Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself in Providence, Rhode Island. It had been a spectacular Netroots Nation, and I had planned my return flight to Los Angeles for later in the afternoon so as to allow myself a more extended visit to the city. As I livetweeted my adventures, I got a tweet from my friend and fellow Angeleno Dave Dayen of the FDL News Desk. He happened to have just about the same itinerary, and by happy coincidence, was in the same area. So what had just been Ilissa and me winding down the weekend became a party of three.
If you’re looking to know the latest about the world of political media, there are few better people to talk to than Dayen, especially if you’re the type who seeks a dose of stiletto-sharp sarcasm appropriately directed at what I like to call the “high broderists” in the DC punditocracy. And there was a lot to talk about, because last Sunday had brought forth a goldmine from the pen of Sally Quinn at the Washington Post. Now, before we proceed further, this column absolutely has to be read in its entirety. Normally, I would consider quoting the most relevant sections as a starting point for further exposition. But in the case of this piece by Quinn, such a technique would result in a wholesale violation of the Post’s copyright: the whole thing is an increasingly deteriorating trainwreck of self-pity, bizarre value judgments and misplaced priorities. In short, the key concerns that make District-based punditocracy one of the worst hindrances to any hopes of resolving our seemingly permanent political crises.
After Dayen showed me the article in a Providence Panera, my first reaction was one of incredulity. I am not intimately familiar with who is who in political pundrity, and it took several layers of reinforcement for me to be convinced that the entire piece was not a piece of satire worthy of The Onion’s reporting about that Planned Parenthood abortion-plex. No, Quinn is being genuine. And her sincerity here is honestly more frightening than most things Fox News puts out on a daily basis.
The central thesis of Quinn’s argument, if such folly could be worthy of term, is that money has replaced power in Washington, DC. To many, this idea seems confusing: money is power, has been power, and will continue to be power. This applies to most fields, but politics especially: anyone who has ever supported a grassroots campaign against a money-laden incumbent or sought to take on the banks to get reform passed knows this correlation to a tee. And failing that, power means being in a position to be influenced by money: if you get to cast the vote or issue the executive order, then you’re also the one with the power.
But that’s not how Quinn defines power. According to Quinn, power only consists of the power she’s familiar with: bending the ears of the powerful at a party over a cocktail weenie. The moneyed interests, Quinn laments, could always influence things with a campaign contribution. But she could match that influence by hosting a nice gathering in the District’s social scene and on a fortunate night, have a conversation with a high-up official about a relevant topic of interest. But as the importance of money waxes, especially in the wake of Citizens United, nobody has time for the social scene any more. Heck, the Obamas don’t even go out on the town any more unless it’s a fundraiser, and maybe that’s why his popularity is going down with the media figures in the district!
Quinn’s complaint about her lack of relevance and her reminiscing about her glory days have the contemptible attitude of a middle-aged man desperately trying to relive his glory days as a high-school quarterback. The excitement and nostalgia she seems to feel as she reminisces about the excitement of never knowing whom you might encounter at a party on the circuit is strange as it is; but it is rendered descipable when put into the context of the system whose disappearance she bemoans.
Quinn may have finally joined the ranks of those who have realized what a disaster Citizens United portends, but unlike those who are concerned with having an actual functioning democracy, Quinn’s motivations are far more selfish: democracy may not matter to Quinn, but the supremacy of the SuperPAC means an erosion of government by socialites and pundits—as if somehow, having our country’s decisions dictated by the random encounters of Quinn and her socialite circle are somehow better than moneyed interests simply buying their desires at a more predictable pace.
Don’t get me wrong: I welcome any advocacy Quinn is willing to do to advance the cause of severing the relationship between money and political power. But the fact that it took the declining influence of the cocktail weenie to achieve that result is simply disheartening.