The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

What's the difference between a wonk and a hack? Succicinctly, by Washington Monthly's Bruce Reed:

Some journalists are wonks, but most are hacks. Some columnists are hacks, but most are wonks. All members of Congress pass themselves off as wonks, but many got elected as hacks. Lobbyists are hacks who make money pretending to be wonks. The Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the entire political blogosphere consist largely of wonks pretending to be hacks. "The Hotline" is for hacks; National Journal is for wonks. "The West Wing" is for wonks; "K Street" was for hacks.

After two decades in Washington as a wonk working among hacks, I have come to the conclusion that the gap between Republicans and Democrats is as nothing compared to the one between these two tribes. We wonks think we're smarter than hacks. Hacks think that if being smart makes someone a wonk, they'd rather be stupid. Wonks think all hacks are creatures from another planet, like James Carville. Hacks share Paul Begala's view that wonks are all "propeller heads," like Elroy on "The Jetsons." Wonks think the differences between hacks and wonks are as irreconcilable as the Hutus and the Tutsis. Hacks think it's just like wonks to bring up the Hutus and the Tutsis.
Any time you can work Elroy Jetson into a political column, it gets my attention. Although as you can see from any drawing of "his boy" Elroy, his cap doesn't have a propeller on it--that would be way too 20th-Century for a kid living in the latter half of the 21st Century.

Fundamentally, hacks concern themselves with political expediency, while wonks focus on policy formulation. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this Bush White House is out of kilter, tilted heavily toward hackdom. This is the most ideologically extreme administration since FDR's, hardly different from your average Politburo. It's like the mentality established from swiping the 2000 election has been a continual driving force: Charge ahead, keep political considerations paramount no matter what, and don't look back until after Election Day.