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War of memos is one of wonkery

February 10, 2018

The story emanating from East Coast media centers about memos and Russian meddling in the presidential election are very far away from the interests of normal Americans. In fact, they are so far away, they would be hard to spot with the Hubble telescope if it were parked next door.


They are the stuff of political wonkery, which means a preoccupation with arcane details of specialized public policy.


Professional bureaucrats often become wonky when almost overcome by parades of details that march past their eyes and into their brains each day. They can spend all day, for example, pondering and arguing over whether an application to put up a sign should have 10 pages or 11, when it actually only needs one.


There are wonky baseball fans who can tell you who batted in runs in every World Series since the first one.


And there are wonky journalists who write about these things who get just as bad as the wonks they write about.


If you are writing about a bunch of political wonks, you become one yourself, which is okay, but the result is that the only people who are interested in what you’re writing are other wonks.


Wonkery lets you get away with a lot of things by helping you to appear to be working when actually all you are doing is wonking.


Lawyers who walk around carrying big, fat files are wonks because they actually may have read what’s in those files and may be able to quote from them, which gives them a one-up.


A one-up is like a chess move when one wonk is able to come up with a fact, or an idea, or a bit of history that another wonk may have missed. Then, the wonk who was one-upped will spend a lot of time looking for a way to one-up the other wonk.


That is a good description of what is going on in Washington now. The president we have is a plain talker, easy to quote. The reporters are baffled by this. GThey would much rather deal in intricate details of government rather than hearing something like, “We’ll do it this way.”


You can see why the wonks love this war of memos going on. Just about nobody else does, though.

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