A specter is haunting this presidential election -- the specter of "Washington." Not Washington the city of museums and monuments, and not Washington the home of 588,000 mostly ordinary people, but "Washington" the metaphor: Washington, the bastion of elites who look down on the rest of America; Washington, the embodiment of the East Coast liberal establishment that scorns outsiders from the provinces. So frequently have we heard this idea invoked in recent days that I think it's time to dissect it a bit more closely. Increasingly, I am convinced that it alludes to something that doesn't exist at all.Sally Quinn, November 1998:
Emanuel, unlike the president, had become part of the Washington Establishment. "This is one of those extraordinary moments," he said at the fund-raiser, "when we come together as a community here in Washington -- setting aside personal, political and professional differences."
Actually, it wasn't extraordinary. When Establishment Washingtonians of all persuasions gather to support their own, they are not unlike any other small community in the country.
But this particular community happens to be in the nation's capital. And the people in it are the so-called Beltway Insiders -- the high-level members of Congress, policymakers, lawyers, military brass, diplomats and journalists who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it.
They call the capital city their "town."
And their town has been turned upside down.
With some exceptions, the Washington Establishment is outraged by the president's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The polls show that a majority of Americans do not share that outrage. Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. They want this, they say, not just for the sake of the community, but for the sake of the country and the presidency as well.
In addition to the polls and surveys, this disconnect between the Washington Establishment and the rest of the country is evident on TV and radio talk shows and in interviews and conversations with more than 100 Washingtonians for this article. The din about the scandal has subsided in the news as politicians and journalists fan out across the country before tomorrow's elections. But in Washington, interest remains high. The reasons are varied, and they intertwine.
1. THIS IS THEIR HOME. This is where they spend their lives, raise their families, participate in community activities, take pride in their surroundings. They feel Washington has been brought into disrepute by the actions of the president.
"It's much more personal here," says pollster Geoff Garin. "This is an affront to their world. It affects the dignity of the place where they live and work. . . . Clinton's behavior is unacceptable. If they did this at the local Elks Club hall in some other community it would be a big cause for concern."
"He came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
"This is a company town," says retired senator Howard Baker, once Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. "We're up close and personal. The White House is the center around which our city revolves."
And the "Washington" in question was NOT the "the city of museums and monuments," and not "Washington the home of 588,000 mostly ordinary people," but "Washington" the "bastion of elites," the embodiment of the East Coast establishment.It isn't a liberal establishment, and I have no idea whether it looks down on ordinary Americans, or whether it's just so removed from them that it doesn't have any idea what life is really like for them. But it's there. It's the place where David Broder dines on quail with Karl Rove and his wife. This is the "Village" that Atrios and others refer to.
Glad we got that settled. Now, back to Applebaum:
Washington, however stuffy it may once have been, is no longer in need of "a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street." ... Washington needs people who think like national politicians and not like spokesmen for the local business executives who fill their reelection coffers and the local party hacks who plan their campaigns. Let's be frank: The "bailout" bill was passed last week not because members of Congress decided it would work but because it was stuffed with the pork, perks and tax breaks without which no piece of legislation, however important to the nation as a whole, can now pass. Maybe it's unfair to call that "small-town" thinking, but it sure is small-minded. And small-mindedness, not snobbery, is the dominant mind-set of 21st-century Washington.Did she just say that, or did I imagine it? Did she really confuse "populism" with stuffing a bill full of perks and tax breaks that business elites want, but do nothing for the average citizen?
Don't get me wrong; populism can be a fine thing...
Let's be clear: that bailout bill wasn't passed last week because it extended unemployment benefits, or because it promised any infrastructure spending that would have created new jobs as we head into a downturn, or because it would have eased the bankruptcy laws, or because it would have extended SCHIP health care benefits to more uninsured children, because it didn't do any of these things. Instead, its extraneous provisions comforted the already comfortable, and did nothing for the afflicted. 'Populism,' my ass.
If there are two defining aspects to the "Washington" mindset, they are (1) that elites should make the decisions for the good of America, which will routinely require them to have to ignore what the mass of Americans want and need; and (2) the vapors they get at the thought of 'class warfare' on behalf of ordinary people, even as they advocate a top-down class war against them.
Social Security and Medicare, which so many depend upon, must always be cut, because a little pain is needed to right the ship of state - but higher taxes on the rich? Sacre bleu! The pain must not be felt by the elites.
And in the recent bailout legislation, the Village disgust with the idea of limiting compensation of the Wall Street executives that had sailed our financial system onto the rocks was palpable. But the idea of using the bailout as a vehicle for assisting average Americans in these troubled times was hardly mentioned.
Yes, this "Washington" has completely lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans. And Anne Applebaum has absorbed "Washington's" attitudes so completely that she cannot see that it even exists.