As some of you may know, I’m addicted to the Washington Post online chats. During a chat just before Xmas, Larry Sabato advised:
If you have even a few spare hours over the holidays, then read or re-read Robert Penn Warren’s ALL THE KING’S MEN. Its universal lessons apply to so many current events.
Normally, I don’t take advice from pundits who style themselves so closely after John Waters, but I went ahead and read the book and was glad I did. All the Kings’s Men is by far the best book about politics I’ve ever read.
So I’m going to advise you, if you have a few spare minutes today or tomorrow, then read or reread (I imagine many of you have already read it) the most important article about the Washington Establishment I’ve ever read. It’s Sally Quinn’s piece about Villager attitudes towards Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewisnky. The whole article is so edifying that it’s hard to know what to excerpt but here’s a try:
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
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.
“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.”
“The judgment is harsher in Washington,” says The Post’s Broder. “We don’t like being lied to.”
As I said before, many of you have likely read this before, but read it again. It is a timeless piece that never loses its power to shock. Think about this, for example: If they did this at the local Elks Club hall in some other community it would be a big cause for concern. Is that in any way true? I live a pretty staid life and off the top of my head I can think of four acquaintances who have had extramarital affairs much more sordid than this. My own State Senator (who belongs to all sorts of Elk Lodge type groups) was reportedly beaten to a pulp by a town sheriff when he was caught in flagrante delicto with the sheriff’s wife. And no one in his district (which is literally almost the same district in which Big Russ himself dwells) cared.
This is the no socks phenomenon all over again: Washington Insiders project their own stupidity onto the American public. There’s no evidence that voters care whether or not politicians wear socks (indeed the case of Sockless Jerry Simpson argues to the contrary) and there’s no evidence Elk Lodgers get their panties in a twist over extramarital affairs.
And how about this? We don’t like being lied to. I won’t bore you by enumerating the Bush lies about torture, WMD, Scooter Libby, etc. but how on earth could a Washington scribe claim he didn’t like being lied to?
Maybe I’ve been reading too much Bob Somerby lately. But I still don’t think the horror of this piece has really sunk in with many people yet, even eight years after it was written.