June 24, 2008
A heretic’s advice to Obama
Colbert I. King, The Washington Post
TODAY, I shall commit an act of heresy so offensive to cherished Washington beliefs that revocation of my citizenship in the nation’s capital is quite likely to follow.
Nonetheless, I press on.
My offense? I contend, contrary to accepted Washington doctrine, that should Barack Obama be elected president, he ought not to allow his administration to fall into the clutches of Washington insiders.
This advice is offered for Obama’s own good.
More than 30 years of observation has led me to conclude that Washington insiders are to new administrations what steroids are to baseball. They are easily available, can produce a profound sense of strength and are hard to withdraw from once trouble hits home.
Evan Thomas of Newsweek touched lightly upon this topic in a recent column. But he reached a different conclusion.
Thomas wrote about a Washington party he attended recently with various movers and shakers who strongly believe that a new president “need(s) to hire people who know the town, who are ‘wired’ and get around.” “Someone in my little group did try to wonder what it would be like if a president only hired outsiders, but he was quickly drowned out,” he wrote.
That voice was mine. Today I continue, uninterrupted.
First of all, my thoughts about “Washington insiders” apply to Democrats and Republicans alike. Regardless of their political stripes, Washington insiders share a received wisdom that holds that no new president can make it in this town without them.
Democratic insiders point to Carter administration pratfalls caused by a lack of reliance upon, well, people like themselves. Bill Clinton’s first-year mistakes were chalked up to the naivete of out-of-towners. George W. Bush heard some of the same slams against his team of Texans when he first hit town.
To be fair, and balanced, I acknowledge that insiders have a point when they say political novices don’t know their way around Washington, that they are quite likely to get lost. Nothing like having a guide dog around when the territory is hard to see, the insiders will tell you. Here’s another point in their favor:
Both Democratic and GOP power brokers contribute an impressive amount of time, treasure and talent to their party’s fortunes. They are sincere adherents to their party’s beliefs. Many have served in government, occupying positions of great responsibility. Some of them go back to the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Insiders also come to the table with experience in the ways of Washington gained through their own mishaps and the mistakes of others. But here’s my problem with putting that crowd in charge. They live by the old rules of Washington politics and, simply stated, they are in it for themselves.
But when the new president hits a rough patch — and they all do — Washington insiders are usually the first to duck and cover, and undergo a conversion from out-front cheerleader to inside backbiter.
They do it in a time-honored Washington way.