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.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.