The Gangs of Washington, D.C.

In the beginning was the Gang of Four, a group of radicals close to Mao Zedong in the last years of his life. One of those radicals was Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. The Gang of Four – not to be confused with the post-punk rock band of the same name – was blamed for many of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, a major spasm of repression that helped China remain a basket case longer than it needed to be.

After Mao died in 1976 the gang was arrested and put on trial. That pretty well ended its influence — except in the United States, where any group of people trying to accomplish any policy initiative now is known as “the Gang of X,” where X equals the number of people involved.

The current plan to resolve the federal debt stalemate is the work of the Gang of Six. In 2005, an attempt by a different group of senators to resolve a crisis over filibusters and avoid the “nuclear option” was ascribed to the Gang of 14. One member of that Gang of 14 was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who also happened to be a member three years later of the Gang of 10, which tried to reform energy policy.

The Gang of Three comprised a trio of New York state senators who wanted to exert political influence out of proportion to their number. The Gang of 18 represents scientists opposed to global warming skeptics. And a third Gang of Four – after the original Chinese gang and the rock band – isn’t even made up of people, but of giant Internet firms (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google).

Seems like a strange legacy for a quartet of deceased Chinese Communist hard-liners. I’m sure they’d find it comforting, though. Otherwise, the Cultural Revolution would be, like, a total loss.