The Ruling Classless: A Washington Commentary

The Ruling Classless: A Washington Commentary. By Andrew Ferguson.

Sally Quinn, the well-known Washington journalist, has published a new memoir called Finding Magic. …

“I covered parties the way someone on the ‘Metro’ section covers crimes,” she once said. She had a reputation for being sexy and stylish, qualities she put to good use in an aristocracy dominated by a handful of self-designated wise men, semi-retired diplomats, and aging, ponderous columnists. Her interviewing technique resembled a Heimlich maneuver; it was to Sally that Henry Kissinger confessed to being a “secret swinger” and lived to regret it. Story by story, snicker by snicker, Sally and her peers dismantled the postwar Washington establishment. The establishment was too tired to put up much of a fight.

Like her fellow revolutionaries, Quinn was at first mistaken for an anti-elitist, striking a blow against the hypocrisy and pretension of the old order. She was nothing of the sort. She just favored a different kind of elite—one whose ranks were filled with people like her. By the time the Watergate scandal had laid waste to the capital, the city’s aristocracy had been remade by journalists for journalists, along with the politicians that journalists found appealing. John Kerry, Gary Hart, and Ted Kennedy were early favorites. …

Soon enough, as in all revolutions, the vanguard became the bodyguard, and Quinn was top cop, policing the neighborhood and telling the bums to move along now. …

Quinn’s ruling class is aging now, but it survives, clinging to power, and it’s against this twilight backdrop that her spiritual memoir achieves a kind of poignancy. The elite of Quinn’s generation was the first in American history to turn wholesale from organized religion. “If any of them were religious,” she writes of her peers, “I certainly never knew about it. There was one thing that mattered: the story. Get the story; get it first and get it right. That was their religion.”