04/20/2006 03:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where the Conventional Wisdom Comes From

Lots of places of course. But last night, enjoying my tube-view of the world from the depths of my sofa, I happened across Joe Scarborough (yet another "straight-talker") and had a little epiphany.

Joe had three of the regulars on with him -- Pat Buchanan, David Gergen, and I think the third was Paul Begala. They were having a grand old time. The atmosphere was more green room than show time, or even the locker room, the local bar, the monthly poker game. The show's on late, that was part of it. No women guests, that was palpably a big part of it. This was definitely a bunch of the guys horsing around, shootin' the shit, dissecting the game they all love, the game they've watched and played forever -- the game of politics.

On the agenda? Personnel changes in the Bush White House. Was Scott pushed or did he jump? Has Bolton been given the keys to the kingdom? Was Rove demoted? Does the absence of outsider heavyweights portend a mere cosmetic change? On and on and on...

But in that atmosphere of manly banter I realized something so obvious that the rest of us -- those of us fated to recieve the conventional wisdom -- can easily forget it, or not even notice. These guys LOVE this stuff. For them, this is office gossip, neighborhood gossip. They refer ritually to what people "outside the beltway" care about, of course, and they feed off dimly remembered connections they once had to ordinary life in order to nourish their carefully cultivated regular guy mannerisms and figures of speech. But they can't REALLY get outside their lives or away from the people they live with -- each other, day after day, week after week, year in and year out. No matter what happens, administrations come and go, nations rise and fall, wars begin and end -- but they rock on forever. The bonds of community that unite Pat Buchanan and Paul Begala and Chris Mathews are far more powerful than substantive differences in their philosophies and policy positions. Substance they take for granted, the way actors in a play take for granted their costumes. They don't have real conversations about substance. They recite lines.

But they all live in the same little world of political show-biz so they have real conversations about the latest local developments. It's only natural. It's only human. If most "ordinary Americans" don't care about what goes on "inside the beltway" because it doesn't seem to impact their lives, why should people who actually live "inside the beltway" be any different? For them, what goes on inside the beltway IS their lives...