A certain Washington dinner party -- most of the guests were conservatives -- dissolved in raucous laughter the other night when the host asked me what to make of what's going on in the nation's capital. "Cynicism reigns unchallenged," I said.
My reply was hardly an outburst of wit worthy of Dorothy Parker, nor was this the Algonquin Round Table, but the guests looked at me as though I was Alice in Washingtonland who just climbed out of the rabbit hole. What I mistook for cynicism, they told me, was merely business as usual.
Didn't I know that power always trumps principle in Washington? Someone reminded me that John F. Kennedy's book, "Profiles in Courage," which captured the nation's attention and won him a Pulitzer Prize, was ghost-written and thus based on a lie of authorship. Mark Twain famously called Congress "our native criminal class." Congressmen, he observed with inventive wit, had "the smallest minds, the selfishiest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes."
Who can argue with the proposition that the congressional Democrats who voted for a health care reform that almost none of their constituents want and that they privately detest have found the leader they deserve? Health care is the president's piglet, and he's determined to protect it with the ferocity of a biting sow. Lyndon Johnson would understand Barack Obama's display of political persuasion. LBJ succeeded not only with knee-patting and arm-twisting, but by creating "services" requiring big bureaucracies. The Great Society was the boondoggle that first made a billion dollars an insignificant sum in congressional calculations.
But there may be a similarity between LBJ and Obama more ominous than manipulating Congress. LBJ's reputation at home turned to ashes abroad. Obama's dispatch of Hillary Clinton to display what looked like a white flag in the Middle East is likely to embolden Iran, with consequences too grim to imagine.