Working The System

Michael Kazin pushes back against the idea that America would be governed better if only Washington DC could be transformed:

Since the Gilded Age, when both a large and permanent federal bureaucracy and massive national corporations emerged, there has been a Washington “system.” ...

Successful presidents like William McKinley and Lyndon Johnson soberly analyzed how “Washington” operated and made it work in their favor. Transformative presidents like FDR and Reagan eloquently bashed entrenched interests in the name of “the people,” while they and their advisers played those interests against one another for maximum legislative and electoral gain. Despite Roosevelt’s assault on “economic royalists” and Reagan’s fondness for Tom Paine’s phrase about “beginning the world anew,” neither man was naïve enough to think he could uproot the system. FDR needed some of the most noxious Southern Democrats who ran key committees to push through the signature bills of his New Deal, while Reagan cut a deal with Tip O’Neill to drop his proposal to freeze a cost-of-living raise for Social Security recipients if the speaker would back an increase in the military budget in the House.