Lessons from the Rabbit Hole

I’m not sure how it happened but last night I was surfing around the Internet and something piqued my interest which led me to go look for something else which led me to go down some rabbit hole and wind up reading this July 1988 Vanity Fair profile of Pamela Harriman. Related to this, I became aware of a 2004 book written by C. David Heymann called The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation’s Capital which profiled not only Harriman but also Katherine Graham, Evangeline Bruce, Lorraine Cooper, and Sally Quinn. I also found a 2004 CSPAN video of Heymann discussing this book.

There’s a lot of really important history involved in those links, and someday I hope to really try to unpack it, but there’s one thing I discovered that is almost exquisite. There’s just something uncanny about the fact that Pamela Harriman was originally Pamela Beryl Digby (from the aristocratic Digby family) and that is was the Santa Monica-based blogger Digby who coined the term “The Village” to refer to Harriman’s whole social milieu.

JESSE KORNBLUTH: You’ve reserved a special place in blog hell for “the Village,” a media establishment you’ve said functions largely as a megaphone for the government.

DIGBY: I’m the one who coined that phrase. During the Lewinsky scandal, Sally Quinn wrote in the Washington Post that her “town” had been besmirched by Clinton’s extramarital affair. The essence of the Village critique is this faux provincialism of wealthy politicians and multimillionaire celebrity pundits-and the ridiculous conceit that they stand for the values of “real Americans.”

Speaking of that infamous Washington Post piece by Sally Quinn, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way about the Clintons. She was just reporting what the Georgetown Ladies Social Club (aka The Village) felt about the matter.

“It’s much more personal here,” says pollster Geoff Garin. “This is an affront to their world. It affects the dignity of the place where they live and work. . . . Clinton’s behavior is unacceptable. If they did this at the local Elks Club hall in some other community it would be a big cause for concern.”

“He came in here and he trashed the place,” says Washington Post columnist David Broder, “and it’s not his place.”

Of course, Harriman died in February 1997, more than eleven months before the Lewinsky Scandal broke in the news. She was blessed not to see her community trashed and besmirched.

But, since I’ve been talking about the Democratic Party taking a populist economic approach, it seems fitting to think about Harriman’s role as kingmaker for the Democrats. The mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson and economic populism don’t necessarily go together, and that could be a metaphor for problems that still bedevil us.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.