Friday, December 08, 2006

Imperial Pageantry and democratic Revolutions

As a kind of follow-up to yesterday's post on whether or not elections matter, I want to take a moment to talk about the "culture" of official Washington, which includes all sorts of journalistic types who should, out of deference to their professional credentials, be a bit more skeptical about those with whom they share space in teh former swamp on the Potomac. As guides, I have consulted Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and Paul Kagan (h/t Digby & Greenpagan). One of Greenwald's themes has been the absolute intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the pundit and journalists who have been cheerleaders for our current morass, and the stubborn refusal on their part to acknowledge error or the rightness of those whom they have previously despised and ridiculed. In this particular post, he discusses the irrelevance of the Baker-Hamilton ISG report, as it is clear the President will ignore it anyway. Paul Kagan, in his column, gives a short list of just a few of those who have been consistently correct. Digby discusses, through a long citation from a 1998 article by Washington Post columnist (and wife of former editor Ben Bradlee) Sally Quinn, the utter vacuousness and pettiness of Washington officialdom (typified by the now-famous quote of David Broder that Clinton "trashed" Washington).

All of this is by way of background. Also by way of background is a book by John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards, in which the author discusses Washington officialdom in terms of the coutriers of the ancien regime. Governed by strict rules of etiquette and an understanding of hierarchy and the roles and functions they were assigned, the courtiers played a game in which the goal was to approach power as close as possible. Not to influence it, not to share it - just to bask in its proximity. Imperial Washington - one could hardly call it anything else, at least since the end of the Second World War - is no less prone to this kind of nonsense than was Imperial Paris and Versailles.

Part of the nonsense chronicled by the above authors is the desire for civility and correctness on the part of officialdom. Since the beginning of the Cold War, when Truman appealed to former isolationist Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan to support arms and money for the Greek and Turkish government against communist insurgents, both parties have played this game. Debate in an Empire impedes progress of Imperial designs. Disagreement and discussion are signs of weakness - weakness of will, weakness of purpose - and Democrats no less than Republicans have been prone to this undemocratic impulse. What else explains Robert McNamara and his pernicious influence at the Department of Defense but a desire, not for governance, but technical, managerial competence? These are all well and good in their proper place; government is not a business, and anyone who argues that it should be run like one knows nothing about governance.

This desire for techonocratic competence, for a passionless, "rational" approach to public policy has sapped our democratic impulse. In the face of one democratic uprising, during the Vietnam War, the Establishment fought back, shunting aside the Democratic Party for a Republican Party increasingly conservative and belligerent, aiming to uphold American imperial power. Now, with Iraq, the imperial infrastructure and its adherents are shown to be hollow, their power chimerical (remember Rove's "math"?), and their shrill insistence on a bi-partisan solution (the ISG report) irrelevant to a President so out of touch with our current situation and impervious to shame that he can crack a sophomoric joke at a news conference over a situation that cost 33 lives of American service personnel in one week. These 33 men and women were in a position to die because of his orders, his policy, and his continued unwillingness to change, and he belittles their sacrifice with a joke and a chuckle.

This past election was not a triumph, or not just a triumph, for the Democratic Party (and when will the media start talking about the Democratic Revolution?) but for small "d" democracy. We the people have found our voice, and are speaking loud and long and consistently, being the spine and even marrow if necessary to our new elected leaders. The increasing irrelevance of the governing class, including the Washington Press Corps is a good sign that our democracy is not dead, and may have some life left yet. Democracy is more than elections, our republic is more than a flag. We are finding our voice, changing the way political affairs are practiced and discussed, and unafraid of challenging the status quo that for too long has limited debate in the name of civility and bipartisanship, and shut out the people in order that unelected official could make policy unimpeded by the great mass. There is potential - potential, mind you, not yet realized - for this election, and its underpinnings, and the object lesson of the ISG and its reception both in officialdom and by the White House for there to be nothing less than a fundamental change in the way America is governed. I sm talking now, of course, about a revolution, a real revolution, one without guns and death, but a revolution nonetheless. Let us work for the day we no longer have to read David Broder to understand Washington, or listen to Cokie Roberts flap her lips anywhere. Let us continue to work to throw the courtiers out on their colective asses, and forge ahead with our own views, our own wisdom, and our own arguments, as uncivil and as partisan as they can get.

Virtual Tin Cup

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