So a few days ago, Sally Quinn wrote a somewhat tone-deaf article bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t get invited to high-powered dinner parties with Big Powerful Senators any more, for which she’s been roundly derided. Jonathan Chait more recently piled on with, among other cutting remarks, this incisive comment on the good ol’ days:
When assessing Quinn’s sense of the Lost Eden of Washington, we should also have a firmer sense of what the culture was actually like. Here is one scene from Quinn’s inculcation into the Washington elite:
Washington writer Sally Quinn told of a 1950s reception where: “My mother and I headed for the buffet table. As we were reaching for the shrimp, both of us jumped and let out a shriek. Senator Strom Thurmond, grinning from ear to ear, had one hand on my behind and the other on my mother’s. As I recall, we were both quite flattered, and thought it terribly funny and wicked of Ol’ Strom.”
Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.
I have never been more thankful for Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein. (In fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever been thankful for either in the first place.)
David Frum clearly enjoyed reading Chait’s piece as much as I did, although he probably wasn’t as surprised to enjoy a Chait column as I was. However, he sees something sinister in the shift of power from philandering racists to pajama-wearing bloggers:
Over half a human lifetime, Washington has shifted from a city whose status hierarchy was dominated by official rank to one whose status hierarchy is determined almost entirely by money. A US senator is a smaller deal in the Washington of 2012 than his or her predecessor of 1972; a visiting billionaire a much bigger deal. Not that the senator has sunk to zero; not that the billionaire would not have been important in 1972; but the ratios have changed—and changed really quite dramatically. Sally Quinn may not be the most sympathetic observer of the trend, but she is surely one of the most authoritative. You don’t have to like her piece to hear her message.
Frum’s implication, contra Chait, is that this change is for the worse. I call bullshit.
Taking Frum’s comparison of Senators to billionaires literally, we see that there are 100 American Senators and, according to Forbes, 1226 billionaires in the world (of which 424 are American). In terms of power inequality, which do you think is worse? We’re all about reducing cronyism and spreading out access to power, aren’t we? Surely a world where power has devolved from its concentration in lifelong Senators to a more dilute community that includes bloggers and sex-tape celebrities is a better one by this metric.
Fractions, motherfucker: Do you speak them?