This is a big structural failing of the American elite. It reflects in part the fact that conservative elites have refused to play the role of honest brokers, the preference of the right's main institutions to propagandize their audience rather than seeking to inform them with an honest, factually accurate presentation of the hawkish view of Middle East policy. It also reflects a large failure of our non-ideological institutions, a completely inability of "the establishment" to succeed in setting national discourse on an even keel. And last it reflects the fact that for several years the main opposition institutions in the United States--most of all the Democratic Party--failed for years to aggressively push back. For the year months or so after 9/11, "respectable" folks were expected to spend more time and energy worrying about marginal leftists than about the dangerous radicals peddling made-up facts who just so happened to control the institutions of government.And so we arrive once more at our favorite intellectual inadequacy: the perennial confusion between ability and intent.
Like many young aspirants to the imagined technocracy, Yglesias sees himself as a potential member of the "American elite" he mentions and laments. Smart, articulate, Washington-saavy, literate, versed in policy, loosely acquainted with the principles of economics, something of a polymath, reasonably well-travelled, cosmopolitan but not too cosmopolitan. Were he in the chair on the Sunday morning talk shows; were he penning the articles in Foreign Affairs; were he advising the candidates directly; then surely the People would be better informed. The deranging affects of fear-mongering and panic-pimping would be drained from our politics. People would sanely debate the issues, arrive at consensus, act accordingly. The best and the brightest, but without the irony inherent in that title.
But the failure of the "elites" to inform Americans, and the failure of the opposition to actually oppose, aren't "structural failures." Not from the inside. The fortunes of everyone directly involved in the Iraq adventure, from the TV pundits to the campaign advisors to the polticians themselves, haven't suffered. There are more harpies on TV than ever. There is more military pork than ever. Fantastic amounts of wealth have been shifted into the hands of a very small segment of the State economy by means of our imperial venture. And, hovering above it all like the shadow of the spectre of the ghost of the spirit of the essence of the incarnation of the muttering angel of death, there's the old Iron Law of Institutions on which La Nan, General Petraeus, Dick Cheney, the editorial board of the Post, Eric Prince of Blackwater, and a few thousand others sharpen their pointy little teeth.
Matt, my friends, looks at the project of empire and sees that it's bad for America. And in a vague, idealistic sense, it is. If you believe all the hooey they fed you back in civics class; if you believe that once upon a time our continental empire, despite the slaves and all the dead injuns, was some very weepy, poetical new birth of freedom; if you subscribe, in other words, to nostalgia and sentiment as valid analytical frameworks; then yes, true dat motherfuckers, conquering, killing, enslaving, subordinating, democratizing, Gitmoizing foreigners is a nasty bit of business. Bad for children. Bad for flowers. Bad for the Constitution. If, on the other hand, you percieve that imperial projects are hugely profitable for a particular group of people, then your chagrins and confusions and worries that this or that holy, sacrosanct institution of American uniqueness isn't doing its job will evaporate quick as morning dew on a warm spring day. Consider Rome. From the founding of the Republic till the sack of the city, there were many ups and downs, victories and defeats, expansions and contractions, triumphs and disasters. But through it all, the patricians remained patricians, although the later emporers expanded their ranks to include, oh, all sorts of office-holders and, ahem, "retired generals" and the like.
The elites that Yglesias identifies--partisan and "establishment"--profit materially and vocationally from empire. It isn't a structural failure that somehow prevents them from levelling with the grazing people of the heartandhomeland; it is the structure. These people are the harbingers of death. It enriches them. What have they got to gain within their little world from telling you the truth, Yglesias, or me, or anyone? We're in it together, Matt, you and I. The only difference is that come the next election you'll pull the lever for Hillary, but prattle on endlessly nevertheless about the relentless catastrophe in Tehran.