Pete Seat: The meaning of the word 'establishment'
Friday, April 08, 2016 12:08 PM
INDIANAPOLIS - What is the establishment? It’s the dirtiest word in politics today – even worse than that naughty rabble-rouser “compromise.” Makes you sick just reading it, no? But do people know what the word really means?
Here are four things you need to know about the establishment before the next time you use the word:
There’s a Republican establishment and a Democrat establishment. First, before anyone’s head explodes, let’s clear the air and understand that both major political parties have an establishment, regardless of the other points below. There are Republicans and Democrats who court candidates, raise dough and sway votes. There’s no mutual exclusivity here. So when you hear a Republican scream about the establishment, remember it goes the other way, too.
The establishment is engaged, outsiders are disengaged. The folks who attended Thursday’s Vigo County Lincoln Day Dinner (at which I was the keynote speaker) and the Lake County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday (which I will attend) are the establishment. What?! It’s true. They may not agree with my assessment, but that’s what they are. And it’s not because they are rich and powerful and dictate how the system works, it’s simply because they got off their couches and got involved.
I know this because I have been party to this part of the establishment since 2001. It was a Saturday morning in Tucson, Arizona, when I, an 18-year-old college freshman, showed up to walk door-to-door in a city I knew next to nothing about for a candidate I had never heard of before. It was on that morning that I signed my oath to the politically engaged. For years of Saturdays to come, and countless evenings, I volunteered my time to get Republicans elected to office. It made no matter to me if a candidate was running for governor or city council; I did not discriminate when it came to helping elect good people to public office. Those efforts led to an internship at The White House which later led to a full-time job in the George W. Bush Administration.
Now, here’s what the establishment is not: the Monday Morning Quarterbacks who enjoy complaining about how bad the process is but don’t take the time to be a part of the process. They are the same people who stay home. The same people who always have something better to do and prioritize other pursuits above active participation in this great American experiment of ours.
In the outsiders, we find what happens when one refuses to get involved. Had those who willingly chose to disengage from the process taken a different path, the make-up of the establishment would be different and perhaps the political climate cool to the touch. Instead, the anti-establishment forces, rather than infiltrate and re-brand from within, chose to scream from beyond their self-imposed barrier for fear of becoming the dreaded establishment.
The establishment wins. I can’t begin to count the number of candidates who cry out, “I’m an outsider,” when the only reason they are an outsider is because they lost all their previous bids to be an insider. Losing campaign after campaign is not an attractive electoral resume builder.
Running, winning and governing, however, is the name of the game. And those who are considered the establishment are the establishment because they ran and won.
The establishment is not ideological, it is generational. This is something I addressed in my book, “The War on Millennials,” which was published two years ago this week. Without a doubt, there are ideological fault lines within the Republican Party. We see this in the Donald Trump versus (I Pray For) Anyone But Trump race. Some of that is based on ideological considerations, some of that is based on personality, but where the true divide lies is in the generations.
Older Americans are the ones who have worn out their shoe leather as well as worn out their welcome on the political stage. Yes, they consistently show up to vote, consistently run for office and consistently win office compared to my younger cohorts, but they also consistently make poor decisions that shackle the futures of Millennials such as me. When given the opportunity to pass bills that secure long-term benefit, they time and time again take the short-term path.
On two of the three points, I’m guilty as charged. And, as such, I’m not ashamed to carry the label as a meritorious award for my efforts and neither should anyone else be ashamed.
We spend so much time arguing over labels when we could accept the truth and move on to the issues that matter to our future rather than reward people who are proud of their disengagement from the world around them.
Pete Seat is senior project manager at the Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies and author of the book The War on Millennials. He was previously a spokesman for President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and the Indiana Republican Party.