In the mid 1800′s, the US Government employees worked under the Spoils System. It comes from the term “To the victors go the spoils.” After every election, almost all political offices had their staff laid off, from the highest cabinet post to the lowliest bureaucrat, and replacements then were appointed by the new President. These replacements came from campaign staff and large donors. It eventually got to the point that there was even an informal pricing system in place. This all came to a head with President James A. Garfield, who was an advocate for reform and contrary to his predecessors, did not remove people from office when he took over as President, upsetting a great deal of those who had counted on gaining a position through their political donations and campaign work. One of those men, Charles Guitreau, felt he was entitled to an ambassadorship post for his speech writing work during the campaign.
When he found himself away, eventually being told that no such post would be granted, Guitreau made a fateful decision. On July 2nd 1881, using a revolver he had specially picked out “in order to look good as a museum piece,” Guitreau walked up behind the President as he was in Baltimore before travelling to New Jersey, and fired two bullets into his back.
With President Garfield assassinated, now President Chester A Arthur, son of an American Mother and Irish father, with rumors surrounding him at the time to have been born in Canada (hmm, only one US citizen parent, with vicious rumors of him born on foreign soil put forth by political enemies, this sounds familiar), enacted the reforms which his predecessor had begun, turning the civil service system into one based on Merit, and not on political ties. Over the years, more and more departmental roles switches to civil service, and the power of donors demanding the spoils faded, but not completely.
Some people might remember the Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers for large donors to the Clinton campaign. Others might recall the many ambassadorships given to his donor pool, as well as the no-bid contracts issued under his administration. Obama, by comparison, has had far fewer donors given preferential treatment, and had tightened up the laws covering lobbyist donations for favors as well.
In his show last Friday, Bill Maher mused that this trend, of not thanking his large donors, will hurt Obama in the election. He might be right, with the large banking donors having fled Obama to having the Romney campaign now suckling off of Wall Streets teats. What he said was, in part:
I do know some of these big money people – some people who really helped him a lot, worked their asses off for him. And they hate him now, and they are not working for him this time.
His guest on the show, comedian Chelsea Handler, however rebutted that instead of hating the President, it is they who should be sending the President thank-you notes and working even harder.
With the election in the balance, and Romney deciding to sell anything and everything to get elected, it is clear that Obama is refusing to play by this neo-spoils system which has taken root in Washington. With the unlimited money now available thanks to Citizens United and with Romney potentially even willing to violate foreign donation laws, Maher might have a point, but that itself is an indictment of the corruption we’ve let grab hold of the system. This is reason enough to vote, and not to become one of those silenced by our apathy. If you find yourself disgusted by both parties, that is not important. Your vote, even if for a third-party candidate, is important. After all, how else can change come to America if we do not make our voices heard?
The clip from Bill Maher’s show: