If it were possible to reach into the television screen and throttle the scrawny neck of the Washington establishment, shake it until the dice rattled and the stem came loose, would that be wrong? Would that be considered unsporting? It pains me, as a bringer of dharma and light, to feel driven to imaginary acts of symbolic violence, but even a man of peace can take only so much until frustration blazes to the upper floor. Watching ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, for instance, is like receiving an engraved invitation to apoplexy. When the panel that Stephanopoulos conducts after his “Newsmakers” interviews includes Sam Donaldson, George Will, and Cokie Roberts, longtime observers of Roman folly, it is like being swallowed by an hourglass; they saw away at the same old creaky strophes of received wisdom as if nothing short of divine revelation could awaken a new thought, eject the dust bunnies from their brains. (Will, who might have filled the throne of conservatism’s beloved elder statesman vacated by William F. Buckley Jr., seems to have resigned and consigned himself to tedium.) To delve into the editorial pages of The Washington Post is to crack open an even creakier sarcophagus, where the dead paw of consensus maintains a semblance of order, continuity, prudence. Screams of boredom echo through the vault, but the sneer etched on columnist Charles Krauthammer’s face remains unmerciful. Every time political analysts Dick Morris, Bob Beckel, and Karl Rove surface on Fox News like plump juicy roasters, I think, Shouldn’t they be floating on a barge somewhere, bound for obscurity? Why’s Pat Buchanan still hanging around? On CNN’s political panels Jeffrey Toobin appears to be the only intellectually adept non-android. With Barack Obama as president and the super-happening Michelle Obama as First Lady, you would think a new tone, a new tune, a kicky new jazzitude, would have entered Washington discourse, but it remains a landlocked island unto itself, held captive by its tribal fevers.
That the cultural eco-system of Washington, D.C., is out of whack with the rest of the country isn’t tree-shaking news. In 1994, Kevin Phillips published a polemic called Arrogant Capital, and the arrogance has only compounded since then, keeping pace with the rising price of psychodrama. The Beltway media went into caroming-off-the-walls hysterics over Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, whipping itself into a flaming casserole even as Clinton’s standing with the American people remained upright and firm, so to speak. It reprised the Monster Mash with the frenzy over the Congressman Gary Condit and Chandra Levy scandal, in the summer of 2001, the nightly panels on Hardball, Fox News, and Larry King Live spinning ever more baroque abduction/homicide theories about the intern’s disappearance as al-Qaeda quietly put the finishing touches on its surprise package for September. The ramp-up to the war in Iraq—no need to rewind that chapter of disgrace. Nor re-stage the tragic soap opera of Terri Schiavo from 2005 (though it seems so much longer ago, the product of a more primitive people), and the unhingement that ensued, with a recessed Congress scurrying to the Capitol for a special weekend session to pass hasty legislation putting her case under federal review, a bill that President Bush flew back from his Crawford, Texas, hobby farm to sign. And yet despite getting it so dependably, stupendously wrong, the hive-mind of the Beltway bubble seems incapable of evolving and developing the introspective faculties that distinguish sentient beings from the Real Housewives of Orange County. Its wagon wheels travel the same old ruts.
In the first weeks of the Obama administration, “bipartisanship” was the reigning buzzword, and when the Beltway thinks bipartisan, it pictures President Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill putting aside their differences and forging a legislative partnership, a ruddy pair of genial patriarchs bonding over the Blarney Stone. (Their Sunshine Boys routine supplies the first point of reference for nearly every stream of consciousness Sam Donaldson wades into on This Week.) If only the ghosts of the Gipper and the Tipper could inspire similar outreaches across the aisle, pined the Beltway oracles, playing matchmaker. When the newly elected Obama was assembling his Cabinet, Time reporter Karen Tumulty, writing for the magazine’s Swampland blog, offered “an out-of-the-box suggestion” for who should become health-and-human-services secretary—former Republican governor and candidate Mitt Romney, that aerosol can that couldn’t. As with so many who pride themselves on thinking outside the box, Tumulty would have been better off closing the cardboard flaps instead. Such stunt-casting would have dashed any hopes of a political future for Romney within the Republican Party against the jagged rocks, and stuck the Obama administration with a possible prima donna, violating its no-drama edict. Throwing Romney’s name into the hopper reflected the fetish that Washington entertains for a centrism that converts everything to mush.
At his Trail Mix blog at Congressional Quarterly’s site, Craig Crawford ventured even farther outside the box—and into the ozone—to unveil his own magic pick for H.H.S. secretary: Mr. Flour Power himself, Newt Gingrich. Anticipating the rhubarb this selection would provoke, Crawford wrote:
Now before you lefties have a collective heart attack, think about it. Something as big as overhauling our entire health care system will be tougher to get done on a purely partisan basis. There are Republicans who want to play.
As much as it would infuriate liberals, picking Gingrich would be a hyper-bipartisan move.
Only within the Beltway popcorn popper could Gingrich, whose serpent tongue and ogre ego did so much to polarize discourse in the 1990s and abort reform, be considered a foxy catch. Only in Washington, D.C., could Gingrich, a magpie of futurist jargon and a bumptious opportunist, pass himself off as an iconoclastic force and centrifuge of ideas, a cross between Buckminster Fuller and Che Guevara leading a commando raid on the buffet table. And only within the punditocracy could “hyper-bipartisan” be bandied about as an aphrodisiac.
Now I personally like Karen Tumulty and the posts she puts up over at Swampland but the author has it right here, her pronoucement that Mitt Romney might be in the running for HHS Secretary was just.....weird. And I told her so at the time. Mittens isn't a health care reformer and neither is Arnold Scharzenegger. They are both grand standers who only wanted to push health care reform to burnish their own resumes. But when push came to shove they both blinked and in Mittens case watered down his health care plan. The whole post deserves a full reading.