Washington Needs a Makeover
In four weeks, the long national nightmare of George W. Bush’s presidency will come to an end, but the big question then will be whether much will change – even with a solid Democratic majority in Congress and the nation’s first African-American President in the White House.
Despite those changes, the Washington press corps will be pretty much the same, with TV news dominated mostly by careerists and with major newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times staffed up with neoconservative writers like Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol.
The Washington Establishment also shows little sign of any meaningful transformation, heavily weighted toward the same “Wise Men” (and a few “Wise Women”) – and think tank “intellectuals” (whether from AEI, Heritage or Brookings) – who gave cover to everything from free-market absolutism to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
These media stars and think-tank operatives will surely stay on the alert for any signs that President Barack Obama is “moving too fast” on troop withdrawals from Iraq or relying too much on “Big Government solutions” or is “caving in to union pressures for more protectionism.”
Indeed, one of the emerging questions about Obama is whether he was always a closet centrist hungering for approval from the press and Establishment or whether he is trying to appease the Washington power centers with a Cabinet of reassuring retreads, both on economic and foreign policy.
In other words, is Obama a phony who only talked about “changing the mindset” in Washington or is he trying to co-opt the powerful with appointments who represent that same old mindset, people like Defense Secretary Robert Gates and economic adviser Lawrence Summers?
Yet, while Obama’s transition choices have caused consternation among many of his progressive supporters – even as the appointments draw near-unanimous praise inside-the-Beltway – the American Left also remains part of the national problem.
As the U.S. press corps rolls on with much the same crowd and the Washington Establishment undergoes virtually no change, American progressives are mostly standing pat, too, failing to take necessary steps to address Washington’s dangerous asymmetry.
For the past three decades, as the Right built its own media-political infrastructure and consolidated its influence in Washington, the progressive community embraced slogans like “think globally, act locally” – with little regard to the extraordinary power that is wielded in Washington and New York.
The Left also has relied way too much on expectations of heroism, demanding that politicians should brave election defeat and journalists should risk career destruction in the name of doing the right thing.
Even if there are some politicians and journalists who are willing to face personal humiliation and sometimes financial destitution (think Gary Webb), there seems to be little awareness on the Left that selflessness is not a very effective model for sustainable reform.
What’s needed is a counter political-media infrastructure that can create a measure of safety for people who do the right thing. That way, space can be created for politicians and journalists to take on the well-financed Right and Establishment forces, with some assurance that they can survive personally.
This is an area where well-to-do progressives must invest much more money. Otherwise, despite all the nagging from the Left, most mainstream politicians and journalists will remain deaf to the complaints, realizing that the real punishment to one’s reputation and livelihood comes from the Right.
Without an investment in this new Washington infrastructure, chances for real change under President Obama drop dramatically.
[For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “What Must Be Done Now!”]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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