Any anti-Establishment movement worth its salt seeks to become the Establishment. In the 1960’s, countercultural forces wanted to end Jim Crow, fight for women’s “liberation,” and keep our country out of pointless unwinnable wars. They were mostly successful in those efforts, but they were accomplished not just by persuading established power-brokers to change their minds but by a new generation moving into positions of power themselves.

The blogosphere arose as an anti-Establishment movement, but today we see people like Steve Benen, Nate Silver and Ezra Klein as part of the political media’s firmament. They have improved the quality of the nation’s political coverage even as they have tamed themselves somewhat to adapt to their new standing as insiders.

The present day anti-Establishment mood of the Conservative Movement doesn’t follow this pattern. They are running for offices that they object to in the first place. “If elected, I promise to do absolutely nothing since the Constitution says that Congress can’t pass any laws whatsoever.”

These people don’t want to become the Establishment; they want the Establishment to go away. The left is often guilty of a similar “permanent outsider” mentality, where power is there to be scolded and critiqued but never gained.

But politics is about power, and if you aren’t seeking it, then you’re just a noisy observer.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at