Washington’s Permanent Ruling Class

Duncan Black (aka “Atrios”) has an interesting piece about the career staffers, bureaucrats, think tankers, pundits, lobbyists, and the like.

There’s a permanent class in Washington, various orbits of power centers, who really believe they run the town and by extension the country. Politicians come and go, but the permanent ruling class is always there. Its members shift a bit over time, and there are those higher up in the perceived power structure than others, but the class remains. It’s what Broder meant when he said … of Clinton, “it’s not his place.” They set the rules, define the parameters of debate and acceptable conduct, and every now and then step in and Make a Decision which they assume Will Be Listened To. Once the Wise Old Men finally got around to realizing that Iraq was a disaster, they assumed They Would Be Heeded, especially if they did it in a nice way which didn’t blame anybody for anything and let Bush off the hook.

This is the true High Broderism – not just a belief in the ultimate rightness of the club of bipartisan technocrats, pundits, and other elites, but a belief in their actual power.

There is definitely such a class and such an attitude. Many in the elite media have it, which isn’t surprising since they are institutionally members. When the Washington Post Editorial Page issues a pronouncement, it is supposed to be taken as definitive, after all. Ditto–perhaps MegaDittoes–the New York Times Editorial Page.

What’s interesting, though, is that outsiders adhere to this High Broderism when it suits their needs.

If you’re opposed to Bush and the war, you point to all the generals, bureaucratic staff reports, columns, and white papers that Prove You Were Right. If Bob Herbert says it and it turns out to be right, it proves that we should have listened to Bob Herbert all along. About everything.

If, however, institutional Washington is against you, it just proves how prescient your team was in electing your guy. The fact that the editorial boards and the rest of Official Unofficial Washington are against you just proves that the people have spoken and how desperately we needed an Outside the Beltway view of the world.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent G. Budge says:

    Sometimes the spoils system doesn’t look so bad. It did tend to sweep Washington out every two or three election cycles.