform such as nonpartisan elections and redistricting reform. He died in 1989 just a year after Dr. Lenora Fulani’s historic presidential run in which she focused a spotlight on two party corruption of our electoral process. Our movement can learn a great deal from Walter Karp’s writings and I believe he would be thrilled at our growth.”

—Jessie Fields


Join the Indispensable Enemies Conversation on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.

The call in number for our book club conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

Partisanship As Usual

This last week, Michael Hardy the General Counsel and Executive Vice President of the National Action Network authored an editorial on the Huffington Post entitled “Partisanship as Usual.”   In the piece, Michael outlines efforts underway to update and fix the Voting Rights Act of 1965; reports on the work of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; and explores ways that the election process could be opened to allow greater participation.  He quotes Jackie Salit, the President of IndependentVoting.org  and explores the question she raises—Is out democracy for everyone?  In our current selection, Indispensable Enemies, Walter Karp exposes ways our democracy is structured to be fundamentally for the parties and not the people.

Give Michael’s piece  a read, I think you will enjoy it—

Attorney Michael A. Hardy at the 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Michael A. Hardy
2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Michael A. Hardy

General Counsel,

Executive Vice President, National Action Network

Partisanship as Usual

Posted: 01/27-2014  The word coming out of the nation’s capital is that President Obama will focus part of his upcoming State of Union address on income inequality and economic opportunity for those not included in the top 1 percent. This is, of course, good news for the struggling middle class and the working poor. However, because it is an election year, most people understand that by and large all that will really come out of Washington is the usual partisan bickering and failure to move forward on major pieces of legislation.

It was a bit of a bright spot that just before the Martin L. King, Jr. holiday the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill titled the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The bill is aimed at fixing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suffered as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In Shelby, the Court struck down section 4 of the VRA thereby leaving the VRA’s section 5 preclearance mechanisms empty.

While the bill has bipartisan support, it will nevertheless be a struggle to get it through the Congress. As the mid-term elections approach, the House of Representatives, controlled by the Republicans, will be completely focused on trying to maintain that control. Therefore, the nations’ voters will have to engage in some well-designed and coordinated activism to move the bill forward. Protecting the rights of voters and ensuring the right of every eligible voter to vote should be a continued priority for our democracy.

It was in this light, that we saw a second bright spot during the past week when the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its report. Who can forget the long lines and hassles that many voters had to endure while trying to exercise it constitutional franchise as citizens. Casting your vote and accessing your voting poll in any election should be easy. It should not take all day and voters should not have to climb hurdles and other obstacles to register to vote and locate their proper voting locations.

In this regard the Presidential Commission made several findings and recommendations to improve “the American voter’s experience and promote confidence in the administration of U.S. elections.” Among those recommendations were calls for expansion of online voter registration; expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day; better management of polling sites and continued improvement in voting technology. This is why many cheered last term’s Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. The Court ruled that Arizona’s evidence of citizenship requirement could not be used to prevent or declare invalid registrations through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 registration forms. The Court ruled that the form required the voter to certify under penalty of perjury that he or she is, in fact, a citizen. It did not require further documented proof to validate the registration. The state is free, of course, to prosecute any voter who falsely asserts citizenship.

Voting and protecting voter enfranchisement are essential to a democracy. In America, we need to continue in every way to provide unfettered the right of our citizens to participate and vote in every election and particularly in our national elections. Most voting surveys demonstrate that during the off presidential election years, mid-term elections, the actual percentage of voting age turnout hovers just under 40 percent. This is significant and the argument can be made that this level of turnout is what contributes to the partisan divide that has plagued our democracy for decades. It also makes it easier to construct barriers to the voting franchise. These are among the motivations for some, like Ohio State Representative and chair of Ohio’s Legislative Black Caucus Alicia Reece (D) to call for a state constitutional amendment — a Voters’ Bill of Rights — which would preserve a 35 day early voting period, prescribe extended hours for early voting, develop online voter registration and allow a voter to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in the correct county.

It also suggests that as a nation, we not only have to better administer our elections, but open the electoral process to greater participation. This includes the call by some for non-partisan primaries. We can have well run elections, but if the process excludes a great percentage of eligible voters who cannot vote in closed primaries and therefore cannot have a voice in the candidates that appear on the general election ballot, it dampens the voters’ desire to vote in mid-term elections. Jackie Salit, author of Independents Rising and president of Independentvoting.org has argued that in order for a democracy to thrive, the opportunity for the American people to speak must be present. The people speak through their right to vote. Salit asks: Do you believe our democracy is for everyone? She believes the answer to that question should be an unequivocal yes. Clearly, if democracy means anything it must mean that every voter has the right to meaningful participation in the voting process. If we hope to have a government that is not bogged down in partisan bickering, and looks to the well-being of the nation, then perhaps the choice of general election candidates should not be solely a partisan activity.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation’s highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network’s crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City’s House of Justice.

A Review of Chapter Two—The System of Collusion

Elizabeth Cole

Elizabeth Cole (pictured above) is an intern with the New York City Independence Party.  She graduated in May from Florida State University and joined the campaign team for Adolfo Carrion’s independent campaign for Mayor.  I asked Elizabeth to share her views of Chapter 2 of Indispensable Enemies, which is entitled “The System of Collusion.”

Here is Elizabeth’s review:

The System of Collusion left me rather skeptical. For one, words like collusion always arouse my sense of doubt, as it is one of those fancy terms utilized by conspiracy theorists with the hope of being taken seriously.  After all, The System of Collusion is suggesting that the Democratic and Republican parties are in cahoots to keep each other a part of this “single ruling oligarchy” through a type of symbiotic relationship that discourages electoral participation and believes in losing elections in order to stay in power.  Karp openly acknowledges the oddity of this particular theory. In fact, he even answers the glaring question, why haven’t we noticed this pattern? His response is simple and straight forward: “without opposition, collusion ceases to be obvious.” This is a pill I find easy to swallow, as it doesn’t take a philosopher to know that, currently, we live in a time where the game of politics resembles more of a seesaw than a tug-o-war. We move between one party and the other hoping a term booted from office will teach them a lesson, and then we re-elect them again only to find that nothing changes. Of course in smaller areas, where parties have firm control, it is more of a seesaw between candidates of the same party and, again, little changes. As a result, we become a frustrated population with more bark than bite; admiring our right to vote but rarely practicing it, voicing our frustration with the lack of changes in our lives, but never acting to remedy them. And worse of all, the blame is placed on us. As Karp very eloquently puts it:

“…legislators betray their constituents at the behest of their party bosses, and this betrayal too       is attributed to rural prejudice, for, according to the prevailing party myth, it cannot be laid at the feet of party bosses, since their one alleged motive is to court their local voters.” (pg. 37)

Karp raises a strong point here, which is that our votes are supposed to be earned, our presence at the voting booth respectfully feared. But the reality today is different, isn’t it? Democrats and Republicans have their laundry list of issues, and when nothing is done about them while in office, the parties simply blame each other and most every politician gets re-elected for another term. We can’t switch parties, can we? We would run the risk of finding ourselves supporting a party whose values we don’t agree with, so we stick to our own even if our representatives have stopped trying to win our votes through their actions in office. And this is exactly what Karp says the parties want because now they no longer need us. Minority and majority party bosses in each district or state sit comfortably knowing their position is safe, with the minority party receiving patronage and the majority party gaining control – all for successfully ignoring the needs of wants of their constituents.

Seems like a simple enough concept. But for me it led to more questions. In an age where we seem to be louder than ever and our recent presidential elections received over 50% voter participation, surely it can no longer be all that simple. With all the political chaos this country has experienced in the past two-decades, is it possible that this system of collusion described by Karp has maintained itself since he wrote this book back in the seventies? At first glance, it would appear not. Changing opinions and raised voices has even lead to changes within the parties. We have the Tea Party springing up from the Republican side, blue-dog Democrats tried to give a more conservative spin to the party, and libertarians taking seats in office as well as making headlines. But if we take a step back and forget what we have been bombarded with by the media, things begin to look a little different.  For all the fuss, our problems have remained consistently the same; with schools still failing to perform, incarceration rates remaining the highest in the world, and a plethora of other smaller and larger issues our government has no incentive to actually tackle. Because however angry or frustrated we become, we have been told that these are our only two options. It won’t matter if a Democrat loses or a Republican loses, because at this rate, minority or majority party both will remain in power.

Thanks Elizabeth.  

Our conference call discussion of Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  

The call in number is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

Politicians’ Extortion Racket

Our conference call to discuss Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  I will be posting the call in number in the next couple of days.

Lou Hinman, a member of the NYC Independence Party Citywide Executive Committee has shared an excellent New York Times Article with us and has some helpful tips for reading Indispensable Enemies. Here is what he suggests:

The op-ed Politicians’ Extortion Racket by Peter Schweizer that appeared in the New York Times on 10/21/2013 confirms and updates Walter Karp’s observations about “Black Horse Cavalry” in the New York State legislature in the late 1800’s (pp. 159-60).  I have included the article below.
I was also thinking about  people perhaps being intimidated or overwhelmed by Indispensable Enemies.  I think it’s a hard book to read because:
  • It’s repetitious and more polemical than it needs to be, both of which can be tiring to the reader.
  • It tries to be a “theory of everything.”  Although he is surely right to insist that the collusion of the DP and RP should be the point of address in political reform, in dismissing “economic” explanations as “ideological,” he tries to prove too much.
I would recommend that people focus on Part I and Part II (and possibly the last chapter, “The Restoration of Self Government”).
Thanks Lou, great article and good advice.

The New York Times

October 21, 2013

Politicians’ Extortion Racket


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — WE have long assumed that the infestation of special interest money in Washington is at the root of so much that ails our politics. But what if we’ve had it wrong? What if instead of being bribed by wealthy interests, politicians are engaged in a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions?

Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, only roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash?

This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money.

Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the “tollbooth.” Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill’s passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.

House Speaker John A. Boehner appears to be a master of the tollbooth. In 2011, he collected a total of over $200,000 in donations from executives and companies in the days before holding votes on just three bills. He delayed scheduling a vote for months on the widely supported Wireless Tax Fairness Act, and after he finally announced a vote, 37 checks from wireless-industry executives totaling nearly $40,000 rolled in. He also delayed votes on the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act and the Small Company Capital Formation Act, scoring $91,000 from investment banks and private equity firms, $32,450 from bank holding companies and $46,500 from self-described investors — all in the 48 hours between scheduling the vote and the vote’s actually being held on the House floor.

Another tactic that politicians use is something beltway insiders call “milker bills.” These are bills designed to “milk” donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a “double milker” bill.

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.

In the first half of 2011, Silicon Valley had chipped in only $1.7 million to Mr. Obama’s political campaign. The president announced that he would “probably” sign antipiracy legislation — a stance that pleased Hollywood and incensed Silicon Valley. The tech industry then poured millions into Mr. Obama’s coffers in the second half of 2011. By January of 2012, Hollywood had donated $4.1 million to Mr. Obama.

Then, suddenly, on Jan. 14, 2012, the White House announced that it had problems with the antipiracy bills and neither passed. “He didn’t just throw us under the bus,” one film executive and longtime supporter of Mr. Obama anonymously told The Financial Times, “he ran us down, reversed the bus and ran over us again.”

To be sure, not all legislative maneuvers are extortive; sincere and conscientious political deeds occur. Still, the idea that Washington gridlock is an outgrowth of rank partisanship and ideological entrenchment misses a more compelling explanation of our political stasis: gridlock, legislative threats and fear help prime the donation pump.

The reason these fund-raising extortion tactics succeed is that politicians deploy them while bills are making their way through Congress, when lawmakers possess maximum leverage. That’s why at least 27 state legislatures have put restrictions on allowing state politicians to receive contributions while their legislatures are in session.

Why not do the same in Washington? It would reduce politicians’ penchant for cashing in on manufactured crises. Perhaps it would even compel Congress to be more efficient while in session.

We have focused for too long on protecting politicians from special interests. It’s time we stop pitying the poor politicians and start being wary of them — for they play the shakedown game as well as anyone.

Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the author of “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets.”

An independent take on Indispensable Enemies

Our current book club selection was a recommendation from Steve Richardson, a founder of the Virginia Independent Voters Association.  I asked Steve to share some of his thoughts about the book with us.

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

“Indispensable Enemies helped me see that parties have no more interest in competition than corporations.  Both invest heavily in the illusion of choice to hide their true goal of absolute power.  Duopoly – sharing with just one challenger – is the next best thing.

Karp’s theory turns the Median Voter Theorem upside down.  In our system, electoral competition would force parties toward the middle on most issues.  However, if all choices have been agreed upon by collusion between the parties, we have a “heads politicians win, tails voters lose” situation.  We have seen steady erosion of the average citizen’s interests as the size and scope of government has grown to encompass more and more so-called special interests.  Politicians argue that log-rolling is what makes our system work, but this is just rationalization of what Karp reveals is as systematic deception.

For Independents, this is yet another argument for structural reform – a reason why any bipartisan “solution” leaves foxes in the henhouse and perpetuates the looting.  I don’t advocate accusing anyone of anything.  In fact, as I believe Karp explained, collusive practice is so natural in this environment that most of the people contributing to it are not even aware of the implications of their actions.  I do think we should dissect what is wrong with party politics as a matter of principle and use those arguments repeatedly to promote alternatives.

Our electoral system should not force voters to join any party because parties are factions (ideologically opposite positions) that concentrate power and divide the people.  Especially in today’s complex world, we need a system that facilitates issue-based coalitions that form, reform, and dissolve as needed, with no institutional barriers that protect them as centers of power.”

Steve Richardson

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