The bipartisan system

It is a curious and ironic thing that the bipartisan political system in the United States consists of two parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.

On the one hand, the Republicans more openly uphold the system as James Madison intended. Madison distinguished between a republic and a democracy, preferred the former, and was concerned to protect the minority rights, not of any subaltern group, but rather those of wealthy white slave-owning males.[1]

The Democrats, whose name I correct to neoliberals, do the same,[2] but by pretending otherwise through their name, which refers to “democracy,” which Madison disdained, largely to protect wealthy white slave-owning males.[3]

These two parties, which we have had reason in the past to doubt were anything more than one party with two feuding wings,[4] comprise the paths to political power in the U.S. Even economic power, when seeking political ends, must exert itself through influence on politicians who are members of one party or the other, even though Madison intended that the system should protect that power.[5]

Madison thought that a republic would resist the extreme impulses of any faction because there would be so many factions with limited communication and disparate interests.[6] But the bipartisan system achieves this through constraint on the range of acceptable political discourse,[7] otherwise known as the Overton Window.

Social change, it seems, must be incremental—very incremental. Achieved with only the most grudging acceptance of the elite, it certainly cannot actually threaten the elite.[8] And accordingly, the system is utterly unable to respond to the dire and existential threat of the climate crisis—when politicians say they want to protect the “economy,” what they mean is that they want to protect economic interests. Pretty much just as Madison intended.[9]

Mind you, these are the same “interests,” billionaires, who pretend an unassailable virtue (they do more damage and cause more deaths than the people who actually are prosecuted[10]) and complain that they are being persecuted, that they may even be subject to Nazi-style extermination.[11] The poor chaps have to acquire luxury bunkers so they can ride out any planetary catastrophe—or popular uprising.[12]

Which is really rather paradoxical. On the one hand, I suppose one might be able to persuade oneself that the loss of even a tiny fraction of one’s fortune might pose a threat to one’s very survival. But this is a system that is foundationally structured to protect them, certainly not the folks for whom a far smaller loss poses a much more real threat and who seem unable to mount more than a feeble protest against not merely an extreme but an extravagant injustice of the present order. Which I have to think is a condition that Madison really rather might like.

It’s probably more reasonable, however, to set aside such bleating and look instead to what billionaires actually do to, you know, like, maybe, actually prevent such an uprising?

Their response does not take remedial but rather repressive form: Labor unions are impotent but employers will go to any lengths to prevent their workers from organizing. Wages are such a pittance that even full-time employees may need to rely on a decimated social safety net. For all that, they still can’t really afford the rent.[13] And health care for all is just out of the question.

Remember, we have to protect the economy economic interests.

I realize people think something has gone terribly wrong when so many are so poorly cared for. But Madison rests easily in his grave. His work is accomplished.

  1. [1]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  2. [2]David Benfell, “How the neoliberal (usually known as Democratic) party may well lose in 2020,” Not Housebroken, December 7, 2019,
  3. [3]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  4. [4]David Barsamian, “Gore Vidal Interview,” Progressive, August 2006,; Noam Chomsky, “Containing the Threat of Democracy,” Chomsky on Anarchism, ed. Barry Pateman (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2005).
  5. [5]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  6. [6]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  7. [7]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005).
  8. [8]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2010).
  9. [9]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  10. [10]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  11. [11]John Arlidge, “I’m doing ‘God’s work’. Meet Mr Goldman Sachs,” Times, November 8, 2009,; Helaine Olen, “The decade of the billionaire victim,” Washington Post, December 26, 2019,;Tom Perkins, “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2014,; Chris Reiter, “BMW Billionaire Heirs Say Their Lives Are Harder Than You Think,” Bloomberg, June 20, 2019,
  12. [12]Jim Dobson, “Inside the World’s Largest Underground Survival Community: 575 Luxury Bunkers for 5,000 People,” Forbes, October 7, 2016,
  13. [13]Kate Gibson, “Minimum wage doesn’t cover the rent anywhere in the U.S.,” CBS News, June 14, 2018,

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