This essay by Ross Douthat titled Washington Versus America is a history of a selected income and social strata of Washington, D.C.: this might even be considered , in a moment of literary charity, a 21st Century revision of Henry Adams’ Democracy: An American Novel, in miniature. A defuse and self-serving history of the lawyers,politicians, hucksters, pundits and other political riff-raff, that have arrived since Mr. Douthat, himself, arrived in Washington D.C., ten years ago. These are the central actors in the historical melodrama that Mr. Douthat constructs, although it is really a travelogue with some vague geographical references, a record of an intimate, yet distant acquaintanceship. Somehow, Mr. Douthat accomplishes this impossibility.
“When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2002, you could sense that the nation’s capital had turned a corner after decades of decline.”
This is based on what empirical evidence? Ten years of living in the city, rather than an intuition upon arrival, a simplistic question and observation, at best.
“No doubt there were boomtowns in the 19th-century Wild West that changed faster than D.C. did over the ensuing decade.”
Another sweeping bit of historically inflected melodrama, coming from the prolific Douthat imagination.
It might even be a ‘Free Market’ success story!You might just simply title this the rise of the governmental technocrats.
But then Mr. Douthat switches tracks and draws his descriptive metaphors from the movie The Hunger Games, it provides a bit of rhetorical lift and ballast, not to speak of bloat, to his thought. After this long meandering introduction Mr. D. comes to the point:
“For Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, what’s happened in Washington these last 10 years should be a natural part of the case against Obamanomics. Our gilded District is a case study in how federal spending often finds its way to the well connected rather than the people it’s supposed to help, how every new program spawns an array of influence peddlers, and how easily corporations and government become corrupt allies rather than opponents.”
Should it surprise that six of the first of the ten years of Mr. Douthat’s residing in D.C. was under the Bush Restoration. A bit of partisan shading absent from Mr. Douthat’s cautionary tale of the inherent evil of Government and by association his antagonist/protagonist President Obama.
“The state of life inside the Beltway also points to the broader story of our spending problem, which has less to do with how much we spend on the poor than how much we lavish on subsidies for highly inefficient economic sectors, from health care to higher education, and on entitlements for people who aren’t supposed to need a safety net — affluent retirees, well-heeled homeowners, agribusiness owners, and so on.”
‘Inside the Beltway’ and the ‘poor’ are here featured as objects of contempt transformed into objects of concern in the Market oriented thought of this Conservative’s self-serving rhetoric. The ‘poor’ are the absent witnesses of the rise of the revitalized technocratically controlled city.
“There’s a case that this president’s policies have made these problems worse, sluicing more borrowed dollars into programs that need structural reform, and privileging favored industries and constituencies over the common good.”
Sluicing,borrowed dollars,structural reform,privileging favored industries,favored constituencies: Mr. Douthat is never far from the Free Market economic cliches of the Republican Party of 2012, and it’s master strategist that great ‘legislative entrepreneur’ Rep. Paul Ryan. The mention of the ‘common good’ is a bit of political nostalgia, adding not content, but a necessary nod in the direction of an obliterated, not to say abandoned precept of a compromised Republic.
At this point, Mr. Douthat can’t resist the temptation of gently chiding candidate Mitt Romney:
“But this story is one that Romney and his party seem incapable of telling. Instead, many conservatives prefer to refight the welfare battles of the 1990s, and insist that our spending problem is all about an excess of “dependency” among the non-income-tax-paying 47 percent.”
That Mr. Romney is perhaps the most clueless, maladroit candidate to be nominated by the Republicans in living memory: that thought,conveniently does not occur to Mr. Douthat, or at the least, he is guarding his conservative credentials, with a self-serving political tact. With the preliminaries out of the way, Mr. Douthat issues his final two enlightening paragraphs:
“ In reality, our government isn’t running trillion-dollar deficits because we’re letting the working class get away with not paying its fair share. We’re running those deficits because too many powerful interest groups have a stake in making sure the party doesn’t stop.
When you look around the richest precincts of today’s Washington, you don’t see a city running on paternalism or dependency. You see a city running on exploitation.”
The paternalism that seems absent to Mr. Douthat is being exercised by himself, in apology for the mentioned exploitation.