People who have never spent time in Washington, in its parks and its lesser-known neighborhoods and its local watering holes, often look at this place solely as a capital city. They’re right, but that’s not the whole story. This place is a home, too.
The past few weeks have been trying ones, days that have intensified the perception that Washington is rank with corruption and ego and money. Perhaps that’s true, just like any other city. You just see this one on the news more often than the others. What the reactions to yesterday’s incident in Capitol Hill and the shooting at the Navy Yard and the government shutdown and the inevitable debt ceiling mess fail to demonstrate is that this place is a home, where real people live.
This quirky town is packed with ambitious men and women hell-bent on making it better, on making everything better. Don’t make it a place you blame, don’t make it a place separate and isolated from the rest of the country it was designed to serve. A lot of people here are doing it wrong — I get it. But this place, man, its scars are public, its mistakes are public, its movements reverberate across the globe. That’s significant. Please don’t take that lightly. You’re doing this country a considerable disservice by vilifying the international symbol of its unprecedented success in keeping people free.
All the great ideas that precipitated this imperfect human experiment in self-government grew up here, so don’t take that weighty reality and blame all its shortcomings on “Washington.” This place is only as effective as its inhabitants, its stewards. The challenges we face in Congress are not fundamental — they’re superficial. The philosophy and mechanics of this country’s political institutions aren’t the issue, at least from where I sit. Do something about the people pulling the levers in recent Congresses and administrations, and I think that’ll become clear again. How we do that is another question. Somehow we’ve got to get conscientious, intellectually honest, committed candidates elected. It seems insurmountable some days, but I still think it’s less daunting than trying to cope with fundamental flaws in the political system itself.
Maybe, next time around, we, voters, Americans think less emotionally about those who appeal to our preexisting biases and more pragmatically about those who can be effective, able to continue what we started here a couple of centuries ago. Those people are all over the place. What the current Congress and the shutdown of the federal government are hiding from Americans’ purview is the vibrant population of young, passionate, something-enthusiasts who all moved to D.C. with a dream and a cause. That is a part of this dynamic city worth understanding. If we can make the distinction between the good ideas that built the Republic and the people who are undermining it today, I think we’ll see more of the country’s best and brightest interested in giving Washington another shot. Maybe that way we can re-brand the reputation of a city I adore, a city you would adore, too, if you only got to know her.
But in the meantime, turn off cable news and spend a night on H Street making conversation with a 24-year-old legislative aide about financial regulation. There are good things at work here that you don’t read about under vitriolic headlines alluding to congressional hostage-takers. This place is less ugly than you think it is. It’s perfect, in fact, in its imperfections. It’s a home, a unique one. Let’s look at it a little differently, do better at picking the people charged with protecting it, what it stands for. It’s really important.