fresh voices from the front lines of change







David does a nice job unpacking the dreadful Politico gossip item in his post below. But as a long time Village observer from afar, I thought I might add a little more context. The first observation is that apparently Sally Quinn has officially passed the baton to Vandehei and Allen. How do I know this? Well, take the first sentence:

The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.

Recall Quinn’s famous “village” article:

When Establishment Washingtonians of all persuasions gather to support their own, they are not unlike any other small community in the country.

On this evening, the roster included Cabinet members Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala, Republicans Sen. John McCain and Rep. Bob Livingston, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, PBS’s Jim Lehrer and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, all behaving like the pals that they are. On display was a side of Washington that most people in this country never see. For all their apparent public differences, the people in the room that night were coming together with genuine affection and emotion to support their friends — the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt and his wife, CNN’s Judy Woodruff, whose son Jeffrey has spina bifida.

But this particular community happens to be in the nation’s capital. And the people in it are the so-called Beltway Insiders — the high-level members of Congress, policymakers, lawyers, military brass, diplomats and journalists who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it.

They call the capital city their “town.”

And their town has been turned upside down.

Their town:

“This is a community in all kinds of ways,” says ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress. She is concerned that people outside Washington have a distorted view of those who live here. “The notion that we are some rarefied beings who breathe toxic air is ridiculous. . . . When something happens everybody gathers around. . . . It’s a community of good people involved in a worthwhile pursuit. We think being a worthwhile public servant or journalist matters.”

“This is our town,” says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Democrat to forcefully condemn the president’s behavior. “We spend our lives involved in talking about, dealing with, working in government. It has reminded everybody what matters to them. You are embarrassed about what Bill Clinton’s behavior says about the White House, the presidency, the government in general.”

Muffie Cabot, who as Muffie Brandon served as social secretary to President and Nancy Reagan, regards the scene with despair. “This is a demoralized little village,” she says. “People have come from all over the country to serve a higher calling and look what happened. They’re so disillusioned. The emperor has no clothes. Watergate was pretty scary, but it wasn’t quite as sordid as this.”

NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell adds a touch of neighborly concern. “We all know people who have been terribly damaged personally by this,” she says. “Young White House aides who have been saddled by legal bills, longtime Clinton friends. . . . There is a small-town quality to the grief that is being felt, an overwhelming sadness at the waste of the nation’s time and attention, at the opportunities lost.”

Message: they care. About themselves.

There was one guy who got it right:

Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton and considered one of the few “wise men” left in Washington, gives yet another reason why people take the scandal more seriously here. “This is an excitement to us, a feeling of being in on it, and whichever part of the Washington milieu we come from, we want to play a part. That’s why we’re here.”

Yes. The president had made a grave mistake if he forgot that it’s not about the people and it’s not about the Party and it’s not even about his own legacy. It’s all about the Villagers:

Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.

This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system.

Clearly, the president should have given them all frat-boy nicknames and insulted them in public. That’s what they crave.

VandeAllen is doing an excellent job of stepping up now that Quinn has semi-retired. The president — and the country — is on notice: the Village is upset. They feel they’ve been ignored. And they will not be ignored.

Are these bubbling scandals the consequence of official malfeasance or ineptitude? Are they threats to the constitutional order, the result of executive overreach or something that affects the balance of power in the government? You will never know. In the Village nothing like that is ever important. They are there to give us the inside information on how the Villagers are feeling and what has offended their sensibilities so we will understand how our government really works. We will not be able to tell the difference between a real scandal and a trumped piece of partisan nonsense because they cannot tell the difference and they don’t want to. And that works out very nicely for the permanent political establishment, doesn’t it?

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