There is a story that warms the heart of every Washington-based pundit, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, a story that hearkens back to the heady Boys on the Bus days - the days when the Towering Pundits of Washington supposedly led America to a blissful political utopia. This tale was trumpeted like a clarion call from the sleek websites of Beltway chronicles like The New Republic. It was the story of how one courageous pundit, Time Magazine's Joe Klein, so honed his skills at self-congratulation and promotion that he managed to bill himself as a de facto adviser and strategist to the 2004 Democratic nominee for President. This story has reached legend status inside the Beltway, as it gives all D.C. pundits both the strength to press on with their courageous work propping up the Establishment and the motivation to continue worshiping power. Because of this tale, they too can hope to one day be so self-important as to use their proximity to officialdom to transcend mere writing and pontificating, and move into the actual wielding and execution of elite power.
The reason this story is so important today in Washington is because the punditocracy is under attack and therefore hope is in desperately short supply on the cocktail party circuit. This term "punditocracy," you see, used to have a very literal meaning: Rule by Washington Pundits. These Titans of Journalism, these Michaelangelos sculpting elite opinion, these saviors heroically rescuing America from itself were able to put pen to paper, hands to keyboard, and faces to camera and make sure our government followed The Way - their way.
But at some point in the last few years, things changed. The people - us, the sheep that the Heroic Herders like Krauthammer and Will bravely corralled, us, the unwashed masses that the Courageous Cleansers like Klein and Friedman valiantly scrubbed down - the people found their own power through the Internet, through thousands of blogs like this one, through newsletters, through alternative media and - gasp! - through actual organizing. The pundits have lost their ability to order the people's representatives around. They have lost their ability to rule. In short, they have been stripped of their "ocracy" - and we are led to believe that means we are experiencing a national or even global crisis.
But rest assured there is a messianic figure who will rescue us from this, the supposed apocalyptic end of the Republic. Taking up the call of the great American revolutionaries of the 18th Century, the pundit class's most beloved and fearless leader, a godlike icon whose awesome force of punditry I have been personally attacked with, is screaming from the ramparts. Only he has replaced the word "British" with the word "people."
"The people are coming, the people are coming!" he bellows, fearlessly warning America of the coming danger of ordinary citizens becoming engaged in their own political process.
That's right, as his fellow pundits in Washington frantically buy milk, flashlights, dehydrated food and duct tape from their besieged wood-paneled offices, this inspirational man has found the courage - no, the Leadership - to say enough is enough. Like Thomas Paine himself, St. David Broder has taken to the pages of the Washington Post to declare that "a particularly virulent strain of populism" has emerged. And, says St. David, the consequences threaten America, and perhaps the entire Planet because this populism "has made official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion." He makes this powerful assertion with compelling fury - fearlessly ignoring the fact that Congress still refuses to create a universal health care system, expand environmental regulations, rescind the Bush tax cuts or end the war in Iraq - all things national opinion polls show the public is demanding.
St. David instead "proves" his manifesto by specifically attacking Congress's recent moves to respond to the 2006 election mandate and try to change America's lobbyist-written and pundit backed trade policies that have thrown millions of workers out of their jobs, driven wages down, torn apart health care and pension benefits - all while inflating profit margins on Wall Street and K Street. That the Secret Trade Deal of 2007 was delayed and that fast-track will be terminated with the strong support of millions of Americans but over the objections of the Washington pundit class - this, above all else, he says, is the most frightening form of "mob rule."
St. David is not alone, of course. Steve and Cokie Roberts have shown extraordinary bravery - no, again, Leadership - in taking precious time out from their multimillion-dollar careers on the speaking circuit by calling American workers "losers" and saying that lawmakers who are trying to reform our economic policies have "reactionary, head-in-the-sand views." Meanwhile, the esteemed Beltway oracle Stuart Rothenberg is trying to instill a sense of calm in his prophetic treks up and down the capital's gilded streets of Connecticut and K. Soothing the cowering pundits, Rothenberg this week tells them "it really doesn't matter that many grassroots Democrats were very frustrated and angry by Hill Democrats' behavior" in refusing to end the Iraq War - a war that started with the unanimous help of the pundit class, and which is now opposed by the vast majority of Americans. Like St. David, the Oracle Stu intrepidly disregards the national opinion polls he is paid six-figures to analyze - national opinion polls that show Democratic lawmakers have lost significant electoral support for their failure to do whatever they can to end the war, as they promised.
Many Beltway reporters at the nation's three biggest newspapers are now taking up St. David's call to help the pundits take back control of American politics and refocus the political discourse back where it belongs: Away from serious issues that affect actual people, and towards the issues that the D.C. cocktail party goers care about. In the same Washington Post that prints his Common Sense-echoing call to arms, John Solomon pens a 1,200 word investigative expose on the pressing crisis of John Edwards hair - a Watergate-style dispatch that brings up memories of the great muckraking journalists throughout history. Deftly pretending that reporters like himself have nothing to do with the exposure this story has gotten and nothing to do with trying to make this story drown out pressing economic and national security issues, Solomon states that "it is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned for president, vice president and now president again, his hair seems to have attracted as much attention as, say, his position on health care." That came on the same day the New York Times' Patrick Healy breathlessly works to drive the 2008 presidential debate into a focus on how critical Hillary Clinton's jokes about Bill Clinton's onion ring eating habits are. These pieces follow the Wall Street Journal's gritty report likening Corporate America's best allies on Capitol hill to "plain-spoken populists [who] are frequent critics of powerful entities, including big companies, that he views as putting regular people at a disadvantage."
America - you can rest at ease. The pundits are fighting to reclaim their relevance and supremacy - their "ocracy," if you will. They know that in order for this great country to soldier on in the face of the terrorists, D.C. must continue to remain a place where a third-rate Matlock actor can publicly equate a career of corporate lobbying to the lion-heartedness of General Washington crossing the Delaware - and be rewarded for such statements by being ordained a frontrunner for President of the United States of America. These pundits - these Glorious Protectors of the Nation - are working hard to make sure politicians don't - god forbid - listen to what YOU want, but listen only to what pundits deem is acceptable to THEM. These pundits' ownership of our democracy may be under attack, but rest assured the threat to the rule of the self-important bloviators will not go unchallenged. Our pundits will do all that they can to save themselves for the good of America, the world, and the universe.