The Natives Are Restless

Today David Broder looked through his telescope and spotted native savages just beyond the Potomac.

The belief that official Washington is deaf to the people’s wishes is a staple of political rhetoric for both Republicans and Democrats — even those, including Thompson, who have operated inside the Beltway for decades.

Let a reporter who is not running for anything suggest that exactly the opposite may be true: A particularly virulent strain of populism has made official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion.

The sight of those spears and feathers and tribal campfires must’ve upset poor Broder’s chintz-and-teacup sensibilities.

From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, philosophers have written of the healthy tension that normally exists between the understanding and strategies of leaders and the sentiments and opinions of their people.

We simple tribal people should let Bwana make our decisions for us.

In today’s Washington, a badly weakened president and a dangerously compliant congressional leadership are no match for the power of public opinion — magnified and sometimes exaggerated by modern communications and interest group pressure.

Any minute now, the savages will break into Broder’s tastefully appointed study and leave mud on the hand-made Turkmen carpeting.

[The immigration bill] was buried by an avalanche of phone calls to the Capitol from good citizens decrying what they had been told on many talk radio stations and by some conservative politicians: that it was an amnesty bill.

People were misled by talk radio and some conservative politicians? So shocking. All my delusions are shattered.

The “fast-track” process, in which Congress casts only an up-or-down vote on trade deals negotiated with other countries, has been the key to a vast expansion in world trade. But the resulting trade agreements have run into populist protests from labor and liberal groups that blame them for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The Bush administration has responded to Democratic pressure by including enforceable new labor and environmental standards in several pending bilateral trade agreements. But the action by the House means that any further deals are unlikely as long as Bush is president.

Fast track” is, of course, a policy set by the wise and thoughtful Washington political class who know better than we natives do what’s good for us. Public Citizen mourns:

After a brief, damaging existence, Fast Track was pronounced dead on June 30, 2007.

The demise of Fast Track allowed the U.S. Founding Fathers to stop rolling in their graves over Fast Track’s trampling of constitutional checks and balances. As well, victims of Fast Track-enabled trade agreements welcomed the news, given the anomalous procedure’s record of damage despite having been locked up and out of commission for blocks of time since its inception. …

… Fast Track delegated away Congress’ exclusive constitutional authority over trade – allowing the executive branch alone to choose trading partners, set the substantive terms of trade policy, and even sign trade agreements, all before Congress ever voted. The controversial delegation mechanism allowed Congress only a yes or no vote on trade agreements after they had been negotiated and signed and by its very design shut out public and congressional oversight. …

… Fast Track’s lifelong philosophy was, “Just trust the president.” Even after being kept in chains for much of its existence, Fast Track’s legacy includes millions of peasant farmers who have been displaced by fast-tracked trade deals, workers whose wages have remained stagnant since Fast Track’s hatching in the mid-70’s, millions of Americans made ill by fast-tracked trade deals that required food imports not meeting U.S. safety standards, the evisceration of the U.S. manufacturing base, and much more damage. Many Americans celebrated Fast Track’s long overdue demise and joined a national day of prayer for a better procedure that in the future could replace Fast Track to ensure trade agreements would benefit the majority.

Those deeply connected to Fast Track, including President Bush and representatives of the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chamber of Commerce, Pharma and other corporate lobbies, gathered at board meetings and campaign fundraisers to mourn their loss.

Let’s go back to Bwana Broder:

… ending the president’s negotiating authority will only do our country damage. …

…The point is pretty basic. Politicians are wise to heed what people want. But they also have an obligation to weigh for themselves what the country needs. In today’s Washington, the “wants” of people count far more heavily than the nation’s needs.

Broder finishes his column and calls upon his houseboy for more tea. Inside, all is civilized and orderly — silver polished; blinds lowered, privileges protected. Outside the natives paint themselves and sharpen their spears, wailing for their lost jobs and the growing harshness of their lives.

See also: Harold Meyerson, “Global Safeguards for a Global Economy.”

30 thoughts on “The Natives Are Restless

  1. All the way up to Edmund Burke. Wow. From Aristotle all the way up to 1790. Was Broder unable to think of a modern philosopher who was both anti-democratic and respected? Or does he just consider 1790 modern?

  2. You have it exactly right on the Fast Track Authority. However, maha said, “People were misled by talk radio and some conservative politicians? So shocking. All my delusions are shattered.” I have to disagree with this. I was one of those “People” and I was not misled, actually, it was the people who pushed the talk radio personalities, including Rush Limbaugh, to see our point of view on this. Historically, conservative talk radio has done nothing but support the Republican party and the business community. This is somewhat of a reversal for talk radio. As is pointed out in the book “What’s the matter with Kansas?”, conservatives have been voting against their interests in voting for Republicans. It’s long past time they woke up.

  3. Robert Kennedy once said (to the effect) that if public opinion is all that matters, “what the hell do we need leaders for?”

    That is not to say public opinion never matter. But, it is one input in any decision process. That may sound arrogant or elitist, but it has always been that way.

    Sometimes leaders – visionaries – see where things should go long before the “rank-and-file” see it. It happens in industry as well as in governance. People who have such skills are recognized and usually handsomely rewarded (at least in the private sector).

    Also, keep in mind that only 1/3 of the colonists were for revolution even as a majority of the “Founding Fathers” were fighting for it. If that isn’t a disconnect from public opinion, what is?

  4. I see Broder, sitting by the pool, waiting for his cabana-boy to bring him his crisp gin and tonic and clip his toenail’s.
    Broder’s agitated. The boy’s late. Very late!
    Broder’s wife, sister, daughter and grand-daughter are mum as to why when they approach the pool. Did they? It would be uncivil to speak of such a thing… Of course they didn’t! Yet, their smile’s tell all…
    David Broder see’s their smiles and frown’s!
    “In today’s Washington, the “wants” of his relative’s count far more heavily than his “needs.”

    David Broder: Old tool, or stupid fool?

  5. Visiting courtesy of Crooks & Liars….

    Hilarious skewering! ROFL!

    If only Broder had been in charge of the East India Company then Zimbabwe would have been called Brhodesia, Britain would still rule the waves and the natives wouldn’t be revolting!

  6. marijam — I have a hard time believing that Rush had to be pushed into racism and xenophobia.

    MSK — you missed the point by several thousand miles.

  7. I heard Atrios say a couple of weeks ago that David Broder is completely uninterested in the details of policy or issues, a truly surprising (and, one would think, debilitating) trait for someone whose job is, at least in part, providing incisive and insightful commentary on, ya know, policy and issues.

    Broder’s ignorance of the details has come to pervade all of his articles. It’s like he’s stuck reporting on perceptions, on what he thinks everyone else thinks, because he can’t bring himself to bother researching anything. It makes me wonder if he took on the pundit gig because he thought he’d no longer have to read other reporters’ work.

  8. I sent this message to the guy :

    Sir, I have read your article implying that people don’t know what’s good for them. This is outrageous. I suggest that you go to places where nations can’t decide their own fate. I believe you know what places of the earth i’m talking about.

    I hope you will understand that, while some politicians may know more than some persons in the “populace”[and i believe these politicians are quite hard to find], only the people reap the results of a government’s policy. While the politicians keep on living in their comfortable bubble. This is how dictatures work and live on, unchallenged by people, because most of them assume, the government knows better.

    Congress has to implement the people’s “wants”.
    For the worst or the best, the american people must have what it wants.

    This is also, last time i checked, how we live our lives.
    Not by letting other people decide, even people who -some journalist assumes- know better than we do, but by trying things our way, by learning a lesson when we discover we were wrong, and rejoycing when we’ve done something right.

    Lastly, politicians are only human beings. They can be wrong as well, and their highly biased nature worsens this.
    The reason why they should be put on a pedestal escapes me.

  9. Our leaders responding to the power of public opinion? What is this, some kind of democracy?

  10. Well, I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re among the perfumed and pouffed courtiers who frequent the royal court, then. yeah, it’s ridiculous to think the peasants should have any right to determine how they are governed. This, despite the fact that our “royalty” in this case has made some unbelievably stupid, truly disasterous decisions. Trouble is, there has been so much inbreeding among the DC aristocracy, they lack the cognitive ability to understand what is causing the rabble to shake their pitchforks and light the torches.

  11. Broder has an interesting hypothesis: politicians in DC are too attentive to popular opinion, and don’t spend enough effort on things that are important but unpopular.

    Let’s test this. Two-thirds of the people want us out of Iraq. Yet we this year increased our presence in Iraq, and show no signs (beyond the rhetoric) of leaving soon. Hmm. Broder’s hypothesis fails.

    A majority of the American people want a solution for the collapsing health-care-financing system. Nothing is happening. Hmm. Broder fails again.

    I wish I lived in DC, and had friends in the right places, so that I could be paid to regularly write transparent nonsense in a column and have it printed in the WaPo. Nice work if you can get it.

    Intelligent people can and do discuss the tension between ‘leadership’ and ‘representation’, but Broder only pretends to do this, and anyone who can suggest that DC is currently overly reponsive to popular concerns is just being silly. Or worse.

  12. I usualluy do not agree with Broder. But on this he is dead on. The wanton catoring of teh Limbaugh;s, Ingraham’s Savages and O”Reillys of the world who tell the stupidest people that there stupid bigotry is really correct are a genuine threat to effective democracy. Let’s not forget, the founders did not provide for the popular lection of presidents or for seenators because of a disrespect for the ignorance of the the crazies. The constituion contained a limitation of the influence of the momentary passions of the bigoted, ingorant, uneducated and uninformed. The overt apppeal to racism that was used by Rush, O’Reilly, etc. to defeat the immigriaotn bill was an embarrassment to this country. While I usually feel Broder is an old bag of wind. this time he got it right.

  13. Thanks, maha. I now know it must have been Mr. Broder who said that the trouble with blogs, bloggers, and riff-raff posters was that bloggers are allowed to take undeserved liberties, and blogs do nothing but contribute to the lowering of public discourse.

    And, by cracky, Mr. Broder has even stooped so low as to defame that all-American icon, Mr. Smith of Going-to-Washington fame? (Of course Mr. Smith couldn’t even get his foot in the door these days if he didn’t have $150 million in his pocket.)

  14. Broder chanels the Marx Brothers:

    The natives are revolting!

    They certainly are.

  15. Barbara – If I read the 2 examples right, The ‘Immigration Reform’ bill, which was a bad bill for working Americans, died despite the best efforts of an alliance of the President, Harry Reid, The Chamber of Commerce, assorted corporate interests, the ACLU, and everyone but the Girl Scouts, died, because working Americans perceived that flooding the job market with cheap labor, with or without papers to make them legal, has driven down wages. If this is not true, explain the support of the C of C, big biz, and King George? The suggestion that the bill was defeated because Rush popped a Viagra and waved his magic wand is preposterous. The CENTER saw what a fraud the bill was and revolted.

    The other example was ‘fast track’. For DECADES we have been promised that Americans will benefit from a ‘global economy’ and the jobs created in the ‘information age’ will replace manufacturing jobs lost, and we were told that the new jobs would be better, & higher paying. Information jobs are exported to India and manufacturing jobs are to be found in China. You can go in hock up to your eyebrows for a degree, not in Poly Sci or English, but Engineering or Computer Science, and wind up working as a night manager of McDonalds, because in the ‘global econonly’ H-visas are being issued in almost unlimited numbers so techs from India (and other countries) can work in the US, because they will work for less. All hail the death of ‘fast track’. And start to think what you want and expect future trade agreements to be, if a level playing field is important. And write your Senators!

    Could we be seeing the pendulum swing from a Constitutional Monarchy to a true Representative Democracy.. in this United States? If that was to happen, I will get my way (politically) less than half the time, but die a happy man. Right, Left and especailly Center, STORM THE BASTILLE!

  16. Doug Hughes,
    I’m with you.
    Where do we gather for the coming storm?
    I’m ready to blow through it all and start all over again…

    Let the Hague
    Take care of this plague…

  17. maha, it isn’t racism or xenophobia. Think what you want to think, I know nothing could possibly change your mind. I won’t waste my time trying to get you to see things from a different point of view.

  18. Poor Broder. Here he thought he was important. Then Americans rose up to give a good swift kick in the butt to our special interest politicians. That wasn’t an immigration bill- it was a fill the job halls full of cheap taxpayer subsidiezed illegals to make corporations lots and lots of money, while Americans to lose their jobs bill.

    And it was not talk radio (never listen to it), or any other medium that got Americans riled up. It is the lies of our politicians. It is the 12 -20 million illegals who should not be here and who are stealing our SSN’s. It is the rule of law which Americans still believe in eve n though our leaders do not. You remember it? One law for everyone, applied equally. So legal immigrants come in. Illegal immigrant go out. Simple. Unless you are trying to rip off the taxapayer to stuff your buddies pockets.

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