Belmont Club

The Politics of the Night

The public policy arena can be compared to a grand opera house, whose foundations were laid in turmoil, and which despite the magnificence of the Grand Staircase and Grand Foyer is reputed to contain numerous secret passages and dank cellars.  Two of the chambers marked “do not enter” are the Hall of Race and the Chamber of Journalistic Collusion respectively. This week the patrons of the opera, unsettled by the changing times, have taken a turning into these dark chambers. Now they’re there what is going to happen next?

The open rooms of public discourse were marvelous to behold. The maze of corridors was “almost as bewildering as it was agreeable. Giant stairways and colossal halls, huge frescoes and enormous mirrors, gold and marble, satin and velvet, met the eye at every turn.”  But beneath the gorgeous passageways were places deemed to dangerous for the casual to enter.

The site of the Opera House was chosen in 1861. It was determined to lay the foundation exceptionally deep and strong. It was well known that water would be met with, but it was impossible to foresee at what depth or in what quantity it would be found. Exceptional depth also was necessary, as the stage arrangements were to be such as to admit a scene fifty feet high to be lowered on its frame. It was therefore necessary to lay a foundation in a soil soaked with water which should be sufficiently solid to sustain a weight of 22,000,000 pounds, and at the same time to be perfectly dry, as the cellars were intended for the storage of scenery and properties.

That’s what holds everything up. Now the public stumbled into the place where all the race cards are stored — whether played by the conservatives or the Left — through the Shirley Sherrod affair. There’s something in this rambling hall for everyone and one can make Andrew Breitbart,  NAACP, the Obama Administration or the media the designated goat in this affair as they please.  To consternation of the Opera House management a food fight has broken out in the Hall and and looks likely to continue.  Reuters calls the food-fight a “Race Mess”. Almost forgotten in all of this is the question of whether any government organization can hand out subsidies or penalties without in some way becoming involved in the toils of race.  Perhaps more government means more perceived ‘racism’ since somebody somewhere will always disagree with the way the pie is sliced.

Particularly in a depression, when taxes bite more and benefits are subjectively needed more desperately. Any transfer of economic benefits in which different races are on different sides of the redistribution arrow means that the more transfer payments, the greater the racial tension. But so much for the hall of Racial Iniquities. What about the Chamber of Journalistic Collusion? Or as it is sometimes known, Journolist?

This, if anything is where the Phantoms of the policy opera reside.  To some observers this is where the ropes which cause chandeliers to fall  unexpectedly from the ceiling must be located; the place from which voice pipes send eery, echoing words through the halls; this too is where the dynamite that might bring down the whole opera is piled; floor to ceiling, amidst cigarettes, matches and ash-trays.  Its inmates complain of the public intrusion into their private space. But can they really run their own private editorial board? To James de Long the basic problem is that Opera House management has allowed things to be run from beneath the floors for too long. Who is really running the show? The directors listed on the playbill or the secret rope-pullers?

The real problem with JournoList is that much of it consisted of exchanges among people who worked for institutions about how to best hijack their employers for the cause of Progressivism. Thus, the J-List discussion revealed yesterday in the Daily Caller was about how the group could get their media organizations to play down the Reverend Wright affair and help elect Barack Obama.

Were I an editor of one of these institutions, I would instantly fire any employee who participated in this gross violation of his/her duty. For example, the J-List included Washington Post reporters, and the idea that the paper has been turned into a propaganda organ is a big reason it is bleeding readers and influence.

Of course, it is possible that the Post’s editors were on the list, since the membership is not known, in which case the corporate executives should fire the editors, or the board should fire the executives, or the stockholders should fire the board.

Fired? It is unlikely to happen: if the Angel of Journalistic Musik were cashiered the Opera itself might stop. But never mind: the really significant thing is that the stately opera of public policy has had its boundaries significantly expanded into the spaces and sewers beneath the street. The rope barriers have momentarily collapsed, and having fallen down, are unlikely to be set up again. The public is now milling in places where they were never meant to be and it will be the devil to get them out again.  Because while the Journolist incident is of itself relatively small potatoes, the idea that the Fourth Estate is either just an extension of the Democratic Party or that its splinters are just mouthpieces of Bible-toting, gun-clinging Klan Members is now being openly debated.

What effect will this spillage have?  One possibility is that the political and media establishment are in danger of losing control of the narrative. The verboten subjects are now being discussed: the foundations of redistributive politics and the legitimacy of the elites — or the right to criticize the elites — are now themselves open to debate.  Since the drivers of both are economic hard times and an explosion in information technology, which are long term trends,  they cannot easily be put back into the bottle.  The questions are now basic and unavoidably so. Political discourse has left the channels of business as usual and will not return until a new consensus is established. It may be that they will be answered in favor of more redistribution and more centralization. Or the answer may be the opposite.  But whatever befall the Opera will either have its Ghost or be rid of him.

I have prayed over his mortal remains, that God might show him mercy … It was his skeleton. I did not recognize it by the ugliness of the head, for all men are ugly when they have been dead as long as that, but by the plain gold ring which he wore and which Christine Daae had certainly slipped on his finger, when she came to bury him in accordance with her promise. The skeleton was lying near the little well, in the place where the Angel of Music first held Christine Daae fainting in his trembling arms, on the night when he carried her down to the cellars of the opera-house. And, now, what do they mean to do with that skeleton? Surely they will not bury it in the common grave! … I say that the place of the skeleton of the Opera ghost is in the archives of the National Academy of Music. It is no ordinary skeleton.

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