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The New York Times' Versailles Manifesto

Dec 29, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Over the years, we've all seen solid examples of the Versailles mentality in our media -- ie. the mentality that glorifies Washington and its inhabitants as heroes saving the rest of America from itself. But usually these examples are a bit subtle in how they weave the arrogance into the prose. Usually, you have to really stop and do a careful double-take when you see a piece of Versailles propaganda.

That's why this recent piece from the notoriously servile Matt Bai in the New York Times is such a groundbreaker. Never have I seen such a monumentally blatant piece of Versailles triumphalism. In that sense, it is truly The Versailles Manifesto. Here are the key excerpts to show you what I mean:

  • "In theory, all the people who populate the federal government, whether as senators or midlevel bureaucrats, are on loan from other places, often doing the nation's business at the cost of more lucrative or convenient opportunities back home."
  • "Plenty of people don't like [Rahm] Emanuel, and plenty more don't like his politics. But whatever one thinks of the man, it's indisputable that he has spent most of his adult life doing the people's work."
  • "Had the elections board counted that against him, whether or not he had set foot back in Chicago for months at time, it would have lent credence to the destructive idea that there is Washington and there is the rest of us."

In the first example, Bai asks us to ignore the revolving door between government and business, whereby many politicians invest time in Congress to then cash in on that time as lobbyists. Nothing to see there, he says -- we are asked to believe that instead, most D.C. pols are making a noble sacrifice to serve the public "at the cost of more lucrative or convenient opportunities back home."

Then, we are asked to ignore Rahm Emanuel's long career as a Big Money political fundraiser, an investment banker and then finally the chief go-between for the White House and K Street. No, no -- don't look at that. That's too... honest. Instead, we should see Emanuel, the embodiment of everything Americans rightly hate about their politics, as a Mr. Smith who "has spent most of his adult life doing the people's work."

Finally, and perhaps the best example of all, Bai tells us that it is only a "destructive idea" -- not reality -- to believe "that there is Washington and there is the rest of us." Yes, we're expected to believe that's all just a horrible misperception by the Great Unwashed outside the Beltway. This, at a time when more citizens than ever correctly feel D.C. has become totally disconnected from America; at a time when census data shows that the nation's capital has become a virtual gated community for the super-rich; at a time when election after election after election has become a backlash to the odious culture of D.C.; at a time when policies that are wildly popular among Americans (the public option) have no chance of passing Congress, but policies that are wildly popular with D.C. lobbyists (big corporate tax cuts) are all but guaranteed to pass.

In a sense we should thank Matt Bai for this article, because it leaves nothing to the imagination. This is the attitude of the political class in D.C. -- and that class includes insider journalists like Bai who first and foremost believe it is their job to defend, rather than question, the Beltway's political elites. Why such loyalty from the journalists who are supposed to be employed to challenge rather than serve power? Because today's "journalists" like Bai see no difference between themselves and those they serve. Indeed, when they hear the term "political elites" -- they now see themselves in the mirror.