Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic

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Overview

The Democratic Party has long presented itself as the party of the poor, the working class, the little guy. As Jay Cost's sweeping revisionist history reveals, nothing could be further from the truth.

Why have the Democrats gone from being the people's party of reform to the party of special-interest carve-outs? In Spoiled Rotten, political analyst Jay Cost tells the story of the modern Democratic party from the end of the Civil War to the present, tracing the sad decline of a ...

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Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic

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Overview

The Democratic Party has long presented itself as the party of the poor, the working class, the little guy. As Jay Cost's sweeping revisionist history reveals, nothing could be further from the truth.

Why have the Democrats gone from being the people's party of reform to the party of special-interest carve-outs? In Spoiled Rotten, political analyst Jay Cost tells the story of the modern Democratic party from the end of the Civil War to the present, tracing the sad decline of a once noble political coalition that is no longer capable of living up to its lofty ideals.

When Andrew Jackson formed the Democratic party in 1828, he promised to stand up for the little guy against the rule of privileged elites. What has become of this promise? According to Cost, recent history has shown the Democrats to be anything but the party of and for the people. Instead, they have become a collection of special-interest groups feeding off the federal government, exchanging votes for subsidies and benefits.

With the creation of a partisan spoils system in the nineteenth century, both parties practiced the politics of patronage. But, starting with the New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the power of big government to transform whole classes of society into clients of the Democratic party. Urban machines, southern segregationists, and organized labor all benefited from this approach. FDR's successors—Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter—followed suit, turning African Americans, environmentalists, feminists, government workers, teachers, and a number of other groups into loyal Democratic factions. As a result, the Democratic party has become a kind of national Tammany Hall whose real purpose is to colonize the federal government on behalf of its clients.

No longer able to govern for the vast majority of the country, the Democratic party simply taxes Middle America to pay off its clients while hiding its true nature behind a smoke screen of idealistic rhetoric. Thus, the Obama health care, stimulus, and auto bailout health care bill were created not to help all Americans but to secure contributions and votes. Average Americans need to see that whatever the Democratic party claims it is doing for the country, it is in fact governing simply for its base.

Hard-hitting and uncompromising, Spoiled Rotten is a timely, powerful polemic from a rising intellectual star.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to conservative Weekly Standard columnist Cost, clientelism is “the exchange of votes for governmental favors between a faction and a party,” and Democrats have signed on so many hungry mouths that demands for “gimme” have overwhelmed the public interest. In this revisionist history, Cost convincingly argues that, in striving to revive the national economy, FDR’s administration created a “Tammany on the Potomac,” which attracted elements of the ruling coalition to “the private benefits they enjoyed from the party’s benevolent protections.” Ironically, Cost says, although Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic Party in 1828 in reaction to rampant government corruption, modern Democrats evoke nothing so much as the venal Republicans of the Gilded Age, and they are “no longer capable of governing for the public good.” Cost suggests that the party has “become a threat to the American republic itself.” The book raises timely concerns in an election year. Agent: Byrd Leavell, Waxman Literary Agency. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Weekly Standard blogger Cost examines what he sees as the dangerous domination of the Democratic Party by special interests. The author looks at how Democratic presidents have handled various groups in the party coalition, including African-Americans, unions, feminists and environmentalists. He argues that Democratic presidents have long catered to such groups with expensive programs, to the detriment of "the public interest"--a practice that has made the party "a threat to the American republic itself." His historical overview is wide-ranging, extensively researched and often engagingly written, but readers who don't share Cost's conservative outlook will not be won over. Often, he seems to conflate "the public interest" with right-leaning policies. He lauds President Clinton for pursuing goals that liberal groups disliked, such as welfare reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement, while deriding Clinton's attempt to allow gays to serve openly in the military as a mere sop to a Democratic constituency. The author also roundly criticizes Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, who shepherded especially large government programs. But Cost saves his harshest words for President Obama, who he claims has "focused relentlessly upon the interests of the party clients over the public good." In particular, the author characterizes the president's health-care reform policies as a massive handout to left-leaning special interests. It is interesting to note that some members of these same groups regularly criticize Obama for not being liberal enough, a fact Cost does not explore. He also doesn't address how Republican Party policies have been influenced by its own coalition groups, which would make for an informative comparison. An impassioned argument that will only appeal to a conservative audience.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062041159
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/15/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Cost writes the twice-weekly "Morning Jay" column for the Weekly Standard and was previously a writer for RealClearPolitic and a popular political blogger. Cost received a BA in government from the University of Virginia and an MA in political science from the University of Chicago. He lives in Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 All the Toiling Masses: William Jennings Bryan and the Jacksonian Revival 11

2 Bryanism with a Princeton Accent: Woodrow Wilson and the Founding of the Modem Democratic Party 26

3 A Mediator of Interests: FDR and the Establishment of the New Deal Order 44

3 He Just Dropped into the Slot: Harry Truman and the Consolidation of the New Deal Order 75

5 Let Us Continue: JFK, LBJ, and the Apogee of American Liberalism 96

6 They Can Count: Civil Rights and the Development of Black Politics 117

7 There's No Party That Can Match Us: George Meany and the Evolution of Organized Labor 138

8 The Share-Out Runs Its Course: The Election of 1968 and the Splintering of the Democratic Party 155

9 Too Much Hair and Not Enough Cigars: The New Politics and Party Reform 178

10 Hard Choices and Scarce Resources: Jimmy Carter and the Rebellion of the Clients 202

11 A Temporary Triangle: Bill Clinton and the Circumvention of the Clients 223

12 You're on the Menu: Barack Obama and the Triumph of the Clients 246

Conclusion 275

Acknowledgments 285

Notes 287

Index 343

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 2, 2012

    Highly Recommended - you need to check this out!!

    If you enjoy American history and politics, then this book is a must read. Good Stuff!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The premise of this book is rather simple. In any democratic pol

    The premise of this book is rather simple. In any democratic political system political parties that aspire for the control of the body politic will invariably attract various clients and interest groups with very limited and specific agendas. However, if a politician or a party is aspiring for a broader level of support necessary for a victory in election, that party or politician will need to make a broader appeal based on the sense of general good of the country. This constant tension between special interests and common good is nothing new, and it’s not limited to any particular party or a politician. 




    Jay Cost takes a closer look at the Democratic Party over the course of roughly the last century and a half, and tries to illustrate how various Democratic leaders have dealt with this tension. The account is very detailed, based on thorough historical research. This books gives one a much more realistic view of the American political history, especially as it pertains to the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, this is not a scathing and cynical account of either the Democratic Party or the American politics in general. Cost aims to give a very neutral and balanced view of politics as it really is. 




    The book’s true agenda becomes evident at the very end, in the chapters and sections dealing with Barack Obama. Cost paints a very grim picture of the 44th president, not in relation to Republicans or conservatives (who barely feature in this book to begin with), but in comparison to other Democratic presidents. Cost makes a very convincing case that Obama, unlike Clinton and Carter for instance, had no desire to stand up to the Party clients, and had completely built both his political career and his presidency around the unabashed and unrestrained support for all of his Party’s special interests. Obama is truly a transformative political figure, but not in the way that he or his apologists would like you to believe. 

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    Posted March 5, 2013

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