Several times over the last few weeks I’ve said that notwithstanding the last two elections DC remains wired for Republicans. And each time I say that people write in to ask, what does that mean exactly? So here’s what I mean. In Washington there’s a formal government and a para-government. The formal government itself has all sorts of different layers to it — the current crop of political appointees, the career employees, etc. But for the moment, let’s put everyone who draws a paycheck from the United States government to one side and focus on everyone else.
Who are we talking about? The journalists. The lobbyists. The people who work in the think tanks and quasi-think tanks where purported policy experts work. The employees of the majority activist groups on both sides of the political spectrum. The list could go on and on. But this gives a basic flavor of who we’re talking about.
We’re coming off of, or at least we’ve had a period of (because who knows about the future) thirty plus years of conservative dominance of Washington. By some measures you could say forty years. But at least thirty, notwithstanding Bill Clinton’s eight years in office. That conditions a generation of people with mindsets based around Republicans being the party of power, the party whose ideas get vindicated at the polls. Most of all Washington is a city that coddles up to and worships power. But a generation of one party holding the reins selects for certain kinds of journalists in key positions of power, the policy experts at the think tanks who get the journalists calls, the lobbyists who move the most money and so forth. You build up a set of assumptions about what kinds of people and ideas are respectable and which aren’t. Which are old-fashioned, which are ‘cutting edge’ and so forth. Who defines conventional wisdom?
In all of these respects, DC remains overwhelmingly wired for the GOP.
Over time, the formal government shapes the para-government. But there’s no immediate transition. In fact, in the short-run there’s usually an intensified conflict between the two. And you see evidence of the disconnect in repeated failures of people in the capital to predict the reactions of the country to key political developments — which is something you’ve seen repeatedly in 2006 and 2008. And even into 2009.
The role of organized money obviously plays a big role too, though money’s partisan attachments are highly, highly malleable. The most important factor is the para-government and its entrenched attitudes.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.