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Democracy in America

From Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835-1840:

“Political parties in the United States, like political parties everywhere, feel a need to rally around an individual in order to communicate ore effectively with the masses. Thus they generally use the name of the presidential candidate as a symbol: they make him the personification of their theories. Hence the parties have a great interest in winning presidential elections, not so much in order to secure the president’s aid in achieving the triumph of their doctrines as to demonstrate by electing him that those doctrines enjoy the support of the majority.

“Long before the appointed date arrives, the election becomes everyone’s major, not to say sole, preoccupation. The ardor of the various factions intensifies, and whatever artificial passions the imagination can create in a happy and tranquil country make their presence felt.

“The president, for his part, is consumed by the need to defend his record. He no longer governs in the interest of the state but rather in the interest of his reelection. He prostrates himself before the majority, and often, rather than resist its passions as his duty requires, he courts favor by catering to its whims.

“As the election draws near, intrigues intensify, and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity, the object of all thought, the sole interest of the moment.

“Immediately after fortune renders its verdict, of course, this ardor dissipates, calm is restored, and the river, having briefly overflowed its banks, returns peacefully to its bed. But is it not astonishing that such a storm could have arisen?”

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