Time to Tighten the Beltway?

Legend has it that someone (William F. Buckley Jr. is suggested) included an index entry in a book that read: “Mailer, Norman—Hi Norman!”  That tale comes to mind in connection with the hubbub about the new Mark Leibovich book, This Town, which offers syrupy dish on the insider mentality of Washington DC.  The book has no index, so that all the marks in it will have to read through it to find their names and the names of their favorite marks instead of just turning to the index.

Everyone is seizing on their favorite dish about specific individuals, but the real subtext is how it portrays the world of the Beltway as completely corrupt in the 18th century “country versus court” sense that Angelo Codevilla rightly excoriates in The Ruling Class, which is actually the book people should read as a companion to This Town.  I wonder how many readers outside the Beltway—if there are very many; this book seems like Hollywood gossip without the glamour—will get the point that the root of the corruption of the very size and nature of Washington DC itself, and that the only remedy for this problem is to shrink or devolve government radically.  As I’ve long said, the way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of high places.  You certainly won’t hear this from Leibovich or any of his New York Times colleagues.  Washington Post Outlook section editor Carlos Lozada (who was always very kind to me during my decade in DC, soliciting several features for the Sunday page) notes the missing aspects of Leibovich in a review: “[There is a] question that hovers over every page of his book: Is it really possible to be the impartial critic of a subculture that is also your own?”

You also don’t hear a critique of Washington’s insider culture directly enough from many conservatives, too many of whom go to Washington resolved to drain the swamp, only to find that it is a hot tub.  I could name names, but it would become a phone book-sized list.  As my mentor M. Stanton Evans said way back in the Nixon years, “Why is it that whenever one of us gets into a position of power to do some good, he’s no longer one of us?”

In any case, this Wall Street Journal editorial, “Lifestyles of the Beltway,” caught my attention:

We’ve often argued that Washington has lost touch with the rest of America.  A pair of recent market surveys compared Washington’s tastes and incomes with the rest of the country, and the results are in: The Beltway really is different. . .

[M]uch of the divide separating the Beltway from America is rooted in class.  Washingtonians are simply richer than the rest of the country. . .  What emerges overall from the data is a portrait of an elite culture, a sort of American royal court divorced from common tastes.  This explain why the city is periodically surprised when it is swept by shock waves of public opinion from the hinterlands—whetehr to cut taxes of reject a government pay raise.

It also explains why Members of Congress who come to Washington bent on representing the home folks go native.  The local vapors are intoxicating; the boulevards are tree-lined; the restaurants serve gourmet food; the lifestyle is good.  As Hemingway might have said, Washington’s rich really are different.  They have more of our money.

Did I forget to mention that this editorial ran in the Journal in August of 1989?

Pitchforks.  Tar.  Feathers.

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