James W. Ceaser Transcript

Taped June 26, 2014

Table of Contents

I: Rational Reverence for the Law 00:15 – 14:58
II: Origins of Party Government 14:58 – 35:42
III: A Constitutional Politics 35:42 – 44:07
IV: Barack Obama, and After 44:07 – 1:05:02
Bonus Footage

I: Rational Reverence for the Law (00:15 – 

KRISTOL: Welcome to CONVERSATIONS. I’m Bill Kristol, and I’m very pleased to have as our guest today, Jim Ceaser, Professor of Government at the University of Virginia, distinguished scholar, writer for The Weekly Standard and other important journals. And a public figure in your own right, as well as being a great scholar.

CEASER: Thank you for the invitation.

KRISTOL: Good to have you. So most people think of you as a popular professor and a well-known scholar and intellectual, but I think of you as the person who drives around Virginia with FED49 on your license plate. Is that right, I think that’s right?

CEASER: That is correct.

KRISTOL: Now what is that about?

CEASER: Well, it stands for Federalist 49, which is the Federalist Paper which defends the Constitution, and therefore defends law. So for everyone on the road, they have a chance to remind themselves of the Constitution, and especially the tailgaters because when they come close, they see it straight up and those are the ones who need the most restraint.

KRISTOL: And does that work?

CEASER: I haven’t been able to do a rigorous scientific test yet of its efficacy. But I do my part in whichever way I can.

KRISTOL: It shows your loyalty to the Federalist Papers and the separation of powers in the Constitution.

CEASER: It does. And in that case, I think that paper is especially important because, in a way, when you think about it, that’s the paper that invented constitutionalism. A constitution written on paper in and of itself is not necessarily something that people revere, that they look up to. I believe when the Founders wrote the Constitution they had no idea, or could’ve had no idea early on, that it would’ve been a document that would’ve been revered. After all, we don’t revere the constitution of New Jersey.

So what had to be created was a way of taking this written document and elevating into something more than just a piece of paper. And Madison takes that step in Federalist 49 arguing that a fundamental document can be looked at with a degree of reverence and veneration. And so the Constitution, in our system, plays a little bit the role of, say, the monarchy in Britain, something that’s more than just a material thing, that raises something higher. And it’s been treated that way more or less. There have been periods, of course, when people have taken off against the Constitution. The Southerners did, the Progressives did. But I think it’s held a pretty high place in American political life.

KRISTOL: And what struck me when I first remember reading Federalist 49, maybe as an undergraduate, I guess, is, I mean, that he intended this. That somehow you think over history it became venerated. But he says, if I’m not mistaken, in Federalist 49, we need the Constitution to be venerated. Maybe he even uses that term, veneration or venerated, and that that’s hard because, of course, it’s a popular document, so it’s not like something that was given down by a mysterious lawgiver centuries ago.

CEASER: Right. It was a created idea to take a piece of paper, as I said, and take a constitution and make it into what we call constitutionalism. So and it was done with a theory behind it. Of course, one of the reasons was, the immediate reason was a debate that he was having with Jefferson about the status of the Constitution. Jefferson’s view was, well, we’ll redo the Constitution every generation, which in effect means we won’t venerate it. And Jefferson wrote a number of letters saying we don’t want to venerate constitutions, this is like making it the Ark of the Covenant; we want to keep the system open to change and transformation. Law should never have this degree of the impact over human beings in subsequent generations. And, of course, this all had to do with the status of the past and what degree do we look up to our ancestors.

And Madison answers, well, very prudentially, veneration is part of it, this is supposed to be reverence, but rational reverence. So in effect by rational reverence of the Founders, you’re revering not just the paper but the thought behind it or you’re revering the political science behind it. So for those who are so inclined, they can reeducate themselves on why the Constitution was written as it was.

And in addition to that point as well, I think Madison wanted the Constitution to endure for a long time with chances for change. It really goes to an idea of how people think. I think the Constitution was an effort to structure how the public mind works; does the public mind work in the vein that we’re going to change everything as we see fit today, or does the public mind work in such a way, well, we can change lots of things, but it’s a good idea to think of what was done before, especially by those who were in a position to think deeply about a situation. So it was really, and I think it was seen this way as the structuring of the public mind.

That’s why when it came to the Progressive periods, the Progressives attacked not just the Constitution but the idea of constitutionalism because they said, well, that’s fine for the 18th century, but the 20th century is something entirely new, and, therefore, if we venerate the past, we’ve tied ourselves to the past, we’re men of the future, we’re looking ahead, no reason to look back to anything like that. So it becomes in a way a debate over the public mind, in the public manner of looking at the law.

KRISTOL: I want to come back to that because I think you teach political and yet – not yet – but the Federalist is so central to what you teach, I guess, in American politics, and I want to come back and have you explain why that’s the case, why it’s not simply or mostly of historical interest or point of departure for your studies.

But you get away at the University of Virginia, the university founded by Mr. Jefferson, as they say down there, with driving around with a license plate that has on it the one Federalist Paper that, I think, explicitly criticizes Jefferson, right? You’re a Madison person, not a Jefferson person on this important point, it seems. Very tolerant of UVA to let you teach there.

CEASER: Most of them don’t get the point, but, of course, there are 84 other Federalist Papers that people could put on their license plate to continue the dialogue, and I know you’re a Virginian, Bill. I invite you to try one. Federalist 38 might be good for you.

KRISTOL: I should do that. So let’s talk. You are a political scientist. You not a – you don’t teach in the history department. You don’t teach, primarily, political philosophy, though you studied that, and it’s informed by that. But I take it you would say that the Federalist and the Founding, in general, for understanding American politics, remains central both as, what, a guide to the way it works and a guide to the way it should it work.

CEASER: Yeah, both. And it’s also a guide – an interesting point since you mentioned political science, that our system is probably the system which was founded or established more than any other with reference to political science. If you think of all the countries in the world, how many invoked or explicitly relied on political science? The Constitution would not have been have been the way it is without political science.

So in a strange way, the American experiment is tied to political science and political science, if it understood itself well today, should understand itself as tied to the American experiment. This is the test case for political science. I think you could look at instances before that where elements of political science were adapted by specific leaders, but this explicit reliance on founding with the assistance of political science, I think the American case is the test case –

KRISTOL: The new science of politics, doesn’t the Federalist use that phrase?

CEASER: Yeah, they do. They speak of the science of politics, and they use it. And so it’s an experiment in, really, human history, to what extent can this science actually help to improve the human condition?

I mean, the other sciences like medicine, we have them. They didn’t always improve the human condition. I think when people were being bled, it probably harmed more hurt. And I know some doctors of political science have had the same effect of harming more than hurt. But this was a chance to put this experiment before history and see if it could actually result in something positive.

KRISTOL: And so when you teach it, I mean, what’s distinctive, what are the core elements that you think people maybe don’t capture today, don’t see today either in the science of politics or in the American experiment?

CEASER: Well, one thing is political science is not just an academic discipline, which is written for other academics and validated by other academics, which is what sometimes we mean by profession today. It’s self-sustaining. After all, it’s a big profession now. It has one of the largest conventions. If you’re highly touted at a political science convention, you could consider yourself famous. The world might not remember you centuries later but for the moment it sustains itself.

But the political science of the Founding – and the Founders are something really quite different. It was meant to play a role inside of the political world. In that sense, it was a practical science, it drew on theory but it was really meant to aid and assist those who acted in politics. And I think every explanation in political science ought to have that at least in the background – can what we are studying and thinking about, can it be of assistance to those who act in the political world?

And acting means not merely acting as a leader, it could also be thinking because thinking is a form of acting. So that, I think, is the direction of, let’s say, Aristotelian or classical political science as an assistant or advisor to those who act; understanding that those who act always have to take into account the circumstances and use advice as we all use advice. Maybe it’s okay in general, but the specifics require me to do something else.

KRISTOL: And the Founders’ advice stands up pretty well, you think, in terms of their core arguments, whether it’s extending the sphere in Federalist 10 or separation of powers in Federalist 47 to 51, the executive, all these kind of key elements?

CEASER: I would think it can defend itself. I mean, there are always questions about whether there were other models that are superior for other places. We’ve never really been proselytizers for the American Constitution per se. We’ve been proselytizers or friends of liberal government and democratic government, representative government. But Americans have never demanded that before a negotiation with, say, the Brits, we won’t talk to you unless first adopt the presidential system.

So we’ve understood that choices of systems are peculiar, and I think you could say that the American system works very well here. It might be questionable in its effects in other places. So to that extent, I wouldn’t say that this was meant to be a model for everywhere. But I think it’s worked pretty well here. And I also think that the efforts to change it now as some have advocated are misbegotten. And in any case, on pure conservative grounds, if something is working pretty well, you don’t tear the whole house down and start again.

KRISTOL: That’s a good point. I really hadn’t thought of that, I mean, that the presidential system, it hasn’t actually been that popular really in the rest of the world. The rest of the world, wouldn’t you say, most liberal democracies remain more or less parliamentary, maybe with a touch of presidentialism in some of them. But basically the big countries, including the countries that we won in World War II against and therefore had a big role and when they set up democracies after 1945, Germany, Japan didn’t – doesn’t look like the American system. It looks more like Britain basically.

CEASER: Right. They grew out of parliamentary systems and given that that was their indigenous roots, there was no need to change it. In some systems, maybe people have done studies and counted these things, not always with great intelligence. Some of these American systems were developed in Latin America and then turned into dictatorships. I don’t think it was because of the constitution; I think that they were so prone anyhow to caudillismo.

I would say, maybe, there was some transformation in the Fifth French Republic in favor of something moving in the American direction because what they had experienced under a parliamentary system was a system in which, unlike the Westminster system where you had one-party control usually, they had coalition governments. And it turned out that the coalition governments ran into great difficulty, couldn’t sustain themselves. During the Algerian crisis, really there was no government. Every time a coalition formed, it would break apart. And people in France looked at the American model and they said, “Whatever else happens with politics in an ordinary way, we need some figure who can act for the good of the nation above politics when necessary.” So in a way, it was a recourse to what I think the Founders had in mind by a presidency, that there’s some office who can work of the good of the nation in a time of emergency. And so the French Republic adopted our system or a presidential aspect of our system, at least for that reason, combined in a strange way with the parliamentary system so that the French can have what they always want, which is cohabitation.

KRISTOL: Yeah. Good. So the presidential system, I guess, really, is in a way one of the distinct, maybe the distinctive, aspect of the American system. I mean, there are forms of free government but it does seem like a strong president and, I guess, it was invented here for some of the same reasons that the French were attracted to it, right?

CEASER: I believe it was maybe a reaction to the experiences of the Articles but a realization really of the need that if you’re going to be a strong nation – and I think United States aspired to be that – that it would require an executive. The executive is the one who acts in a way that not everything can be handled by law.

Of course, the parliamentary system wasn’t well understood in parliamentary regimes at the time because of the confusion that they thought they had an executive mainly in the form of a monarch. And they did and they half didn’t. And as these things occur, some things in politics are formed by growth or accident, and some things are formed by reflection. Our system is pretty much – the constitutional system has a large degree of reflection. And a large degree in which the reflection has remained the basis of how things actually work. Of course, you can find all sorts of institutions in the Constitution that don’t work as originally intended; the Electoral College being one. But the basic structure still remains intact, and the logic of it remains intact today.

II: Origins of Party Government (14:58 – 35:42)

KRISTOL: But as you say, there are things that have emerged since the Founding, and you wrote an excellent book on one of those things, which is really parties and party government in America, which and that’s one of the changes, I suppose, both in the mode of presidential selection, and of course, in the actual operation of the separated powers, as well once you have a Republican Party and a Democratic Party or a Whig Party and a Democratic-Republican Party or whatever it was back then. So say a word on that. I remember that was the first thing of yours I read and I was very struck by it.

CEASER: And you remember it to this day?

KRISTOL: I remember it to this day. And I remember you made the argument that it didn’t just happen, either, that it sort of was intended, the notion of strong, setting up parties in the United States at some point.

CEASER: Initially, it grew as a result of circumstance or accident, that is, once the Constitution got underway and politics began, people found that they disagreed more profoundly than they thought they would. And so they recurred to parties, not with the idea of establishing a party system but with the idea of winning, defeating the opposition, destroying it, then going back to the Constitution as originally intended as a regime without parties.

So the first phase, the Jeffersonian phase, was a phase without intention of parties. Still, there was the example that they had been used, which was important. And it’s interesting that that phase ended with the abolition of parties. That’s what the era of good feeling was about, it was return or so some thought, to the original Founding plan of politics without parties. And many militated against the formation of parties, including Andrew Jackson early on, when he was elected, James Monroe. They chased parties from Washington and thought they were going back to something.

So it was in the second phase that when parties were reestablished, say, in the 1830s, that that there was a kind of conscious effort to rebuild them. And, of course, it was never put directly into the Constitution, it was done extra-constitutionality, but with an understanding that it was a decision made at the level of constitutional structure.

And my hero in that book, or at least the early part of the book, is none other than Martin Van Buren, the statesman, if you will, who was most responsible for helping to reestablish parties with the general view of why we needed it. And I think his argument was in part, that it transformed the Constitution a little bit but was necessary in part to save the Constitution; because what he feared was the advent of demagogic leaders.

And this he thought would occur in a situation without parties, people running, five or six or seven of them trying to get a piece of the electorate in order to become elected president. Somewhat like a primary today. And goodness knows, in our national primaries, we have more than an ample amount of demagogy as people appeal to a particular segment. That’s what the final elections would’ve been like without parties.

KRISTOL: And then it would have gone to the Electoral College –

CEASER: The Electoral College and they didn’t like that. But Van Buren, in particular, thought it would divide the country sectionally. You’d have a southern candidate, a northern candidate and tear the country apart.

So the party, at least the original version of parties, is a conservative idea in the sense of trying to tamp down this demagogy. Look for two institutions that were national in character and allow politicians to have a say in elevating these people so you could get safe candidates on fairly safe national principles.

That was his idea, and it worked for a while. The problem is that parties are a very curious animal. You could think of parties a little bit as institutions. But parties are the point where something new can enter the political arena as well; they’re the gateways for movements and passions, they’re expressive of something. The problem, I suppose, from a Van Buren point of view and others, is that the parties soon became vehicles in the 1850s for expressing the deepest division, which turned out to be a sectional division.

And so parties have always had this dual character. Sometimes institutions, and many political scientists have treated them that way, that tampers down a dangerous division, and parties as vital sources of expression for something new. Movements becoming parties and bringing something new, new wine into old bottles. So I think the understanding of parties is difficult in that respect. It always has to be handled on both registers.

KRISTOL: I think that today one could argue that it does both, right. I mean, it seems to me that Democrats channeled the progressives or the antiwar sentiment in the 60s and 70s, the spirit of, let’s say. And they channeled it into an existing Party, which to some degree tamed it a little bit. But also that sentiment took over the Party, you could say, and I think the Tea Party today, you could argue both changing the Republican Party but also somewhat tamed by being channeled into the Republican Party and preventing that kind of, you know, let’s have seven different parties and seven sects, each in a more European way, each prosecuting its own narrow agenda which –

CEASER: Yeah, I think in the working out it’s worked out fairly well. I mean, you’ve had moments where parties have been taken over by a movement, even in those situations where they’ve taken over, they’ve had to usually accommodate for the majority with the part that they defeated. So it’s always had a little bit of a moderating effect. On the other hand, you do want parties to be able to express something new. It is a democracy, and the people speak. So it’s a complex institution. And I’d say the moderating role is an important one.

I know there was all this criticism when the southerners, mostly the southern white population shifted from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, much to the consternation of many commentators who want to argue that the Republican Party’s a racist party. My goodness, if you take the most cynical view, what you see has happened is that you were able to incorporate a huge number, a mass of people into an existing political system rather than outside of it. If you just want to take it on the crudest level, and I think actually people have looked at and shown it’s a little bit of an exaggeration how Democrats today want to depict the once solid South for them, the now solid South for Republicans. And as you know, the most solid parts of the country are really Democratic now more than Republican, the East Coast and West Coast.

KRISTOL: And I think it’s very much part of the health of the American system that these populist movements, Left and Right, or original movements or reactions against other movements, in a way, grow up and they do tend, I think, as partly because of parties – partly because of federalism. I’m curious to hear you on that, too.

They can win primaries, they can enter parties, and they don’t become 20 percent of the population disaffected outside of the two big parties, really unhappy with the system as whole. They tend to be able to – well, the Tea Party is a good example – they win some primaries and suddenly Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are possible contenders for a presidential nomination. If you’re a Cruz enthusiast or a Rand Paul enthusiast or a Marco Rubio enthusiast, you feel like you’re part of the Republican Party and you want your guy to, maybe, dominate the Republican Party. You’re not unhappy with the system. So, in that respect, I think very much, maybe, in the spirit of Madison, you’ve channeled a lot of popular sentiments and energies, some of them healthy, some of them maybe less so, depending on anyone’s point of view, into the system, not against the system.

CEASER: I think that’s true. And even if you didn’t have primaries, which people raise questions about, you would have third parties briefly. But the history of the third parties is that they, too, eventually are looking to form a coalition since there’s only one presidency. So even if you had parties that were arranged a little bit in a more closed way, I think the third parties that started would always be looking to make deals with one of the major parties, always looking for that majority for the presidency.

KRISTOL: The presidential system has an effect on it –

CEASER: I think it’s a really important factor in bringing the parties together. And we saw that in France as well. You’ve got more than two parties but they coalesce into two groups usually. Every so often, you’ve got a third but they’re forced to coalesce finally if you need a majority.

KRISTOL: And do you agree that federalism is – I’ve come to more of an appreciation, I’d say, of federalism and decentralization over the years in the sense that it just allows, in a way that’s not the case in a place like France, I think. You know, citizens in one part of the country to win a primary, to win an election, to organize themselves, to get represented at the national level because they would still be a minority, perhaps at a national level, but because there are these local races to win and both local races like Mayor and Governor and local races like Congressman and Senator for the federal government. Again they kind of get these sentiments usually get channeled into the broader system, not against it.

CEASER: Yeah, they do because, I mean, because they’re part of the system at the level at which they have authority. And I think that was one of the original reasons for federalism and still is. I’m happy that the people of Colorado have their peyote and cannabis. That doesn’t mean that we have to.

The other reason goes back to a Tocquevillean reason, which has always been one of the reasons I’ve looked at the importance of localism and federalism. We could put those together, they’re a little bit different, is that where people are going to become citizens in some sense – and by people here, I don’t mean 100 percent of the population. If it’s 5 percent, it’s still a massive number. Citizens have a chance and opportunity to have some influence at a level closer to home. And this is what makes them want to be a citizen. Why participate if you just show up like at a high school race for presidency, you show up, there’s nothing really to be won. You really have to have the power, the power has to be there or it’s ridiculous to contend for office. And so it’s only by ruling, as Tocqueville says, in small things at the local level where people can exercise this notion of citizenship or what sometimes called republicanism. This is something that’s greatly endangered today because of so many things that are being run more and more by federal government, federal influence.

Even if you can argue, here’s Tocquevillean grounds as well, that the decisions made in the short run are better by the federal government than would be made by local majorities. His answer would be, “So what?” Far more important is that the long-term effects of people governing and playing some role in government. That, I think, is greatly in danger.

I was always a little bit skeptical of No Child Left Behind; I understood that it had its reasons in trying to break up unions, but from a from a traditional point of view, or Tocquevillean, it’s a bad idea. And now I think this Common Core is a worse idea. I know this isn’t the prevailing view in Washington. But when you think about it, there’s one thing that people think that they know something about, it’s having some influence over the education of their children. And there’s no reason why they can’t listen to federal advice, but to be commanded from the center and have the decisions removed slowly by the center; this is what we see in one area after others, people alienating their power. That’s one of the, I think, still key reasons for federalism.

And to make a final point. The country being the way it is now, divided and polarized in many ways, people will want to live where the institutions are closer to their way of life. And it’s probably just as well that people in Utah can govern themselves differently under different standards than say people in San Francisco. Both are happy; they don’t have to come up with one solution.

KRISTOL: I mean, Tocqueville feared though that the natural tendency would be centralization. That does seem to have been. And do you think there’s much chance of reversing that? Or could one really, could a party, I suppose it would be the Republicans probably, come to power and really try to decentralize sort of some fundamental aspects of governance? I’m sympathetic to the idea, I just wonder if it’s practical.

CEASER: I think it’s fairly practical on some things more than you’d think. And we’ve had the example, strangely enough, in the last eight years of showing the importance of state governments. The most important political dynamic, one of the most important in the last eight years has been what has happened with the public unions and the public union movement and putting a halt to the union movement. That’s entirely been driven at the state level. I think when people look back on this period, they’ll see that is one of the – it’s the singular contribution of the Republican Party in domestic affairs but it’s also an important change in the character of our system.

Maybe drugs, maybe same-sex marriage, although that one probably at some point is going to have to go national, just by the dynamics. But I think it is possible. And it would take a party to stand up and make it a position. And that, after all, is what the Constitution is about in a large degree.

One great difficulty, going back to Federalist 49, is how we understand what the Constitution is. So many take the Constitution to be decisions made in the Supreme Court. I’m amazed at speaking with the students that I teach in American politics. You ask what the Constitution is. Basically for them it’s the Bill of Rights and decisions made by the Supreme Court, that’s the Constitution. Anything else is politics, politics usually in lower sense. So what’s lost is the idea of the Constitution as a document, which in a way sets up how the country is governed and ruled, sets up the degree of power that should be in Washington and the degree of power that should be in the states.

And I know that that part of the Constitution is the most difficult. Madison realized that the idea of trying to list powers was going to be problematic. But that doesn’t preclude a party from going to the country and saying, “Look, there’s certain things that we want to do more at the state level, let’s try and do it.” That doesn’t mean going back and abolishing Social Security or anything like that. Constitutionalism for political actors is different from constitutionalism by courts. Courts have to find a rigid rule. People in politics can say, “Look, we just think the Constitution means a lot more power at the state level, that’s the direction in which we’re going to move, don’t ask me what Article X, Section B means of the Constitution, that’s not what’s important. We regard the Constitution as a political document offering us guidance.”

KRISTOL: And I do think that if Republicans were going to make that case, it be important for them to make it not simply as the outcomes will be better in education policy or health care or whatever, but that it’s better for people to have more control over their lives and over the decisions, over the political communities that will decide some of these things. So they need to make more of a self-government argument and a little less of a cost-benefit argument, I think.

CEASER: Right, I think they do. Some people will be sympathetic to it. Out in the West, they don’t like quite as much government control of their land. They don’t like federal posses. And others like to do things in different ways. It is important to keep in mind, you know, when what’s a popular argument that it, we’re not talking about 100 percent of the citizens. But I think a large percentage of citizens who are active, even if it’s 1 or 2 percent in the United States is one of the keys to the maintenance of America’s system. That you have some people who know how to get together, how to act politically, have the confidence of doing so, have the habits of doing so. And that’s inspired in part by civic associations. It’s also inspired by local government.

KRISTOL: Yeah and political parties.

CEASER: And parties, parties having a local element because, as you say, these parties, they a national dimension, but they’re also important at the state and local level where people’s energies are often focused.

KRISTOL: I want to come back to your intellectual breakthrough on political parties for a minute because, I do think, I remember when I read the book in grad school, it was so surprising, and I think it was a real breakthrough. I mean what led you—Martin Van Buren was not, is not usually on the list of the 10 most important American presidents. I think he’s generally regarded as sort of Andrew Jackson’s kind of political guy, right, who then succeeded him for one term, and I guess he had a horrible depression right and got voted out of office. So how did you come upon this?

CEASER: Well, I came upon it from the modern conditions. The book started really with the reforms in the primary system, presidential primary – selection system in the 60s and 70s. It started as a result of what had happened at the ’68 convention. And the transformation of the convention system up through ’68, it was still possible to be nominated by a convention, the convention actually doing the work, rather than primaries. And the effect of the –

KRISTOL: And Humphrey in ’68 who was the Democratic nominee and won, I think, no primaries.

CEASER: He never entered a primary, as I recall. And the bosses still had a role or at least Daley thought he did, he certainly made that point on television in no uncertain terms. So we had a very important change within the nominating system for nominations, the transformation from a half convention/half primary system, which was the case, say, from 1912 to 1968, to an entirely primary or popular dominated system. So a change in how we select or nominate our presidents, a change in how people run for president, that’s the other point, is that this is not only who selects but how people act to try and acquire the nomination.

So I got in it from that point of view, looking at this institution, treating the nomination process not as something internal to parties but as part of a constitutional issue, because the original Electoral College was meant to be, if you want to put it, both the nominating and the electing system. And once parties started out, the party part went to the, quote, private or party side, but it was still something that the Framers when they thought of it, they raised the question, How do we select the president in such a way that you select good candidates and don’t destroy the country while selecting them?

So I tried to return the thinking about the nomination politics to its constitutional status. And that led me to look back at all the periods in American history where you had decisive transformations in the either final election or mostly in the nominating process, and why that was done. Sometimes, it was a result of accident, sometimes it was the result of reflection. And those were the moments. And since Van Buren was pivotal in establishing the legitimacy of two parties, coming from a situation in the 1820s where everyone would’ve said, “America is a system without parties and we’re better for it” to the late 1830s where everyone when asked “What are the first features the American constitutional system?”, they would have said, “Well, of course, we have two parties.”

So I looked at those moments, and that’s how I got back to the wonders of Martin Van Buren. I also learned in the process or at least it’s suggested, that the second most important word in the English language after like, which is okay, seems to have been linked to Martin Van Buren; okay being for Old Kinderhook, which he came from, Old Kinderhook clubs. So that attracted me very much to him as well.

KRISTOL: Very useful. Then you discovered some book he’d written or some at least pamphlet, was it. In Defense of Parties. It was pretty explicit, right?

CEASER: He wrote a book, yeah, he wrote book. It sounds a little bit like, parts of it like Burke’s defense of parties. He wrote a book on political parties and said he wanted to put them, view them in a different light. And he was part of a movement, other – some other journalists and newspaper writers who actually said about the idea of defending parties. They were deeply worried, as they had a right to be from the election of 1824, what American politics would look like without parties.

1824 was for them, the institutional fire-bell in the night of segmented parties, demagogic politics. And, unfortunately, in some ways, we’ve come back to this in some of the ideas of candidates who run to segments of the population who start 2 or 3 years before the time the president is elected. All these properties, which they worried about in 1824, have resurfaced in American parties, although within the parties, rather then the final election process.

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