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. Isn’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, who was at least intelligent, then we almost had Clinton II, who instead became Secretary of State, for which her only qualification was having been First Basilisk. Hillary lost the nomination 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, and a small, self-absorbed ruling class of no particular merit awarding itself crucial jobs to keep 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 Farmville 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, he 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 being in bed with each other.)
We then have a negligible attorney who will stay in Congress forever and 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 wheelchair. He is a mere over-promoted ward heeler, he and hundreds like him in the legislature, but he makes industrial policy. He has—they have—perhaps never even been in a foreign country other than Arkansas and speak no language but English, but they 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 as the black reporters, who all think the same things as the Jewish, Asian, gay, lesbian, Hispanic, and undecided reporters. Diversity is their strength.
In fact, all across America you see journalistic diversity. We have a wide diversity of newspapers, television stations, and radio outlets all owned by the same few corporations, which all have the same interests. Diversity is their strength, too.
The principal 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 it was 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 is the story.