Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- December 28, 2006

Snobocracy: When “The Right People”
Run Washington


Ernest Partridge


"This beautiful capital is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way."

President Bill Clinton
First Inaugural Address

Two days before the August 8, 2006 Connecticut primary, Corinne Boggs “Cokie” Roberts reflected on ABC’s “This Week” that it would be "a disaster for the Democratic Party" if Joseph Lieberman were to lose that primary election to Ned Lamont. "I think”, she said, “ that ... pushing the party to the left, which is what's likely to happen, is pushing the party to the position from which it traditionally loses ... presidential elections.”

I suspect that Ms. Roberts was less concerned about the future of the Democratic Party than she was about the seating arrangement at Steve and Cokie Roberts’ New Years Eve gala. After all, Joe and Hadassah are such fine folks, and DC High Society simply would not be the same without them.

And so, perhaps because Ned Lamont and the voters in the Connecticut Democratic primary could not be allowed to upset the proper order of things in Washington Society, Lamont’s campaign was abandoned by the Democratic “centrists,” and, with the indispensable support of a majority of Connecticut republican voters, Lieberman kept his seat as an "Independent."

Read closely both on and between the lines of Washington (so-called) “journalism,” and you will find evidence of an unelected “shadow-government”of comfortable, self-appointed and self-satisfied DC elites, composed of lobbyists, pundits, publishers, diplomats, military, and, of course, politicians. This is the Washington “snobocracy.” It decides, through its “establishment” media, what news, information and opinion are worthy of the public’s attention. And it determines if a politician’s life in the nation’s Capital will be comfortable and productive or an unremitting misery, as Bill and Hillary Clinton were to discover.

The snobocrats share a bond of community that is unperturbed by such mundane concerns as partisanship. This non-partisan conviviality is typified by the ownership of a Washington steakhouse, “The Caucus Room,” which opened in August, 2000:

Thomas H. Boggs Jr., a prominent lobbyist [and brother of Cokie Roberts], and Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now in the lobbying business, hold the largest shares, $150,000 each. Ted Leonsis, a top executive at America Online, and Jon Ledecky, another Internet entrepreneur, are also investors.

[The owners are] a bipartisan bunch: Terry McAuliffe, President Clinton's top fund-raiser; C. Boyden Gray, a former counsel to President Bush and now with the law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering; Thomas Downey, a former Democratic congressman and now a lobbyist; Richard Burt, the former ambassador to Germany; and Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster. (Marian Burros, New York Times, August 30, 2000).

These “beltway insiders,” as DC High Society chronicler Sally Quinn calls them, “have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it” – it is their “town.” “We have our own set of village rules,” says advisor-to-any-President, David Gergen, “there’s a small-town quality here.” (Quinn).

The snobocracy is typified by veteran pundit, David Broder.
As David Sirota observes:

In David Broder's world, those hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers who have been thrown out onto the street thanks to NAFTA ... are the filth of the earth that high and mighty elite Washington journalists like him cannot be bothered with. In David Broder's world, any request for our trade pacts to include restrictions on child slavery, environmental degradation, and pharmaceutical industry profiteering off desperately poor people, [is] positively un-American. Why? Because David Broder lives in a place where all of these critical issues are merely just more fodder and gossip for a newspaper column - not real challenges in his life, nor in the life of the people he spends his time with in the Washington Beltway.

Upon reading Broder, Quinn, Cokie Roberts, et al, one wonders if these worthies might not be reluctant to venture far beyond the beltway, lest they fall off the edge.

It was into this forbidding scene that Bill and Hillary Clinton arrived in 1993. As Eric Alterman observed, notwithstanding their law degrees from Yale, and Bill Clinton’s Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, the snobocracy seemed to regard the new President as “some Ozark hick who failed to pay proper heed to their superior social grace and aristocratic breeding.”

And Hillary stepped on to the scene on the decidedly wrong foot.
Salon’s Harry Jaffe reports:

According to society sources, Sally [Quinn] invited Hillary to a luncheon when the Clintons came to town in 1993. Sally stocked her guest list with her best buddies and prepared to usher the first lady into the capital's social whirl. Apparently, Hillary didn't accept. Miffed, Sally wrote a catty piece in the Post about Mrs. Clinton. Hillary made sure that Quinn rarely made it into the White House dinners or social events.

In return, Sally started talking trash about Hillary to her buddies, and her animus became a staple of the social scene. "There's just something about her that pisses people off," Quinn is quoted as saying in a New Yorker article about Hillary...

David Broder famously remarked to Sally Quinn, that Bill Clinton “came in here and trashed the place, and it’s not his place.”  It never seemed to occur to Broder, Quinn, or the snobocrats, that Washington DC is not their “place” either.  It is, or at least was meant to be, the American people’s “place.”

The Clinton's arrival in David Broder's "place" was followed by Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, and Ken Starr and his $55 million search for a crime to fit the punishment. No dice. And finally, at long last, paydirt: Monica!

Thanks to the 2006 election, the snobocracy may be losing its grip on Washington. But it remains a significant player in our politics.  For despite  the clear message from the voters that it is past time for progressive reform and renewal, the snobocracy is pulling hard to the center-right. Again, just read and watch the mainstream media. The Democrats, inside and outside of Washington, must resist this pull persistently and forcefully.

The best way for the American public and the newly-elected Democrats to deal with the snobocracy is to ignore it. Attention and publicity are its mother’s milk. Without them, it will wither. The snobocracy’s primary outreach to the public, and thence its influence upon the Congress, is through the DC punditry. Thankfully, because the pundits’ commentaries have been so spectacularly off-base during the past six years, the public appears to be paying much less attention to them.

When in 1790, the U.S Congress passed legislation to establish a new capital city, it selected an uninhabited tidal marsh on the estuary of the Potomac River. It was hoped that a new city might leave behind the corruption of the previous capitals, New York and Philadelphia.

Perhaps it’s time to move again, leaving the snobocrats behind to party-on to their hearts’ content, but out of harm’s way. Madison Wisconsin strikes me as an ideal location. Or maybe another “from-scratch” city, this time along the upper Mississippi River.

For unless the United States Government once again pays attention to the scientists and acts decisively about the global climate crisis, it will have to move in any case.

After all, the District of Columbia is located at sea level.

Copyright 2006, by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .