January 21, 2014
In a paroxysm of patriotic musing, I reflected that Washington is an insular, incestuous, inward-looking city, chiefly interested in itself, so politically inbred as to be in danger of hemophilia, out of touch with reality, having remarkably little understanding of or interest in the rest of the country or the world. Isnl’t this wonderful?
Inbreeding? By comparison with the Yankee Capital, West Virginians are on the outer limits of hybrid vigor. We had Bush I, a mediocrity but no worse, and later Bush II, in whom mediocrity would have been a welcome astonishment. We had Clinton the First, Bill, who was at least intelligent, then almost had Clinton II, who instead became Secretary of State, for which her only qualification was having been First Basilisk. Hillary lost the presidency to Barack Obama, whose only qualification was being black and reading a teleprompter well. Next we are likely to get Hillary anyway, and before that we almost had Kerry, whose only qualification was having married a pickle heiress. He is now Secretary of State, for no discernible reason.
So it goes in the national sandbox. Dynasty, nepotism, simony, a small self-absorbed ruling class of no particular merit awarding itself crucial jobs for reasons of keeping itself in power. How long will that work? I have read that the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist (sic) Party consists of eight engineers and an economist. We are ruled by a mob of provincial lawyers. Engineers make products. Lawyers make laws. Hmmmm.
The problem, sez me, or at any rate one problem, is that democracy doesn’t scale well. When the proprietor of a hardware store in Falrmville or Barstow or East Bronchitis or wherever gets elected mayor, he may inadvertently do a good job since he actually knows his town and the people in it. But then he runs for national office and gets to be, say, a congressman or, God help us, moves into the Great Double-Wide on Pennsylvania Avenue. (It occasionally happens: We don’t always get rich twerps with private jets and twelve toes from always being in bed with each other.)
We thn have a negligible attorney who will stay in Congress forever,, who has never been in the military, presiding over an aggressive, nuclear-armed military that couldn’t win a bar fight against an octogenarian in a wheel chair. He is a mere over-promoted ward heeler, he and hundreds like him in the legislature, but makes industrial policy. He has—they have—perhaps never even been in a foreign country other than Arkansas, speak no language but English, but make foreign policy for…you see.
So how does the rest of the country know what its government is doing? It doesn’t. It can’t. The media constitute an almost impermeable shield between Washington and the outer reality festering beyond the Beltway. You’ve heard of synchronized swimming? Try synchronized thinking. It should be an Olympic sport, as everything else seems to be. America would dominate.
In Washington, journalism is founded on diversity. This is a good thing, the dangers of a homogeneous press corps being obvious. Thus in the newsroom of the Washington Post, for example, you find white reporters who all think the same things, black reporters who all think the same things as the white reporters, Jewish, Asian, gay, lesbian, Hispanic, and undecided reporters, who all think the same things. Diversity is their strength.
In fact all across America you see journalistic diversity. We have a wide diversity of newspapers, television stations, radio outlets, all owned by the same few corporations, which all have the same interests. Diversity is their strength too.
The principle characteristic of the media is that they don’t cover much of anything. They do cover themselves (which doesn’t contradict the foregoing statement). If some bubble-headed babble-blonde—I think there is one called Katie Couric—moves from one indistinguishable network to another, we hear about it for weeks. I once saw on television someone called Peers, or maybe Piers, Morgan, who displayed the incisive intelligence of a platypus. His ratings were said to be falling: maybe there is hope for the US public after all. Anyway, for some reason this was news, that and how Bill O’Reilly and several helmet-haired Republican women at Fox News are doing. The media are the story.
Reporters cover each other like Spandex pants, but—I’m serious, think about this— they barely glance at most of the government. When did you last see coverage of HUD? The Bureau of Indian Affairs? The Department of Transportation? FAA? EPA? We get the occasional press release from these, but little else. No one knows what lurks in the bureaucratic shadows, but I promise it costs a lot.
Actually there is very little coverage of things that get a lot of coverage: the White House, DoD, and State. At the White House everything is tightly stage-managed, and a reporter who asks awkward questions never gets called on again. At the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel, which I knew well in my days as an inmate of the press corps, A Story would occur. Maybe a weapon didn’t work, or was said not to work. So every reporter in Washington would frantically write about whatever it was:
Instead of lots of stories, it was one story lots of times. We see the same pattern with Obamacare (an abortion that contains all other abortions: It sounds like set theory). Hundreds, nay, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of reporters write that it is hard to sign up. Wouldn’t one have been enough? How about some intelligent analysis from a software weenie who designs large programs?
What pours from Washington through the Electronic Wonderland of DC is a Bizarro World of things that don’t exist and aren’t as they are shown. For example, presidents don’t exist. What you see in Rose-Garden photo ops is a virtual-reality amalgam crafted by five pollsters, three speech-writers, several calculating back-room political strategists, an ad agency, a make-up artist and a gestures coach. The actual president is incidental. In fact, he is actually viewed as an impediment by his handlers, who think that the less known about him, the better. Note that the first thing they do is hide his scholastic record and SATs.
If you want something resembling an accurate picture of the government and its misbehavior, you can piece it together from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, Drudge, the Unz Review, and Antiwar.com. If you want actual government, it’s hopeless. But Washington’s antics are at least interesting. You know, like watching the fingers fall off a leprosy patient.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About VietNam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.
Copyright © 2014 Fred Reed