What is going ON in DC?

I gotta say, I agree with Peggy Noonan that this article in the New York Times, “Reid Is Unapologetic as Aide Steps on Toes, even the President’s,” is upsetting.  Here is Ms. Noonan’s summary of its contents:

Assuming the article is factually correct, and it certainly appears to be well reported, the president of the United States phoned the majority leader of the U.S. Senate during a legislative crisis to complain that one of the senator’s staffers is a leaker. Unbeknown to the president, the staffer was listening in on the call and broke in to rebut the president’s accusation.

Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

That’s the staffer there, David Krone.

(What should we make of Harry Reid’s portrait of Twain there?  There’s no way Reid is so dumb it didn’t occur to him what Twain would think of that, and him.  Is choosing that portrait a sage bit of humor and humility?  Or a cheap show at sage humor and humility? Plus bloody bloody Andrew Jackson?  anyway there’s no time to sort all that out.)  

Says the Times:

For some on Capitol Hill, Mr. Krone is a manipulative megalomaniac. For others, he is a hero who has the financial independence to speak his mind. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that he is different.

(Krone is rich I guess from being a cable TV executive as a young man?).  I’m not liking this dude’s tone as presented in the article:

“I don’t remember anything about that,” Mr. Reid said in his chandeliered office on Nov. 13, a few hours after being re-elected leader of the Senate Democrats. “Do you?” he asked, turning to Mr. Krone, who was seated beside him in the “leader’s chair.”

“Umm,” Mr. Krone, who is rarely at a loss for words, said through a frozen smile. A few minutes later, Mr. Krone, dressed impeccably in a bespoke suit, walked a reporter out of the office, and, referring to the president’s call, jocularly exclaimed, “I can’t believe that you know that story!”

Krone’s wife is Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations at the White House:

extremely unflattering photo of AM I found on Italian wikipedia.

One day, congressional leaders went to the White House to meet with the president. As they entered, Secret Service agents decided to screen staff members, who usually roll right onto the grounds with their bosses. According to a person familiar with the day’s events, Mr. Krone, incredulous, began shouting. He then called Ms. Mastromonaco, then his fiancée and the administration’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who arrived and apologized. (Mr. Krone said he did not recall the incident and suggested that he might have been misunderstood. “I have a sarcastic sense of humor,” he said.)

Adding to the tumult as the staff members and congressional leaders waited in the White House lobby, Mr. Boehner approached Mr. Reid and, upset by Mr. Reid’s attacks on him on the Senate floor, told him to “go [expletive] yourself.” Mr. Reid replied that he read only what Mr. Krone put in his speeches.

“He says, ‘Blame David,’ ” Mr. Krone recalled, chuckling. “And I was, like, ‘Don’t look at me!’ ”

There’s more weirdness.  Apparently the President and First Lady threw a party in honor of Mr. Krone and Miss Mastromonaco’s upcoming wedding, and Krone didn’t go:

Even as his relationship with the administration deteriorated, Mr. Krone set a wedding date with Ms. Mastromonaco for last November. As the big day approached, Mr. Krone’s good friend George E. Norcross III, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey, suggested a golf outing at his Palm Beach, Fla., home before the nuptials. Mr. Krone said his fiancée endorsed the idea, but a week before the trip said, “Don’t get mad, but they are throwing a party for us.” The “they” in question was Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, but Mr. Krone kept his engagement with Mr. Norcross instead. “I’m exactly where I wanted,” he recalled thinking during the Florida trip.

At the White House engagement party, the president spoke of Ms. Mastromonaco’s indispensability and referred to her as a “little sister.” Michelle Obama declared her to be like “part of my family.” The absent groom later admired a photo of the cake served at the party, describing it as “like taller than me.”

(Pete Souza/The White House)

Mastromonaco now works at VICE.  Reid, talking about Krone:

Mr. Reid fought back tears as he recalled the time he visited his wife, who had been injured in a car accident, and saw Mr. Krone at her hospital bedside. “David is someone I can say, and it doesn’t affect my manhood at all,” Mr. Reid said, “I love David Krone.”

This Times article has some unusually casual phrasing.  For example:

It is hard to imagine now, but Mr. Krone used to have a good relationship with the White House. Smart and insanely hard-working, Mr. Krone, with his direct manner and total empowerment by Mr. Reid, proved a valuable ally in the administration’s early policy lifts.

Anyway: Peggy Noonan is disgusted with all this.  She goes on to invoke The West Wing, on which she briefly worked:

The second thing the Horowitz story made me think of is this. I have remarked, and I think others have also, on the broad, deep impact of the television drama “The West Wing.” It spawned a generation of Washington-based television dramas. (Interestingly, they have become increasingly dark.) It also inspired a generation of young people to go to Washington and work in politics. I always thought the show gave young people a sense of the excitement of work, of being a professional and of being part of something that could make things better.

But it also gave them a sense of how things are done in Washington. And here the show’s impact was not entirely beneficial, because people do not—should not—relate to each other in Washington as they do on TV. “The West Wing” was a television show—it was show business—and it had to conform to the rules of drama and entertainment, building tension and inventing situations that wouldn’t really happen in real life.

Once when I briefly worked on the show, there was a scene in which the press secretary confronts the president and tells him off about some issue. Then she turned her back and walked out. I wrote a note to the creator, Aaron Sorkin, and said, Aaron, press secretaries don’t upbraid presidents in this way, and they don’t punctuate their point by turning their backs and storming out. I cannot remember his reply, but it was probably along the lines of, “In TV they do!”

“The West Wing” was so groundbreaking, and had in so many ways such a benign impact. But I wonder if it didn’t give an entire generation the impression that how you do it on a TV drama is how you do it in real life.

And so the president calls the senator and the aide listens in and cuts the president off. And things in Washington are more like a novel than life, but a cheap novel, and more like a TV show than life, but a poor and increasingly dark one.

Over at Gawker they love to call Peggy Noonan things like “doddering” and “an 800 year-old broken record”  and “lunatic.”  That is not helpful. It only reveals Gawker to be dummies who think they’re smarter than they are, Peggy Noonan is 10x more skillful at writing than anyone at Gawker.

She’s so good at writing/rhetoric/storytelling that she can slick you by assumptions that might not hold up.  Here, in this same blog post, she tells the story of hearing of Monica Lewinsky:

At this point I said, “Whoa. Whoa.” Because my instinct was that it wasn’t true, presidents don’t do things like that, this sounds more like a novel than life. Maybe the girl is just someone with an extremely odd and active fantasy life.

But my friends believed the story, and I could tell that they felt a little sorry for me that I didn’t get it.

Which I didn’t. Because no president would act like that. It took days and weeks for me to fully absorb it. And then I got mad, because the people involved in the scandal were acting as vandals and tearing down things it took centuries to build.

My only personal experience of the White House was of two men, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, for whom such behavior would have been impossible.

If you work for American presidents who are good men, you will inevitably carry forward in your head the assumption that American presidents will be good men. Your expectations will be toward high personal standards and normality. If you started out working for leaders who are not good men, on the other hand, you can go forward with a cynicism and suspicion that are perhaps more appropriate to your era.

Well sure maybe they weren’t getting bjers but Reagan almost certainly was demented and both of them either didn’t know or lied about knowing how military officers in their White House were selling weapons to Islamist revolutionaries and using the money to fund right-wing murderers in Central America.

Maybe that’s worse?

That thing about tearing down things it took centuries to build, tho.  I’m with her on that.

Thinking as I go here but: it’s cool and hip and really important sometimes to be “disruptive.”

But: perhaps in my dottage I’m becoming a grumpy old crank, but:

There’s also wisdom in a lower-c “conservative” respect and protective instinct for “things” it took centuries and great sacrifice to build.  Things that preserve important, maybe even eternal values.  Things like the American Presidency, which has a dignity earned for it by brilliant, inspired men, starting with George Washington, and yeah he owned slaves and that is extremely fucked as even he seems to have known but his greatness is undeniable because he was, seemingly at all times, thinking of something bigger than himself, offering his life to a larger vision that extends all the way to us and beyond.

Among the people that followed George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in that office there was not one who wasn’t deeply weird and full of puzzle and contradiction.  There was at least one wicked criminal who deserved to be dumped in an open sewage canal.  But taken together they built up and left behind a legacy, a “thing” of brilliance and endurance and dignity and honor and pride that benefits us, protects us, improves and broadens and enriches our lives.  That deserves some kind of deep reverence.

Not worshipful reverence, not fanatical reverence.  Even Reid knows he’s supposed to remember Twain too.  Maybe reverence is the wrong word even.  Maybe what it should inspire is humility.

That’s what’s missing here.  A guy who interrupts the President and then brags about it to The New York Times isn’t being humble.  He’s being an asshole.



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