The DC Bubble
Marc Ambinder is leaving Washington, DC, after 11 years, and moving to LA. Here’s his list of 10 things he learned about the nation’s capital in his time there. Excerpt:
The Dems just barely have an actual political party organization, thanks to the president’s re-election campaign. And labor is no longer its financial base, not even (if you’ll pardon) its labor base; gays, Jews, and tech form the party’s three-legged financial platform now. But Republicans have no party. It’s a PINO—a Party in Name Only, and the name “Republican” is especially unpopular. But what’s there cannot exist without catering to the interests of Christian conservatives. (I don’t think the party can be more tolerant of gay people because such a large percentage of the people whose ideas matter are anti-gay.) Despite the fact that these parties barely hold together, the tribalism that now defines our politics broadly has come to define our identification with just about everything that politics touches. Identities (the Republican Party, the Democratic Party) are much more factions vying for supremacy within rather than interests with overlapping goals vying for control of what’s outside. They have to go somewhere, and the much augured third party … of isolationist economically-libertarian social conservatives… never seems to materialize, even when the two party system is as degraded as it can get.
Hey, that’s the TAC Party!
I lived in Washington from 1992 to 1995, and within the DC-NYC media-political bubble for longer than that. I can’t pretend I know what it’s like in the city, or within the bubble, today, but the thing that stands out to me most now is how unbelievably self-important, and self-referential, it was. I say that critically — how could I not? — but I also say it descriptively. From inside the bubble, it’s very, very hard to imagine what life is like outside. This is a banal observation, but I’ll give you a few illustrations from my own life.
1. It is 1994, and I’m back in St. Francisville that spring visiting family. The Republican Revolution has just taken over Congress. I’m working for The Washington Times, the conservative paper in DC. Liberals are freaking out (“Speaker Gingrich! Aieeee!”), conservatives think we’re in the Promised Land, and … nobody back home gives a rat’s ass, for the most part. I can’t believe it. I’m shocked. I’m scandalized. What is wrong with people?!
True, they should have cared more. Big and consequential things were happening in Washington then. But the greater truth is that I mistook the parochial obsessions of my professional class as more important than they really were.
2. It’s the summer of 1995, and I’ve just moved to south Florida to take a new journalism job. I have a fit of remorse, feeling that I just left the center of the universe for … what? I sit in my apartment in Fort Lauderdale and watch C-SPAN and wonder what kind of fool am I for having left such a great and glorious place.
It takes a few more years before I can think of myself, near tears watching C-SPAN like that, and realize that I was indeed a fool, just not the fool I thought I was back then.
3. It’s five minutes ago, and I’m sitting in my living room back in my hometown of St. Francisville, as happy and as settled as I’ve ever been. I am 45 years old. I read Marc Ambinder’s list, and think about how boring and superficial and cynical America’s national politics are. And I think about how I, who once imagined a career spent working in media and politics, can barely stand to read the daily paper’s coverage because politics now strike me as so unimportant to the real events determining the dreams and the lives of the American people. And I think about Charles Peguy’s great line: “Homer is new this morning, and perhaps nothing is as old as today’s newspaper.”