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the complexity of our methods. How is a voter who is called upon to vote for candidates for twenty-two offices at a single election to exercise any caution which a conscientious citizen should exercise? . . . We play directly into the hands of the worst sort of a dictator an unofficial one.1
President Wilson, in the address quoted above, puts the argument trenchantly:
Elaborate your government; place every officer upon his own dear little statute; make it necessary for him to be voted for; and you will not have a democratic government. Just so certainly as you segregate all these little offices and put every man upon his own statutory pedestal and have a miscellaneous organ of government, too miscellaneous for a busy people either to put together or to watch, public aversion will have no effect on it; and public opinion, finding itself ineffectual, will get discouraged, as it does in this country, by finding its assaults like assaults against battlements of air, where they find no one to resist them, where they capture no positions, where they accomplish nothing. You have a grand housecleaning, you have a grand overturning, and the next morning you find the government going on just as it did before you did the overturning. What is the moral? . . . The remedy is contained in one word: simplification. Simplify your processes, and you will begin to control; complicate them, and you will get farther and farther away from their control. Simplification! simplification! simplification! is the task that awaits us; to reduce the number of persons to be voted for to the absolute workable minimum-knowing whom you have selected; knowing whom you have trusted; and having so few persons to watch that you can watch them.
It would be possible to summon a host of witnesses, publicists, men of affairs, and practical politicians, in support of the doctrine that our elective system has been so overdone that it has ceased to be in fact an elective system and has become the prize of the expert. It would be possible to show a number of instances in which corrupt influences have actually sought the establishment of elective offices for the very purpose of taking the control of them out of the hands of the electorate.? It
1 Political Science Quarterly, Vol. XV, pp. 267 ff.
'S. E. Moffett, "The Railroad Commission of California," Annals of the American Academy of Political Science. Vol. VI, pp. 469 et seq.; J. R. Commons, "The La Follette Railroad Law," Review of Reviews, Vol. XXXII, pp. 76 ff.
would be possible to demonstrate that no other country in the world wastes so much of its best political energy in overcoming the friction of its governmental machinery. But it seems a work of supererogation to push the argument farther.
The effort to attain a ballot short enough to assure real popular control should begin in a reform of the central government of the state, by giving the governor power to appoint all of the executive officials, just as the President of the United States appoints the heads of departments. No good reason can be advanced why purely administrative officers like auditors, treasurers, and secretaries should be elected, for they have no large discretionary power and no share in shaping the policy of the administration. If the lieutenant-governor is made the presiding officer of the upper house of the state legislature, some reason may be advanced for making the office elective; but it would be better to allow the Senate to elect its own president. It often happens that the governor is at loggerheads with the very men who are to assist him in "the faithful execution of the laws," because they belong to the different political parties or, what is often worse, to contending factions within the same party. In more than one instance a governor has been on such unfriendly terms with his attorney-general that he has not dared to ask his advice on any serious legal question. The desirability of the proposed concentration of power is becoming more apparent as executive functions increase in number and complexity, and as the necessity of efficient and responsible administration becomes clearer. More than one governor, possessed of large practical experience and animated by a sincere desire to establish efficient administration, has called attention to the anomaly of our disintegrated administrative system. Only a governor obsessed by the theory of popular election or unwilling squarely to assume the responsibility of his office can deny the imperative necessity of greater centralization.1
In the sphere of municipal government there are already marked tendencies in the direction of simplification. All the recent charters of our large cities are increasing the appointing power of the mayor and giving him a larger place in the scheme of municipal administration. What New York has done in this regard is a matter of common knowledge. The recent report 2 See below, chap. xxvii.
1 Below, p. 507.
of the Boston Finance Commission recommends “a simplified ballot with as few names thereon as possible; the abolition of party nominations; a city council of a single small body elected at large; the concentration of executive power and responsibility in the mayor; the administration of departments by trained experts or persons with special qualifications for the office; full publicity secured through a permanent finance commission."
The commission form of government, which is rapidly winning public favor, is an extreme form of simplification; in fact, such an extreme form that there are grave objections to it. No government, state or municipal, is merely concerned with business-like and "economical" administration, as some of our mercantile statesmen would have us believe. There are always large policies to be determined affecting liberty and property, and here is where the representative, deliberative element has its legitimate and indispensable function. Any scheme of government that ignores it is bound in the long run to fail.
It is not likely that the voters in rural counties would welcome any simplification that would take from them the privilege of voting for a long list of county officers; although, as Professor Fairlie indicates in the passage quoted above, the elective offices in county government are not all filled by real election. In the counties there is perhaps less need of simplification than in the more populous urban centres where the personal element in politics is not so marked; and while the appointing power of the county board might well be increased to cover all the county offices except those of the sheriff and prosecuting attorney, it is not certain that such a change is requisite or even desirable. If county elections are separated from state elections, it will hardly be necessary to overturn a system which has so long existed unchallenged; although persons who have had practical acquaintance with "court-house rings" will from time to time be moved to advocate drastic reform in rural government also.
The ballot may be simplified, of course, by another method than that of reducing the number of elective offices. The number of elections may be increased. County, municipal, state, and national elections may be separated, in those states where political experiments are not viewed with alarm they are already being separated, and the terms of officers may be so
lengthened that the voter will not be confronted annually or biennially with too long and too bewildering a list of names. It is conceivable that this change may be combined with a decrease in the number of elective offices. Thus, by lengthening terms, separating elections, and making the minor offices appointive, the desired ballot reform may perhaps be accomplished without disturbing too violently those Jeffersonian traditions which still have so strong a sway over the minds of our fellowcitizens.
The results of any proposed reform in institutions are always highly problematical, so elusive are the collateral forces which come unexpectedly into play after it has been accomplished.1 Nevertheless, if one confines himself to predicting "the main chance of things," he may prophesy "with a near aim." By eliminating wholesale nominations, a drastically simplified ballot ought to decimate the ranks of the expert office-fillers and thus help to break down that closely knit extra-legal organization through which some of the most malignant interests in American politics have operated. This simplification of our party organization, accompanied by close legal control, including direct nominations in some form, would surely make our scheme of government more transparent to public gaze and ought to save not a little of the enormous amount of energy that is now spent in fighting organizations that is to say, in marking time. It would, in fine, uncover the enemy and let the voters see, not only the line of battle, but also the plan of campaign.
The simplification of the ballot ought so to simplify our politics that a larger number of citizens would understand their own government. It would enable the citizen to do his political work with a minimum amount of activity; activity in itself, some of the new prophets notwithstanding, being no virtue. Man is not made for the state, if we eschew German political science, but the state for man. There is no merit in fighting sham political battles over organizations and personalities - the chief business in the American governing process as now constituted. At all events it would be difficult to convince most people that it is more virtuous to spend the best part of the year in trying to oust an incompetent state veterinarian, placed in
1 No legislator at Albany, for example, foresaw the famous "Raines hotel sandwich" when the Raines bill was under consideration.
office nominally by popular election, but in reality by the "slate makers," than it is to read Dean Swift or Rabelais or to play chess. The point is to get a state veterinarian who knows his business, not to keep civic virtue at a certain degree of temperature by political exercise.
Whether this contention is sound or not, the fact remains that the mass of the voters take slight interest in the details of politics. As Mr. Roosevelt vigorously puts it:
It may be accepted as a fact, however unpleasant, that, if steady work and much attention to detail are required, ordinary citizens to whom participation in politics is merely a disagreeable duty will always be beaten by the organized army of politicians to whom it is both duty, business, and pleasure, and who are knit together and to outsiders by their social relations. On the other hand, average citizens take a spasmodic interest in public affairs; and we should therefore so shape our governmental system that the action required by the voters should be as simple and direct as possible, and should not need to be taken any more often than is necessary. Governmental power should be concentrated in the hands of a very few men who would be so conspicuous that no citizen could help knowing all about them; and the elections should not come too frequently. Not one decent voter in ten will take the trouble annually to inform himself as to the character of the host of petty candidates to be ballotted for, but he will be sure to know all about the mayor, comptroller, etc. It is not to his credit that we can only rely, and that without much certainty, upon his taking a spasmodic interest in the government that affects his own well-being; but such is the case, and accordingly we ought, as far as possible, to have a system requiring on his part intermittent and not sustained action.'
Finally, this simplification of politics and reduction in the weight and complexity of our party organization — a programme which by no means includes the destruction of party organizations - ought to have a wholesome effect in giving us some real politics at our city halls and state capitols instead of the sham politics of warfare between "reformers" and "bosses" - the distinguishing futility of American political life. A wag at Albany once remarked that the chief function of parties is to give the organizations that polled the highest and the next highest number of votes at the last preceding gubernatorial election places on the newly created boards and commissions. Whoever 1 American Ideals, p. 132.