Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Most Useless Word Around

Would we lose anything, anything at all, if people just stopped using the word "establishment" entirely? That is, in the context of political party factions.

Item 1: "Establishment" candidate David Dewhurst will have to compete with Ted Cruz in a runoff for the Texas Republican Senate nomination (and, almost certainly, a Senate seat). Cruz is backed by Club for Growth, which has been around since the turn of the century; by the most recent GOP VP candidate, several US Senators, a couple of presidential candidates from this cycle, a former chair of his state party, a former US Attorney General, and any number of other well known and/or influential state and national Republican people and groups. What makes Dewhurst (who has his own long set of endorsements) more "establishment" than that? In particular: why should the press call one of them "establishment" and the other, not?

Item 2: Mitt Romney has not yet won the endorsements of Republican foreign policy "establishment" types Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. What makes them, and not their opponents within the party --opponents who, in many cases, have been in office a lot more recently and are more likely to be appointed by Republican nominee Romney if he wins -- "establishment"? Or if both sides of the GOP divide (or all sides, if there are more than two) are "establishment," then how does it help us, the readers, figure out what's going on?

It's just lazy journalism. Parties have groups, and factions, and individuals, and certainly those who are in and those who are out...oh, I suppose they can have something that's an establishment, too (I do think there was a foreign policy establishment in the 1960s, for example), but more likely you're not telling us anything at all by calling one of these factions or groups or individuals "establishment." I know I've hit on this point before, but alas the examples of it are all over the place and just as useless as ever.

11 comments:

  1. I have always totally agreed with your estimation of the term 'establishment', but in this case, there is a specific difference between the two candidates. Dewhurst has served in Texas elected office for 14 years, winning 4 statewide elections, while Cruz has only served 5 years as Solicitor General, an appointed office, and has never run for elective office before.

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    1. True. In-state, the establishment candidate is the one backed by the Governor's machine, and that's Dewhurst.

      I think a good rule of thumb is that the establishment candidate is the one members of the instate party network would be afraid to oppose, for fear of losing status in the party.

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  2. Yeah and not only does it tell us nothing about whats going on, it obscures other important aspects of the factual nature of the story by turning it into arguments about whose in the political or policy "in crowd". Look why not talk about how Romney's embracing of Bolton/Rumsfeld style neo-conservatism is worrying GOP foreign policy old hands like Snowcroft and Kissinger. That's what I think is important, especially in terms of Romney's sabre rattling towards Russia or edging towards embracing the idea of a unilateral and open ended commitment to military intervention in a civil war in the Middle East. When journalist embrace the "establishment" paradigm (yes I finally got to use that word in a blog post!) it obscures important policy differences as well as a politician's overall approach to politics.

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  3. I disagree. Antidisestablishmentarianism is the most useless word around. It's very long, and very, very, very dated.

    I can use establishment cogently in many sentences. "This establishment served food that caused me intestinal distress."

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    1. That's why I put the damn qualification in the first paragraph, to avoid Jarvis doing this. I have failed.

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    2. Really? You thought a little thing like context would stop my snark?

      tsk tsk tsk

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  4. Why are you so confused? "Establishment" means the same thing as "elite."

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  5. In some cases, it could be a code word for "reasonable."

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  6. Dr. B,

    I was hoping you'd raise this topic again. I wanted to quote to you from Caro's recent book (p. 297 for those of you following along at home). He's relying here in part on the text of a Life magazine article about the Bobby Baker case:

    '[T]he senate was controlled "rigidly" by a small group that was its "Establishment," and "In a very real sense the ... Establishment is the personal creation of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who from the day he took over as majority leader until he went to the Vice Presidency, ruled it like an absolute monarch....'


    That seems to me a pretty straightforward and clear use of the term 'establishment' to mean a specific coterie of persons with strong ties to leadership, but not limited to elected members of congress.

    Further, there were elected officials clearly outside this establishment. On p. 288, we find '...others, even Wayne Morse of Oregon, usually as far outside the Senate establishment as [John J.] Williams, tried to defend the eager little man who had done them all so many favors.'

    It would see here we have a pretty clear definition of what the establishment means in this context, and strong examples of persons in and out. Would you submit that the term is perhaps not worthless or ineffectual, but perhaps outdated?

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  7. Lawrence FechtenbergerMay 31, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    The Club for Growth "has been around since the turn of the century"--you mean for eleven years? Is that really long enough to be considered "establishment"?

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    1. Well, 13 years (1999) and four presidential election cycles...sure. They've been around as an organization exactly as long as Rove has been around (as a national player), and everyone calls him establishment.

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