The Magazine

Reston-Broder Syndrome Claims Victim

From the Scrapbook.

Jul 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 42 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist whose progressive politics and world-weary posture have earned him coveted berths in the Post’s opinion and news pages. The Scrapbook wishes him the best. But The Scrapbook is also worried that, at 44, Milbank is showing signs of early-onset Reston-Broder Syndrome. 

Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank

This is a mood disorder, primarily confined to members of the press, which manifests itself by repeated assertions that political conditions cannot possibly be worse than they are at present, and that there was once a Golden Age to which the sufferer would like to return.

The syndrome, not yet recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, is named for the late David Broder of the Post, who liked to write about the good old days when Democrats and Republicans appeared to have no political or personal differences, and the late James Reston of the New York Times, who was forever in pursuit of younger, fresher, self-evidently better political leadership.

The Scrapbook remembers its first exposure to Reston-Broder Syndrome in the late 1950s, when Reston would habitually complain to the Times that the political leadership of the West was geriatric, sclerotic, and embarrassing. Of course, it should be remembered that he was talking about such geriatric, sclerotic, and embarrassing leaders as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harold Macmillan, Konrad Adenauer, and Charles de Gaulle—and, presumably, yearning for young John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Beginning in the 1980s, Broder would routinely hark back to those near-perfect days on Capitol Hill (the 1950s?) when Democrats and Republicans would enjoy a whiskey together at the end of the day—and Democrats commanded prohibitive majorities in both House and Senate.

The Scrapbook sensed the telltale signs of Reston-Broder Syndrome last week when Milbank wrote a column in which he lamented the practice of Senate Republicans of dissenting from the views of their Democratic colleagues. After consultation with “senators and veteran Capitol Hill correspondents,” he swiftly realized what ails the Senate: “There are no giants in the chamber today,” he wrote. No Edward Kennedys, no Robert Byrds.

The Scrapbook will refrain from repeating the sordid details of Teddy Kennedy’s public (and private) career, but that Milbank believes the U.S. Senate suffers from the absence of Bobby Byrd suggests that his Reston-Broder symptoms are dangerously advanced. Byrd, who died two summers ago, was an especially unattractive officeholder who began his career as a ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan in his native West Virginia, and ended it (at 93) as the longest-serving senator in history. Between those two landmarks he managed to oppose the two African-American nominees to the Supreme Court, as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and, as longtime chairman of the Appropriations Committee, devoted himself almost exclusively to shipping federal dollars to the aforementioned West Virginia, where innumerable taxpayer-financed structures bear his name. 

It is true that the relative age of the Senate is younger than, say, a decade ago, and the chamber is dominated by a new generation. It is also true that nearly half of today’s senators are freshmen. But is this, by any definition, a bad thing? Milbank seems to confuse advanced age and prolonged tenure with distinction, and surely forgets that even Teddy Kennedy and Bobby Byrd were young once.

Indeed, The Scrapbook is reminded of a story Harold Macmillan liked to tell about an ancient parliamentarian who, in Macmillan’s youth, complained to him about the absence of giants in the House of Commons: “They’re all gone now, my boy, all gone .  .  . Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone, Salisbury. .  .  . All gone. .  .  . And I’m not feeling so well myself.”

Big Labor’s Big Money

For the last few weeks the Obama campaign has been sending out urgent fundraising appeals highlighting the fact that Mitt Romney outraised them by $30 million last month. “That translates into a 

potentially devastating sweep of negative, misleading messaging that’s going to flood the airwaves in swing states,” read the most recent Obama email to land in The Scrapbook’s inbox. (Oddly, the email neglected to mention the Obama campaign has significantly outspent the Romney campaign in swing state advertising.) While the desperation here is real, let’s not kid ourselves: The Obama campaign will not be outspent in this election.

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