Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Washington’s Political Nobility

Our system of government was conceived as a Republic governed by citizens as representatives of their peers. The citizen-politician embodied this ideal. Many great Americans went to Washington as Representatives or as Senators for one term or maybe two, but never with the idea of making a career out of politics. It was seen rather as a responsibility to serve the nation.

Things have changed over the years. We have arrived at the point where service in the House of Representatives and the Senate is seen as one of the most lucrative careers that a man or woman can aspire to. It is seen as the most desirable long-term position; one that if done well, will employ a person in luxury until their very comfortable retirement. The trouble is that in order to get the true monetary advantages and power that the positions in the Senate and the House can offer a successful candidate from Dogstown, that new Representative must be sharp enough to look for the benefits that are not included in the job description.

Washington revolves around the 535 men and women who serve in the House and the Senate. The entire metropolitan area is involved directly or indirectly with the Federal government. So the people that can move things along, who can propose or change legislation, that can add earmarks to benefit the farm lobby or the big manufacturer back home in Howardsville, have incredible clout in Washington. The lobbyists and restaurant maitre d’s and pages and subsecretaries of the myriad agencies and departments all fall over themselves sucking up to the mighty 535. Given such constant attention, some (or maybe most) of our representatives forget where they came from and become Washington’s “political nobility”.

I have decided to use the term "political nobility" to describe that class of Washington politician who serves and is served by professional political apparatchiks: either lobbyists, bureaucrats or pundits that are also divorced from the world outside of the beltway. Our Political nobility, like the grandchildren of the Dukes and Baronesses that Louis XIV had relocated permanently to Versailles, and who under Louis XVI played palace politics while Paris burned, is much more preoccupied with each one’s political position and prestige in Washington than they are concerned about the effects of their policies on the rest of the nation and the rest of the world. Their vision is only inward, policies that should be made into law are important only insofar as they generate more power or attention in Washington.

The opinions of the rest of America are seen to be quaint and easy to manipulate when the Noble has good relations with the mainstream media. After all the recognized members of the mainstream media are also included in Washington's nobility, although at a lower and dependent level. Together with the real royalty, the leaders of corporate America, the political nobility and the Dukes and Barons of the media present an alternative reality to America. The reality presented to Americans has little or nothing to do with what really goes on in the Capitol.

What really goes on is a constant competition for favour and influence. What matters is bulding the relationships that allows for greater power among the other nobles. Therefore the political nobility is afraid of advancing radical ideas that might jeopardize an important power group because they avoid creating dangerous enemies. The political nobility is a closed club where confrontation is for show and real conflict disappears with behind closed-door arrangements. The maverick who does stand up for principles is shunned by the nobles and is not awarded with commitee chairs and other positions of power.

Some of the men and women elected to represent us are completely compromised by this system, others are amazingly resistant to the system’s temptations, and of course the majority of our representatives find themselves somewhere in between the virtue of true service and the crime of corruption. Examples abound, but I would suggest that Tom DeLay, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Shumer are some of the worst examples of the political nobility. In contrast, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold are examples of citizen-politicians.

The term “political nobility” is therefore useful to describe this group that lies and postures and drives us to ruin, with no concern about anything more transcendental than how it will spin in Washington. Thanks to the political nobility’s preoccupation with personal privilege and power we have two pointless wars, a crashing dollar and a world that sees us as killers and torturers.


Alex said...

Yes, we have a political nobility. It's been that way ever since the early days of the American Republic. Washington, Madison, and Hamilton weren't exactly yeoman farmers. Although the system may not be the best, it can still limp along somewhat effectively.

Chris said...

"Yes, we have a political nobility. It's been that way ever since the early days of the American Republic. Washington, Madison, and Hamilton weren't exactly yeoman farmers."

When Bush camps out in Valley Forge and leads an army against a larger one in Revolution, you let me know.