The Consortium

America's Elites & Their Castle Walls

Suddenly, American "peasants" are grabbing rhetorical pitchforks. Minutemen are riding to "the sound of the gun." Populists are ready to "lock and load." Led paradoxically by a Washington insider, spinmaster and TV pundit, the United States is marching toward some kind of revolution. With his insurgent campaign, Pat Buchanan has tapped into a deep well of disillusionment not just over politics-as-usual, but over a sickening national sense that the fifth-grade civics lessons don't hold anymore, that America's future is now someone else's game.

In that, Buchanan's rhetoric echoes the late historian Christopher Lasch, who argued that the American elites are turning their backs on their countrymen and even the American nation state. Lasch saw this "meritocracy" of networked professionals as self-absorbed, socially irresponsible, inclined to snub their less-educated brethren and withdrawing to luxurious estates.

Buchanan is only more colorful, likening his Washington colleagues to foppish "barons" cowering behind castle walls, both fearing and disdaining the common folks. And he even counts among these aristocratic dukes the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh who just a year ago were fashioning themselves as "revolutionaries."

Still, Buchananism has offered only a thin analysis of this New World Order. He has failed to define clearly who the elites are and how they exercise power in the modern age. Sure, they sip Chardonnay, nibble on nouvelle cuisine and vacation in the Hamptons -- Republican and Democrat alike. But where's the analysis that would allow citizens to seize back control?

As a working journalist in Washington with The Associated Press, Newsweek and PBS, I witnessed these power elites up close for almost two decades. In that time, I saw two dominant groups vying for power. Both are organized heavily around media or, put differently, the flow of information. It is through control of this information spigot that the elites wield power. Also, contrary to conventional belief, neither elite is particularly "liberal." The rough parameters of their ideologies can be observed on the weekend chat shows, where the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt represents the "left" and columnist Robert Novak speaks for the "right."

The first elite is corporate, generally centrist in politics. From Katharine Graham to Henry Kissinger to Steve Forbes, this elite favors the status quo or non-radical changes that are good for the well-to-do and big business. The second elite is conservative, built over the past 20 years with billions of dollars from right-wing businessmen and foundations. This elite has amassed impressive power through think tanks and its own diversified media -- from cable networks to daily newspapers, from talk radio to book publishing houses.

Through the 1980s, these two "establishments" clashed, but always had more in common than they had in conflict. Indeed, Ronald Reagan's "free market" economics were good for both elites, even as those policies depressed the incomes of the American middle class and amassed a huge national debt. Now, Pat Buchanan's ambition to be President has shaken Washington's governing consensus. Demagogue though he may be, he has put the fears of Main Street America at the center of the debate -- and the elites on the defensive. For that, Buchanan deserves some credit.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

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