When Did DC Go Bad?

Atrios writes.

My theory has long been that after 8 years of Nixon/Ford, a brief 4 year pause of Carter, then 12 years of Reagan/Bush, that Washington had become a Republican town from top to bottom.  Clinton coming into town really did upset the socio-economic order, and David Broder and the gang didn't like the fact that the "good people" they had lovely dinner parties with had to go and find new jobs.

I think Atrios is on to it.  Still, there was a Democratic Congress until 1994, though it was a working majority for Reagan from 1981-1983 and it had a fair number of business Democrats and Dixiecrats in there who were largely concerned with defense and farm pork.  

Also, if you read Boys on the Bus starring David Broder as a 1972 version of his own self, you'll note that the dude was always a bipartisan above all else wanker, even when Nixon was shutting out the press from his campaign (in a prelude to Bush) and lying about Vietnam.  And Brit Hume was just a regular ole reporter back then, Hunter Thompson was giving us a sense that it really was the silly season, the press was pretty much in the tank with regards to the New Left (ah, hippies, scary!).  Watergate really broke after the election, and Republicans were pretty partisan over Nixon's coming impeachment.  

Broadly Atrios is right - DC has been a home for an elite ruling class since 1968, but it didn't get really radical until 1994.  We can't forget that somehow David Broder managed to make peace with a Democratic Congress, and that those dinner parties had a lot of Democrats on the invite list.  The most prominent of these Democrats now serve on bipartisan commissions like the Iraq Study Group and the new one on Walter Reed, or create think tanks on bipartisanship and farm policy or entitlements (money to regular Americans, bad!).  They helped sandbag Clinton when he came into office (Sam Nunn for instance), setting the stage for the loss of the Midwest and the South and the decline of a moderate center.  The left had already died a long time before that.

UPDATE: Maybe DC has been a company town for a lot longer. I'm reading about Truman and the crushing Democratic midterm loss he presided over in 1946 (which was as bad as the loss in 1994). Tell me if this doesn't remind you of Lieberman.

Soon after the election, Democratic Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas urged Truman to resign from office, even going so far as to suggest that the president appoint a Republican, Arthur Vandenberg, as secretary of state. (Under the law of succession at that time, Vandenberg would be next in line to the White House, since there was no vice president.) A former Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Fulbright analogized Truman's situation to that of a British prime minister who had met defeat in a general election after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament. Similarly, Fulbright reasoned, since the 1946 election had been a referendum on Truman's leadership, he should turn the reins of power over to some prominent Republican, who could work with Congress and so avoid a divided government.

Both Marshall Field's Chicago Sun, one of the country's leading liberal papers, and the Atlanta Constitution, long the foremost Democratic newspaper in the South, counseled Truman to accept Fulbright's recommendation.

Tags: Media, netroots, Washington (all tags)



I agree 100 %

Even NPR is being tainted by this.

I listen to Dianne Rehm pretty frequently, and am becoming more and more annoyed by the extremely biased panels which they put together.  Time after time, the panel includes a Republican and two journalists.


The Rehm show appears to believe that no bias is shown when a conservative and a journalist are on the same panel.

On last Wed's show, they discussed the surge.  They had Fred Kagan on as the author of the surge, and no strong critic.  Instead of a domestic critic, they had some English guy on long-distance telephone.

This morning, they had a panel about the US Attorney scandal. They had two journalists and 1 Republican lawyer who was a high official in Bush I, who proceeded to defend the administration.  They also had a US Attorney on the phone who was a republican.

Where are the Democrats?

by dataguy 2007-03-19 07:03AM | 0 recs
Not just Democrats - where are the labor leaders?

I hate posts where I reveal my age, but here I go again: when Walter Cronkite, and David Brinkley and Chet Huntly were anchors a news story always had perspective from labor leaders.

I consider myself an informed person but I can't tell you the names of the head of the AFL CIO or Teamsters or AFSME without the aids of google.

Labor leaders names were known to the vast majority of the public 30 years ago - no longer though

If the Democrats don't wake up and see that the bookings on these shows will lead to the same thing as has happened to labor leaders they are naive. That's why the FOX Nevada debate issue was so important - there needs to be more of that going on

by merbex 2007-03-19 08:54AM | 0 recs
Agree about DR Show and NPR in general
Today's guest drove me crazy - to the point, I switched to Morning Edition. (We have 2 NPR stations ).
DR show prompted me to send an email to NPR Ombudsman.
by saguaro 2007-03-19 10:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Agree about DR Show and NPR in general

Good for you. Keep sending those emails. It only takes a minute and it's an effective to send a message.

I usually print my email out (after I send it), fax it to the recipient, then put it in an envelope and mail the hard copy. That's three communications with one message. But that's like five minutes or more and I would only recommend doing that at work while on the clock.

by Tim in SF 2007-03-19 01:00PM | 0 recs

Where are the Democrats? I'm not sure.

This is one of the things I find most perplexing and infuriating about the traditional media.

Whether its you're local NPR affiliate or national broadcast news, panels are always stacked with conservatives and objective journalists, rarely with any liberals.

I'm not sure why. I guess if I worked at one of these stations/programs I might know.

But I suspect a big part of the reason is that conservatives have spent a lot of time building a large messaging infrastructure. And this infrastructure includes includes creating contacts with media outlets and their programs, and having  people ready to go on these shows and talk about whatever topic is at hand.

So, if you are a radio show producer, and you need guests to talk about the most recent Republican scandal, you know a whole bunch of conservatives ready to come on the air. If one is booked, you know another one (and the busy person probably has an alternate in mind already).

Whereas you the producer have fewer contacts in the liberal world, and if Liberal A is unavailable, the producer is not sure where to turn for Liberal B (and neither is Liberal A).

That's my suspicion, and it's probably just one factor as to why there is such uneven representation. Obviously, the blogosphere is ahead of the curve and is trying to tackle this problem (since existing Democratic institutions don't seem particularly interested in doing so). Hopefully it is just a matter of time -- that give us another 5 to 10 years, and we'll be able to match conservatives.

Of course, writing or calling your favorite shows and letting them know your frustrations certainly goes a long way as well.

by LiberalFromPA 2007-03-19 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

People with power are more comfortable getting ideas from their peers than the hoi polloi.

It's elitism.

by Carl Nyberg 2007-03-19 07:09AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?
Speaking of elitism...

People with power are more comfortable getting ideas from their peers than the hoi polloi.

"hoi" means "the."
by MasonMcD 2007-03-19 09:46AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

As someone who lives in the greater Washington DC area and is old enough to remember, I think you cannot overestimate the importance of the failure of the Labor Law Reform Act of 1978. Union busting picked up as a result. The weakening of the labor movement was a dress rehearsal for driving Democrats into the minority, a little like the coup in the Teamsters was a dress reheasal for Clinton's impeachment.

It didn't help that George Meaney and Lane Kirkland were more interested in the cold war rather than organizing.

by Alice Marshall 2007-03-19 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

And then Reagan's firing of the Air Traffic Controllers to show the futility of public employee unions at the federal level.

But Fulbright gets a bum rap if he is compared to Lieberman.  He is one of the real heroes of the fight to stop the Vietnam War.  As head of the Foreign Relations Committee, he held hearings that questioned the war.  He was a southerner with the biases of his time and place, but he really had the ability to grow.  He is not at all comparable to Lieberman.

by Mimikatz 2007-03-19 09:23AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

The other thing that gets missed is the labor scandals of the 1960s-70s from Jimmy Hoffa to Jackie Presser to Tony Scotto hurt the labor brand a lot.  While most unions were not mobbed up like the Teamsters and dock workers, these stories were on the news daily and tainted people's views of the labor movement.

The "benign neglect" of organizing from the AFL-CIO leadership and the changing workforce which was becoming more white collar didn't help either.

by John Mills 2007-03-19 12:58PM | 0 recs
Move it to Pierre

South Dakota, that is. Or Bismarck, ND, or Helena, Montana. Or all three on a rotating basis.

The Legislature consists of 535 people who speak and vote on stuff. With modern technology making more and more services virtual, there is no reason for this body to stay rooted to an address in DC. Sure, sure, there's history there - but look what hath we wrought. Maybe they come back for opening and closing ceremonies, but the rest of the time they are on the road.

Move it, or lose it. Like the real estate and restaurant business, its all about location, location, location.

Disruptive? You bet. There will be legion upon legion of "interested" parties who will tell you moving the Legislature is a bad idea, and why. But unless you lift the hull out of the water to scrape the barnacles every once in awhile, she's going to move more slowly every time you set sail.

Logistics? Good point. Ever attended a convention of 5,000 people? It takes a bunch of lifting to get it done - but it's NOT IMPOSSIBLE. The crew that wires the Swan, the Dolphin and the Boardwalk for conventions beyond count at Disneyworld in Orlando can tell you exactly how its done, how long it takes, and how much it costs.

If it puts Broderella and his ilk out of a job, or gets them on a diet away from the catered DC circuit, so be it. My democracy is worth it.

Imagine how much stuff the Legislation could get done without distraction, plus the great weekend getaways in every part of this beautiful country.

Makes me want to run for Congress.


by GuyFromOhio 2007-03-19 08:12AM | 0 recs
Congress was key (and is key)

Losing the Congress in 1994 (specifically the House) was key to the change in this town.

I worked on the hill in the late 80s and there was still, actual honest bipartisaniship going on. GOP Senators like Heinz and even Packwood cared more about the Senate and the Country than putting their own party in power.

That all changed when the house turned over... because of the new house leadership, the K St. project and the loss of the semi permanent Democratic House committee staff.  

The press -- focused on power always, let's not fool ourselves -- and others found that they only way to stay relevant to power was to embrace the new radical GOP.  Hence, Juan Williams/Mara Liaision on Fox, Bill Keller's strange embrace of the Iraq war at the NYT and the death of the public servant (the exit or radicalization of Sununu, Danforth, etc.).

What is happening now is that the press and body politic in DC believed that the Dems were dead and so were completely surprised when they reclaimed power.  The old habits -- trash Clinton, liberalism, government -- still get you on the talk shows but no longer make you relevant (if you are an aspiring pundit or political player).  And, the folks who made it this way are incredibly resentful of the change to the system that gave them power, money and prominence.  

The best thing to do is to keep on blowing them up and a new DC press/lobbying elite will form based around the new reality in power.  And, we need to never forget in the future that it is this desire for power -- and not objectivity in journalism, or a desire for good government etc. -- that dictates coverage and policy in this town.

by lojo 2007-03-19 08:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Congress was key (and is key)

I wonder if Heinz would be a Repub if he were still alive.  The party is so far from what he stood for.  

by John Mills 2007-03-19 01:00PM | 0 recs
DC Has Always Been "Unique"

That's about the nicest possible way I can put it. Trying to put an origin to it is mostly pointless. If I had to pick a time - I think post 1968 would be the best guess (the same time the left starting going down hill.) It got worse under Reagan, and got really bad after '94.

However, DC has always been a cesspool of insiders and conventional wisdom. It truly has been a political "bubble." For pre-1968 stuff, look no further than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

by gatordemocrat 2007-03-19 08:27AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

For anyone interested in finding out how infuriatingly hostile a place DC can be (even to people as "centrist" as the Clintons), I highly recommend "The Clinton Wars" by Sidney Blumenthal.    

by LSdemocrat1 2007-03-19 08:35AM | 0 recs
At a guess, I'd say...

Around 1800, when the pols moved in!

Obviously, the nature of the corruption has changed with changes in technology, population, economic organization, and a zillion other factors.

But I think that, for any era, it would be hard to disprove the null hypothesis - that it was neither more nor less corrupt than any other.

That doesn't make it right. Or suggest we ought to give up on reform.

Just that Golden Agism in any form is rarely productive.

by skeptic06 2007-03-19 08:37AM | 0 recs
And, on 1946...

The whole Truman admin was critical for liberals in the Dem party.

The failure of Wallace, the growth of ADA, the HHH ballyhoo of the civil rights plank, the success of the new coalition in reelecting Truman  - and much besides - led to the resurgence of liberals in the party through to the 1964 elections and beyond.

Fascinating period.

by skeptic06 2007-03-19 08:41AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

The only time we really had a bipartisan consensus and  willingness to work together across the aisles was during the pre-Vietnam days of the Cold War, when Mutual Assured Destruction was at the heart of the bipartisan consensus (i.e., keeping the world on a nuclear hair-trigger that threatened to destroy civilization in an instant, in the light of a thousand suns.) All the Wise men concurred that it was the only prudent course of action, a balance of terror destined, unfortunately, to last forever.

Maybe the good old days weren't all that great after all.


by Madison Guy 2007-03-19 08:53AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

When Sally Quin decided she was going to out-do Perle Mesta, and set up a Washington Salon and the crowd she and her husband associated with (Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post) were Republicans left over from the Nixon/Ford White House

Just their speed, that crowd, with a few token "liberals" or what they considered liberals (Art Buchwald comes to mind) thrown in

Always look at who is considered the "hostess doyenne" of Washington and who she invites to her "Salon"

by merbex 2007-03-19 09:04AM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

Has DC been oscillating between Democratic and Republican ascendancy, or has it always been a "Company" town, where Company is defined by the lobbyist elites and their well-paid whores in Congress?

I think of the way Carter got eaten alive by a Democratic Congress, how people like David Boren sabotaged the BTU tax in 93, etc.

Anyone who gets in in 08, to turn around the supertanker of state before it founders on the fiscal rocks, will run smack into these entrenched elite special interests.

They had better have one hell of a mandate.  51% won't be enough.

by Taylor26 2007-03-19 09:41AM | 0 recs
DC Has Been A Company Town Forever

That was the whole point of building a capital from scratch, out in the middle of nowhere.

Although, of course, the high-minded architects didn't see it that way.  They saw big city capitals as inherently corrupting, and they wanted to build a pure capital (all that Greco-Roman-Egyptian architecture and Masonic geometry) that would escape that taint.  But the actual result was a capital city with no other reason for being, and thus a company town from top to bottom.

What has changed over time is the precise nature of that town.  The incredible corruption of the Grant Administration lead to the establishment of the career civil service, which took place over stages through several administrations.

The long dominance of Democrats from 1932 onward, responding to overwhelming problems--first the Great Depression, then WWII, then the Cold War--created a more bureaucratic/technocratic slant then ever before or since, which was much more bipartisan as well, since Eisenhower himself was at home in that setting, as were a number of other prominant Republican leaders before him--Wilkie and Vandenberg, for example--who helped pull the GOP out of its traditional isolationism and parochialism.

Nixon hated it, though, and did everything he could to destroy it.  He hated the GOP establishment almost as much as he hated Democrats. Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves provides a brilliant portrait of Nixon and how fundamentally he wanted to change the political system--Cheney and Rumsfeld make a lot more sense once you've read Reeves' book.

When Reagan came into office, you had this Nixon-Ford cadre, as well as previously outside-the-Beltway forces--such as Reagan's own circle of advisors from California, topped of by the likes of Weinberg, Schultz and Smith.  So it makes sense to see the Reagan Era as a real watershed, but it was Nixon who prepared the way by tearing things apart beforehand.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-03-19 10:06AM | 0 recs
DC has always been Establishment Central

The DC elite have always been resistant to change.  But at the same time change has always happened to them.  That's because they don't set the agenda, they just react to it.

-The most recent change the had to deal with was embracing the post-94 religious right. The right wing stances of the religious repubs was much more conservative than what the DC elite was used to and it took awhile for them to deal but in time they did.

- Before them, Clinton did not seriously challenge the conservatism of Reagan.  Since Bill was so into consensus/triagulation and one of the points of that triangle was the Reagan right wingers, he only went so far to the left.

-Before that it was Reagan and his supply side nonsense.  Reagan was much more conservative than what the DC elite was used to and it took awhile for them to deal but in time they did.

-Nixon however wasn't really a change.  He was part of the center of the elite that supported the Vietnam War.  His domestic policies were more conservative than the Dems at the time but were much more liberal than what Reagan trotted out. Ford was actually a marginally leftward move while Carter laid the groundwork for Reagan.

- The JFK/LBJ years only partially embraced the left radicalism of the 60's.  That should be obvious. The DC elite struggled with it but in the end turned away from it.

- Before then was the post-FDR republican/conservative resurgence of the early 50's.  This probably would have happened earlier except FDR cast such a huge shadow over DC that it happened when a much lesser president, Truman came to office.  McCarthyism was the anti DC elite challenge, the reaction to the FDR years, and they only partially resisted it.  The extremism of McCarthy of course was brought down but the cold war was the true child of the conservative repubs (Taft, etc) at the time. Vandenburg at the time was a liberal repub, much more aligned to the Demos and FDR's legacy.

-Before that of course was FDR winning the presidency.  Given how much the repubs hated FDR and Eleanor (the sex rumors of Eleanor at the time were easily worse than anything now) it showed how master a politico FDR was in his first 100 days.

- One could go back and back to revolution times and before and see the same pattern of the political elite in this country resisting any change since it meant different people than what they were used to at the cocktail parties.  Think of Lincoln.  Think of Jackson.  Those are just two of the bigger changes/fights.  

Today is nothing new at all.  Of course Broder etc are resisting change.  That's their nature.  And if in 2 years the liberals take the presidency and strengthen their leads in Congress in a short while the DC elite will fight tooth and nail for them too.  For the DC elite it's not about ideology, it's about maintaining power or what they think of as power since their power is illusory.  They will love Hillary since she bows to them just like her hubby.

by Working Class in Oregon 2007-03-19 10:28AM | 0 recs
Company Town

DC has always been a company town driven by who is in power.  I don't think that will ever change.  I came to DC as Tip O'Neill was leaving as Speaker and left as Bill Clinton was entering is last year in office.  The Dems were very relevant if not all powerful throughout that period but had to work with Repubs to get stuff done.  

Having said that, I'd say 1994 and 2000 were  real watershed years.  In 1994, the old Dem power structure was swept out and Newt Gingrich and his "young turks" came to power.  They had a very different attitude from their predecessors.  However, the Dems still controlled the White House and having seen a Dem Congress with a Repub White House and vice versa I will take the Presidency over Congress any day.  Regardless of what the Constitution says, the Exec Branch is more powerful and more levers to accomplish things.  

I thankfully watched 2000 and after from afar but the Repub control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue left the Dems completely powerless.  It has been truly frustrating and I must say the last 3 months have been gratifying.  It is so important to have a check on Bush which we finally have with a Dem Congress.

by John Mills 2007-03-19 01:14PM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

Matt, I think you should read up on the Conservative Coalition that dominated Congress from 1937 until the late 1950s.  Republicans like Robert Taft would make deals with Democrats like Richard Russell, and promise to prevent civil rights legislation from coming up, so long as the Democrats would also block the progressive legislation favored by the White House (FDR/Truman).  For years, this coalition prevented anything significant from passing the senate, until LBJ gradually broke its hold on power- first as Majority Leader, and then as President.

The way I see it, major progressive legislation was achieved in four spurts during the 20th century.  There was Roosevelt's Square Deal, Wilson's New Freedom, FDR's New Deal, and LBJ's Great Society.  In each of these instances, progressives were on the rise not only in Congress and the White House, but also in the general outlook of D.C. and the country.  Aside for those four periods, getting progressive acts passed has proven to be incredibly arduous, even when Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress.

Why?  It's simple.  The status quo of D.C. is- and almost always has been- resistant to change.  Any change supported by one group will be likewise opposed by multiple groups.  And it's not just confined to progressives.  When Gingrich came into power, he brought with him an ambitious President-esque agenda.  But even he, the conservative's conservative couldn't enact most of what he wanted.  All of his initiatives were met with strong opposition, because he was trying to change the status quo.

by TommyBoy 2007-03-19 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

Interestingly, the Republican Congress passed the Presidential Succession Act in 1947, shortly after the Fulbright Proposal, which made the Speaker of the House the next-in-line to be President rather than the Secretary of State.  Since the Speaker was Joe Martin, a reactionary, anti-New Deal Congressman from Massachusetts, and one who, unlike Vandenberg, opposed the Marshall Plan, U.N. and NATO, it would seem the Republicans took the Fulbright Proposal seriously enough to want to prevent the Democrats from handpicking a successor to Truman.  

by Steve Smith 2007-03-19 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: When Did DC Go Bad?

One of the definitions of right wing is: to want the existing order of power to last, and if possible to intensify itself.

Any establishment in DC will act right wing, and favor right wingers, and become right wing.  Even when it calls itself Left or revolutionary- see the ultraconservative Mexican establishment for 100+years, founded via revolution and terming itself, without irony, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The best solution in the abstract is to put people in control in Washington who are interested in governance rather than power...which amounts to a subvariety of liberals who would hardly be the sort of people who could well defend themselves from power grabs.  In practice, one has to split the establishment into two competing and fairly evenly matched groups, keep moving powerhungry people in and out at a pretty high rate, and force them all to focus on governance.

The People has chosen misgovernment and to refight issues of the past for most of the past 40 years.  The Washington establishments and media have come to reflect that- have even come to believe that this is a permanent condition.  Thus David Broder and the rest of the oh-so-cynical/ever out of touch Beltway point of view.  They just can't believe that the popular reign of denial/stupidity and inability to face and deal with the Modern condition will ever end.

by killjoy 2007-03-19 03:01PM | 0 recs


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