Earlier this month I arrived in Santa Monica to participate in a Milken Institute Forum with Evan Thomas, former Newsweek columnist and political biographer. After a long and arduous trip, marked by severe turbulence and delays, I poured myself into a comfortable chair at my hotel’s rooftop restaurant. “Long journey today? Where are you from?” the waiter asked. When I replied Washington D.C., the tall young man’s eyes danced. “Washington D.C.? That place is hilarious!!”
Hilarious? Harry Truman once remarked that if you want a friend in Washington you’d better get a dog. And John F. Kennedy quipped that “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” But hilarious? That’s a new one. Then I got to thinking about what this place must look like to young people outside of the city.
Only in Washington would a man of Chuck Hagel’s stature be put on the defensive, for being deemed right by the American people in his opposition to a war in Iraq that had no post-conflict plan. Why aren’t the promoters of the flawed strategy called to account instead of the guy who got it right?
Only in Washington would the CEO of the National Rifle Association go about his daily routine with a small army of bodyguards – while simultaneously defending his organization’s advertisement that blasts the country’s elite for having armed guards while the public does not.
Only in Washington would our country’s legislators hold the American economy hostage with an artificial fiscal cliff they themselves constructed and defined. This long-term problem was intentionally turned into a short-term crisis—to save them from themselves. The trouble is it could plunge the country back into a recession – and Congress knew this.
Finally, only in Washington, on the eve of the State of the Union speech and amid a national conversation on gun control, would a freshman Republican congressman feel comfortable inviting Ted Nugent, outspoken right-wing gun rights advocate, as his guest to the State of the Union address. Last year, Nugent was interviewed by the Secret Service for incendiary remarks he made about President Obama’s physical safety.
All of this would be funny or maybe even ironic, if it weren’t so scary. What does this say about this city? What does it say about us?