...Ignore, for a minute, the folks who make law on Capitol Hill. They come and go. Instead, consider mandarin Washington, the permanent denizens of the think tanks and interest groups, consulting shops and law firms. There are charlatans in all of those locales, of course, But they're exceptions. The city attracts idealists more than any other place. And over their career, these idealists can become experts. They come to understand how systems work, how problems can be solved.
Yes, their stock-in-trade is abstractions: statistics, seminars, social science. But those abstractions - that out-of-touchness, if you will - are the very things that help our technocrats rise above parochialism. They don't worry about the effects of policies on their neighbor or on the business around the corner. Sure, our wonks have a point of view, an ideology even. But they cast their arguments in terms of national interest, and they mean it.
Mr. Foer is currently writing a book about the threat that big technology companies pose to the future of thinking. He was previously the editor of the New Republic magazine, and has been a staff writer at Slate and New York magazine.