December 10, 2018

Can’t we all just not get along?

Maybe the problem with Washington isn’t that there’s too little comity  – there’s too much.

Old hands lament the passing of the era when, by day, partisans went after one another red in tooth and claw, but when the sun hit the treetops the enmity took a breather.  Thanks to the bourbon dispensed in Capitol hideaways and Georgetown salons, the gears of democracy were lubricated and America’s bidness could get done.  But today, this elegy goes, legislators race home to their districts instead of chillin’ with the villains.  The sealed ideological bubbles that politicians now inhabit prevent rivals from finding common ground after hours.

Conversely, democracy is also said to benefit from an adversarial free press.  Its mission – speaking truth to power, without fear or favor – is the reason the Constitution protects the fourth estate.  The Washington press corps is the watchdog of liberty.  Being relentlessly skeptical may not make journalists popular, but it’s a necessary tension.

Armistices in this 24/7 tribal warfare, Washington ethnographers tell us, are those occasional evenings devoted to bipartisan mingling and self-deprecating humor, like the Gridiron Club dinner, the Alfalfa Club dinner and above all the “>Jeremy Scahill or a “>Stephen Colbert’s 2006 routine at the Correspondents’ Dinner was so vehement: He crossed a line.  It was one thing for George W. Bush to show a “>Conan O’Brien were both really funny at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  But whatever barbs they tossed were easily accommodated by the soothing meta-fiction machine that the whole incestuous enterprise amounts to.  Commingle, self-deprecate, after-party with the owners.  Just put ’em through a humility simulator and go home.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at