In his book (political bible), the late Richard Ben Kramer imparts many truths. One of which has come to my mind many times over the course of this past week as the media picks apart Benghazi, the IRS, and the DOJ/AP “scandals.” I put them in quotes because it depends who you talk to. Most people in my immediate circles apply them to the last two but definitely not the first, for example.
Regardless, I felt the need to remind those of you who may stumble across this blog of these words from “What It Takes.” While they were written about Reagan, Bush 41, and their involvement in the Iran-Contra, they work just as well today. After all, our big questions are still – on all of these three fronts – who knew what, when. He writes:
“Alas, it is the surest sign that official Washington remains a precultural swamp that it has not offered mankind any refinement of language to illuminate its own constant preoccupation, the basic activity of its single industry, the work of its days and the spice of its nights, which is knowing. There are, in the capital, a hundred different ways to know and be known; there are fine gradations of knowing, wherein the subtlest distinctions are enforced. But to discuss this art and passion, we have only the same bland flapjack of a verb that flops each day onto our plates, along with the morning paper: To Know.
About this preoccupation there can be no dispute: knowledge is power, and the capital is a city built on power, which means known and being known. But this is more than a business in Washington. It is life. Only in the bars of Capitol Hill will you hear a normal, healthy young woman responding to the blandishments of her handsome swain with the delighted, breathy question, “You know Kerrey?”…This is knowing in the sense of acquaintance, of connaissance, but this is only the most basic way To Know.
…Then there is the matter of being known, which can be more important than knowing. If a Washington man is well-known as a man in the know, then his knowing is seldom tested. In fact, it is fed daily by people who come to him to see what he thinks about what they know…As a result, he ends up knowing pretty much what everybody else knows, which is usually enough.
…Then there is another shade of the verb, To Know, in the sense of awareness. It is about what’s going on right now, and as such, is Washington’s highest branch of knowledge. Encyclopedia scientia on the theory, history, and practice of progressive taxation in America is nothing, less than nothing, compare to knowing (a week before the vote) Chairman Rostenkowski’s bottom line on depreciation of timber assets. One brand of knowing (scientia) earns a ratty office and a shared secretary at the Heritage Foundation. The other (awareness) bring power, money, fame…
But the highest form of capital-knowing, the quest for awareness is also the most dangerous. Clearly, the lack of this knowing can undermine reputation or power, especially if…one ought to know. To be unaware, to be Out of the Loop, is allied in the tribal consciousness with impotence, inability, imbecility…and ultimately with the fatal affliction of ridiculousness. But there is also, in success, in wide awareness, a danger just as mortal. For this is the brand of knowing that is closest to Eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and can result in expulsion from Eden. When things foul up in a massive way; when The Washington Post, like God, is angry; when Committee Chairmen vie for jurisdiction of the hearing that will make them well known as the scourge of evildoing; then this is the knowing implied in the most portentous of capital questions:
What did he know, and when did he know it?
And so, there has developed, in Washington, a kind of knowing without being known to know, for which there is no word at all. It is a nonoperational, untraceable knowing, which can seldom be proven or disproven. Indeed, its vaguely oriental essence can barely be expressed. It is yin-and-yang, knowing-not-knowing.”
Man. I feel pretty Steve Kornacki, right now.