I wrote this post on my own blog for a more general audience, but thought I'd share it here as well to get feedback. I'm trying to define "The Village", or "the Washington Establishment", for people unfamiliar with the blogosphere usage of the term, and I would welcome comments on my definition and if these sorts of diaries are a useful idea!
I was getting set to write a post explaining the lefty blog concept of "the Village" when I see (via Atrios) that Jay Rosen has just provided the perfect jumping-off point. He cites a very useful diagram for understanding national media coverage, splitting issues into a "sphere of consensus", a "sphere of legitimate debate", and a "sphere of deviance", and argues that journalists see their role as objectively reporting on the debate in the second sphere, but their unacknowledged and more important function is simply classifying issues into these three spheres. So, for example, it matters more that the media have decided waterboarding is a topic of legitimate debate than it does which side wins the debate about waterboarding on "Hardball" some evening.
The whole post is worth reading; it's probably the best model I've encountered for understanding and critiquing the national media dialogue. But it also serves as a good introduction to the concept of the Washington Establishment, also known as "the Village". These phrases are bandied about the Internets all the time, but I haven't been able to find a good single post defining them - it's more something you pick up in context. I would like to fill that niche by offering a quick primer on the concept.
These phrases are shorthand for the idea that there exists a permanent class in Washington D.C. of people "who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it". This set overlaps with, but is slightly different than, the set of government employees; the latter ostensibly serve at the pleasure of the people who elected them (or elected the person who appointed them), while the former are unabashedly self-interested ("Certainly the Washington insiders have their own interests at heart. Whenever a new president comes to town, he [or she] will be courted assiduously by those whose livelihoods depend on access to power."). The seminal article on the Village was written in the Washington Post by Villager Sally Quinn in 1998, during the Clinton impeachment. It's where I got those quotes above, and it's where the term 'Village' comes from, and it's full of other descriptive lines. For example:
"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."
...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"
..."We have our own set of village rules," says David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report.
..."[Bill Clinton] came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
...Presidential historian Michael Beschloss ... "When everything is turned upside down it affects our psyche more than someone who might be farming in Wyoming."
That's one big aspect of the Establishment mentality - the idea of entitlement, that being part of this rarefied group gives their opinions and feelings more weight than "someone who might be farming in Wyoming". The other, equally important, part is that the Establishment is out of touch with the rest of the country.
Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. [incidentally, this is what MoveOn refers to and why it was originally founded]
... this disconnect between the Washington Establishment and the rest of the country is evident on TV and radio talk shows and in interviews and conversations with more than 100 Washingtonians for this article.
The article is pretty fascinating in that Sally Quinn is obviously aware that she and all her companions are out of touch with the rest of the country, but instead of being bothered by this, she simply seeks to justify the Establishment opinions (showing off that first Establishment aspect of entitlement).
It is probably inevitable that a semi-permanent class of entitled and insulated people will assemble around power (think Versailles), but this fact seems to me to be largely unacknowledged in the national discourse (except for blogs, where it's extremely acknowledged). Just keep in mind when attempting to critically evaluate something you hear or read about Washington politics: a true public servant considers himself or herself to be fundamentally accountable to the public. "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", as well as David Broder, David Gergen, Michael Beschloss, Cokie Roberts, Joe Lieberman, and all the others, are Villagers, and consider themselves to be fundamentally accountable to the Washington Establishment. They're not the same thing.