Friday, December 08, 2006
Secretaries of Deference
Lambert points out something important relating to my post yesterday on The Aristocrats:
When Bush got all snippy with Jim Webb, George Will distorted the quote precisely to highlight Webb’s supposed lack of deference.
All the Beltway 500 code words—Civil, Dignified, Ungracious—for trashing Democrats and preventing them from saying what needs to be said have to do with Republicans reinforcing this fundamental aristocratic value of deference.
It’s the same deal with Civil, Moderate, and Bipartisan are also code words for reinforcing deference.
That’s why it’s important to mock, belittle, insult, degrade and make Republicans laughable at all times and in all conditions. These are all tools for eliminating deference from our political discourse.
Naturally, when we do this, the Beltway 500 clutches its pearls and calls us Shrill or Rude. That’s a good sign: It means we’re displaying the lack of deference appropriate a Democracy.
I think the single most sickening example of this phenomenon was the mewling and puking on the part of the Washington establishment over the revelation of an extra-marital affair by one who never understood how to behave in the company of his betters. The way they told it, Washington DC is just like Bedford Falls,Zuzu's petals and all, upholding the values of mom and pop and McDonalds 2-for-1 apple pies --- an aristocracy of small town kids who just happen to be millionaire insiders in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth.
I'm going to publish a long excerpt of the following article, because I'm not sure there is anything in the American media that better illuminates the phony sanctimony and the sickening hypocrisy of the political ruling class. You will note that the author says quite explicitly that the nation does not share the superior values of their betters.
In Washington, That Letdown Feeling
By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 1998; Page E01
"This beautiful capital," President Clinton said in his first inaugural address, "is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way." With that, the new president sent a clear challenge to an already suspicious Washington Establishment.
And now, five years later, here was Clinton's trusted adviser Rahm Emanuel, finishing up a speech at a fund-raiser to fight spina bifida before a gathering that could only be described as Establishment Washington.
"There are a lot of people in America who look at what we do here in Washington with nothing but cynicism," said Emanuel. "Heck, there are a lot of people in Washington who look at us with nothing but cynicism." But, he went on, "there are good people here. Decent people on both sides of the political aisle and on both sides of the reporter's notebook."
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.
On this evening, the roster included Cabinet members Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala, Republicans Sen. John McCain and Rep. Bob Livingston, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, PBS's Jim Lehrer and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, all behaving like the pals that they are. On display was a side of Washington that most people in this country never see. For all their apparent public differences, the people in the room that night were coming together with genuine affection and emotion to support their friends -- the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt and his wife, CNN's Judy Woodruff, whose son Jeffrey has spina bifida.
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."
Bill Galston, former deputy domestic policy adviser to Clinton and now a professor at the University of Maryland, says of the scandal that "most people in Washington believe that most people in Washington are honorable and are trying to do the right thing. The basic thought is that to concede that this is normal and that everybody does it is to undermine a lifetime commitment to honorable public service."
"Everybody doesn't do it," says Jerry Rafshoon, Jimmy Carter's former communications director. "The president himself has said it was wrong."
Pollster Garin, president of Peter Hart Research Associates, says that the disconnect is not unlike the difference between the way men and women view the scandal. Just as many men are angry that Clinton's actions inspire the reaction "All men are like that," Washingtonians can't abide it that the rest of the country might think everyone here cheats and lies and abuses his subordinates the way the president has.
"This is a community in all kinds of ways," says ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress. She is concerned that people outside Washington have a distorted view of those who live here. "The notion that we are some rarefied beings who breathe toxic air is ridiculous. . . . When something happens everybody gathers around. . . . It's a community of good people involved in a worthwhile pursuit. We think being a worthwhile public servant or journalist matters."
"This is our town," says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Democrat to forcefully condemn the president's behavior. "We spend our lives involved in talking about, dealing with, working in government. It has reminded everybody what matters to them. You are embarrassed about what Bill Clinton's behavior says about the White House, the presidency, the government in general."
And many are offended that the principles that brought them to Washington in the first place are now seen to be unfashionable or illegitimate.
Muffie Cabot, who as Muffie Brandon served as social secretary to President and Nancy Reagan, regards the scene with despair. "This is a demoralized little village," she says. "People have come from all over the country to serve a higher calling and look what happened. They're so disillusioned. The emperor has no clothes. Watergate was pretty scary, but it wasn't quite as sordid as this."
"People felt a reverent attitude toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," says Tish Baldrige, who once worked there as Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary and has been a frequent visitor since. "Now it's gone, now it's sleaze and dirt. We all feel terribly let down. It's very emotional. We want there to be standards. We're used to standards. When you think back to other presidents, they all had a lot of class. That's nonexistent now. It's sad for people in the White House. . . . I've never seen such bad morale in my life. They're not proud of their chief."
2. THE LYING OFFENDS THEM. For both politicians and journalists, trust is the coin of the realm. Without trust, the system breaks down. [no, she wasn't kidding. ed]
"We have our own set of village rules," says David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report, who worked for both the Reagan and Clinton White House. "Sex did not violate those rules. The deep and searing violation took place when he not only lied to the country, but co-opted his friends and lied to them. That is one on which people choke.
"We all live together, we have a sense of community, there's a small-town quality here. We all understand we do certain things, we make certain compromises. But when you have gone over the line, you won't bring others into it. That is a cardinal rule of the village. You don't foul the nest."
"This is a contractual city," says Chris Matthews, who once was a top aide to the late Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. "There are no factories here. What we make are deals. It's a city based on bonds made and kept." The president, he went on, "has broken and shattered contracts publicly and shamefully. He violates the trust at the highest level of politics. Matthews, now a Washington columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and host of CNBC's "Hardball," also says, "There has to be a functional trust by reporters of the person they're covering. Clinton lies knowing that you know he's lying. It's brutal and it subjugates the person who's being lied to. I resent deeply being constantly lied to."
Certainly Clinton is not the first president to lie. But the scope and circumstances of his lying enrage Establishment Washington.
"His behavior," says Lieberman, "is so over the edge. What is troubling is the deceit, the failure to own up to it. Before this is over the truth must be told."
Retiring Rep. Paul McHale was the first Democrat to call for Clinton's resignation. "When the president spoke last January I believed him," says McHale, of Pennsylvania. "I didn't think he would have the audacity, the lack of integrity to mislead the American people . . . but then he pervasively lied under oath. He was blatantly, intentionally untruthful. I would not accept as president of the United States a man who has lied under oath."
And the wife of a Democratic senator who declined to comment spoke on condition of anonymity. "We take the issue of perjury seriously here," she said. Her husband, she said, thinks the president "lacks character and commitment. He's very clear about it."
During the last year, the nation's journalistic community has suffered through a series of credibility crises: Mike Barnicle's and Patricia Smith's disgrace and departure from the Boston Globe, two CNN producers involved in the network's discredited sarin report, and compulsive fabricator Stephen Glass of the New Republic.
Washington's insider press corps has shown little pity for any of them. The feeling toward the president is similar.
"The judgment is harsher in Washington," says The Post's Broder. "We don't like being lied to."
3. ESTABLISHMENT WASHINGTON REVERES THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENCY. If Washington is a tribe, then the president is the tribal chief. He cannot be seen to dishonor the tribe.
Ken Duberstein was President Bush's chief of staff. "Every time I went into the Oval office I put on a coat and tie," he says. "Ronald Reagan put on a coat and tie, even on weekends. Reagan used to say this was not his office, it was the president's office, it was the people's office. He was only the temporary occupant."
For Roger Wilkins, history professor at George Mason University, "the White House is the holiest of America's secular shrines." Wilkins sees the president's conduct as "a betrayal of the ideals we have for the metaphysical office and the physical office" of the presidency. "For this man to say that his conduct of exploitation of this girl is private in a place we revere, a place we pay for, a place we own is not only absurd, it's condescending and insulting."
Former Democratic senator Sam Nunn, long a powerful player on the Washington scene, feels it is impossible to lead without trust. "People say that moral authority is not needed . . . but the trust factor is the single most important factor of leadership whether it be for a minister, a CEO, a senator or a president."
For reasons they cannot understand, Washington insiders come across to the public as judgmental puritans, shocked and horrified by the president's sexual misconduct. While most people have gossiped about the salacious details as the scandal unfolded, they say this was not what has outraged them. Of all those interviewed, not one mentioned sex or adultery as a matter of concern. "Sex," says Gergen, "is acceptable as long as it's discreet." As Wilkins puts it, with a chuckle, "God knows, most people in Washington have led robust sexual lives."
Similarly, independent counsel Ken Starr is not seen by many Washington insiders as an out-of-control prudish crusader. Starr is a Washington insider, too. He has lived and worked here for years. He had a reputation as a fair and honest judge. He has many friends in both parties. Their wives are friendly with one another and their children go to the same schools. He is seen as someone who is operating under a legal statute, with a mandate from the attorney general and a three-judge panel, although there are some lawyers here who have questioned some of Starr's most aggressive tactics.
Finally, as for Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, they are seen as essentially irrelevant in terms of the issues of concern here.
Privately, many in Establishment Washington would like to see Bill Clinton resign and spare the country, the presidency and the city any more humiliation.
But if Clinton won't resign, what do they want instead?
Many say the impeachment inquiry should go forth in some fashion, if only to clarify and explain the offenses and to let the system work. The system is important here.
Yet a Senate vote to oust Clinton or some form of censure appears to make them nervous, mainly because they fear it would weaken the office.
"We don't want to hang him," says Gergen. "There's a sense that we all want to clear this up. And there's a maddening frustration that the political system doesn't have a set of penalties for this kind of activity."
"The founding fathers let us down," adds Beschloss.
"He shouldn't get by with it," says Baker. "The question is, what can the Senate do short of removal?"
Certainly the Washington insiders have their own interests at heart. Whenever a new president comes to town, he will be courted assiduously by those whose livelihoods depend on access to power. But over the years of the Clinton White House, that interest in being close to the administration has diminished, particularly after the Lewinsky story broke in January. Then, after Aug. 17, many people's self-interest was overtaken by their disgust and outrage.
Even those who have to deal with or publicly support the administration do so grudgingly. They say that regardless of whether his fortunes improve, Bill Clinton has essentially lost the Washington Establishment for good.
Dear Me! These mandarins and court scribes, these lords and ladies of the beltway, took great umbrage at Bill Clinton's lack of deference to their completely phony bourgoise pretensions, and that simply was not done. So they crucified him.
Meanwhile, the very well bred cretinous moron who currently occupies the White House behaves like a disgusting pig in foreign capitals and is reputed to enjoy "fart" jokes in the oval office and has never been similarly derided for his uncouth ways. One can only speculate why that might be so.
And all these bluenosed hypocrites who excoriated Clinton for his lie ("I will not be lied to!") about a personal matter and complain that the office lost its moral authority, seem not to be personally exercized about the repeated, endless lies of the Bush administration that landed us in the most unnecessary, intractable foreign policy crisis in the nation's history. Broder and his snuff-snorting fellow courtiers aren't nattering on about how Junior "trashed the place." But then the only place he's trashed is the United States of America, where the silly peasants live --- and Iraq which is filled with a bunch of dirty foreigners. In the nation's capital everyone is perfectly happy because as far as they are concerned, the "right" people are in charge. And that's all that matters.
digby 12/08/2006 01:27:00 PM