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Only in Washington

February 12, 2013

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?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. David Edelman permalink
    February 12, 2013 3:56 pm

    The best question of all Susan – what does it say about us is right? Sad indeed. All the best always – David Edelman.

  2. Colleen M. Driscoll, Ph.D permalink
    February 12, 2013 4:08 pm

    Susan: I don’t know whether you remember me, but we were on the same panel in D.C. years ago on space issues. i wanted to tell you how much i appreciated the irony and sad reality of this piece. In a succinct piece with carefully chosen words you have revealed the way in which the governing system in this country has been downgraded to a barely workable democracy. What is sad, and as you say, scary, is that nobody seems to be noticing the negative effect this is having on the values on which we were created and the image of the United States in the international community of states. i will be sharing this at the university where I teach.

  3. February 12, 2013 4:17 pm

    I see the new-far-right of what used to be a Grand Old Party reflective of a sad trend in our country. “Me” seems to have replaced “us.” The greater good has been subsumed by what’s good for me. Our political discourse has degenerated toward more ego-centric motivations. I think the circumstances you have outlined in this commentary are examples of this. Certainly, those on the far-right seem unwilling to address big picture issues, particularly if solutions to those issues included a negative impact on the individual. And their unwillingness manifests itself as limited views of the Constitution (and, perhaps, the Scripture), scorn heaped upon individuals with a different or broader point of view, and an appalling lack of respect for the office of the Chief Executive (see Ted Nugent).

    Years and years ago, the then-publisher of the Sacramento Bee (my localish daily) asked the question, “When did we become so self-serving?” My thought was that one couldn’t pinpoint the date or event but that it occurred some time between when a President said, “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and another President asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

    The former of these individuals lead us toward a national – even global – perspective; the latter lead us to be absorbed inward. We, as a citizenry, have yet to fully recover from the words of the latter.

  4. John permalink
    February 12, 2013 4:41 pm

    Susan,

    No doubt you are right that Washington at the moment is bazaar to say the least.

    But with regard to your Hagel example, there is a minor point but perhaps an important one that should be made clear. Chuck Hagel voted in favor of and supported the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. You give the impression he opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning.

    True, he later changed his mind on Iraq and opposed the surge in 2007. But, I think history has already shown that the big mistake, perhaps the most colossal military error in recent US history, was the initial invasion of Iraq, which took our eye off of Afghanistan, which was pacified by 2003, and put us on a road leading to huge losses of blood and treasure in both Iraq and Afghanistan with very little if any benefit.

    After the initial stupidity of invading Iraq, whether doing the surge was good or bad is difficult to say, but it too cost more especially in blood. There were many other factors involved including the bribing of factions in Iraq to change sides. McCain tried to make Hagel say that he was wrong and the surge worked, but that is an arguable point. Hagel should have stood up to McCain and argued the value of the surge, but he didn’t.

    The result, unfortunately, was a poor performance by Hagel, which will not help him in his new job in the “hilarious” Washington you outline so well.

    John

  5. PAUL J. HANSEN permalink
    February 12, 2013 4:42 pm

    IT IS AMAZING THAT THEY KEEP GETTING RE-ELECTED!! THE ELECTORATE IS CHANGING AND SOCIAL MEDIA AND YOUTHFUL IDEALISM MAY JUST BE THE END OF MANY OF THEM-AND AMAZINGLY THEY JUST DO NOT SEE IT COMING.

    AS ALWAYS, SUSAN, YOU ARE PREACHING TO THE CHOIR-AND WE THINK YOU SHOULD RUN FOR OFFICE AND LEAD THE CHARGE!

    HEY, WERE ARE BOOMERS, AND NEVER TOO OLD TO START AGAIN!!

    PAUL J. HANSEN

  6. Christopher Catherwood permalink
    February 12, 2013 4:47 pm

    Good for you Susan – on the mark as always!

  7. Tony DuPuis permalink
    February 12, 2013 5:14 pm

    Sadly, you are absolutely correct and “ONLY in WASHINGTON”…while the whole World watches…every man, woman and child around the world with a television or newspaper “watches” as more of these absurd occurances go on and on…and, yes, there many who were with the adminstration to go forward with the War in Iraq in the beginning …little did they know, that they were being factually MISLED horrifically all the way from “the TOP”… The very people like Nugent and so many others, watched effortlessly as we were lied to over and over again and said NOTHING and did NOTHING… False Wars, False Truths, False Cliffs etc etc etc…The whole World is indeed watching…. What DOES this all REALLY say about us?
    As always Susan, balanced, fair and ACURATE !!!
    Thank you for that :-)

  8. Peter permalink
    February 12, 2013 5:54 pm

    Susan, I really like your question here. Not sure I like the answer. I think what it says about us is we like the fiddler’s music and tend to ignore the growing glow around us. However I must say I am looking forward to our President’s State of the Union Address tonight and all the fiddler’s reactions.

  9. Tim White permalink
    February 12, 2013 9:25 pm

    Susan’s sharp eye and keen judgment have again skewered the pretension, irrationality, and silliness of those pretending to do the nation’s business.

    I am saved from dispair by recalling a conversation years ago with a prominent fashion critic. She spent years in New York, Paris and Milan watching matchstick women parade down runways wearing bicycle tires, aluminum foil, and feathers – all presented with great fanfare by internationally acclaimed designers. I asked her what in God’s name those “creations” have to do with the clothes people wear.

    “Oh, it’s all nonsense and fraud”, she said. “The idea is to get attention and promote a tiny idea in loud ways —- maybe one idea in a thousand will show up as a new button on a wool coat for sale at Macy’s”.

    And thus it has become in Washington. Gaining attention and yelping from the margins have replaced common sense and sober governance. The peoples’ work is being done through a handful of quiet, dedicated, noble souls who seldom make the evening news.

    RE Chuck Hagel: In my view, he would be on firmer ground had he voted against the Iraq invasion, but supported the surge that helped us escape it’s grip. Nevertheless, he will be a fine Secretary of Defense.

    Thanks, Susan. You have framed the issues that call us forward.

  10. February 13, 2013 8:00 am

    Susan —

    You’ve been spot on about all things political and ironic since our first meeting at the US Embassy residence in London! I agree with Colleen Driscoll 100%.

  11. Milos Puaca permalink
    February 13, 2013 11:41 am

    Too many in Washington spread illusions about national security and then denounce those who vary from their stance by even one degree. They are the lobbyists for the arms industry or misguided patriots that believe that, with enough weapons and bases, we have a strong foreign policy. Many Republicans and some Democrats have placed themselves into their own personal Alamo, advocating a 1930s gun environment or representing the interests of foreign interests above our own (no matter how close they might be).

    It is good to be brothers and sisters, but even twins can disagree. Politicians need to stop rattling the ice in their country club scotch and get back into society again. If Washington cannot function as a family den, then it must be viewed as a den of fools.

  12. cac permalink
    February 14, 2013 11:24 am

    Thank you very much for your excellent insights. To your point and the Hagel confirmation process, Ted Cruz would be very funny if he weren’t so scary.

  13. Rick Jones permalink
    February 17, 2013 8:41 pm

    Susan, so good to hear from you again. Hopefully you enjoyed S.Monica the flight turbulence notwithstanding. I thought B.O. SOU powerful, sometimes he’s @podium, and sometimes he’s in the pulpit. SOU B.O.was in the PULPIT!! David Favreau & B.O. ALWAYS worth listening to .His best effort since )1Cairo 2009 2)Des Moines 2012. Chuck Hagel is PERFECT CHOICE @Defense for all the exact reasons he’s so villified/condemned by Republican party. And oh, by the way, when the “GOP SAVIOUR”‘s(magazine cover Rubio) response to SOU becomes parody fodder for late-nite-TV, you have not done the “party of stupid” any favours. I appreciate 2+ party system, but I don’t see GOP reclaiming the White House any time soon.

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