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Jewish World Review April 16, 2001 / 23 Nissan, 5761

Ann McFeatters

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So why do people hate Washington? -- TOURISTS are sated by the sight of cherry blossoms, tulips and beautiful monuments. Schoolchildren are awed, well, momentarily, at seeing the real Constitution and the real Declaration of Independence. Congress is in recess. The president, having survived his first non-crisis crisis, is on vacation. The IRS is being particularly low-key this year.

So why do people hate Washington?

Sally Quinn says it's because they don't live here.

Quinn, analyzing why so many loathe the nation's capital, is like Madonna talking about the joys of virginity. A powerful society reporter when her husband was editor of The Washington Post, Quinn has now become what she bitingly caricatured - a doyenne who writes books on how to give a fancy society party, hangs out with the rich and powerful and has her house featured in Architectural Digest.

But she raises a valid point. The politicians who are at the top of the pecking order get here by running against Washington, vowing they'll change it, insisting they be elected because they aren't from Washington.

Running for election to live in the White House, George W. Bush constantly boasted that he was a Texan, not a Washingtonian, and Al Gore had to move his headquarters to Nashville to be taken seriously.

Now that the election is over, Bush lives happily in Washington, saying he's awed by its historical grandeur. Gore is at loose ends, but no longer works out of Nashville, living in nearby Virginia.

Senators and House members exhaust themselves racing home on weekends to talk to "real" people to show they haven't been "corrupted."

There is a widely held - and growing - perception that Washington is an arrogant, self-contained bastion of inestimable power and wealth that disdains the rest of the country.

The truth is that Washington is a complicated city with enormous social problems, lots of down-at-the-heels neighborhoods, politicians who desperately want the approval of the folks back home, patches of wealth and diminishing power.

The president has less power than the holder of the office had a century ago. Members of Congress have far more restrictions on their actions than they once did. Most of them work very hard, fearing the wrath of their constituents and seeking the approval of their colleagues and eager to do a good job. While many, though not all, of the senators are rich, most of the members of the House live middle-class lives and some of them, with rental houses in Washington and mortgaged homes back in their district, barely squeak by from paycheck to paycheck.

Despite the huge sums of money needed to run for office, there is far less corruption than there once was. Even lobbyists, among the highest paid people in Washington, complain that their job involves less schmoozing and more work laying out their issues.

The turnover in Congress is greater than ever, meaning that legislators no longer tend to stay for their entire careers. There are more women in Congress (72 out of 535) than ever, many of them mothers with young children who have to worry about babysitters at night and car pools and getting to PTA meetings and nutritional meals. And there are more young fathers in Congress with wives who work.

At this point in history, Washington is working as well as it ever has, which doesn't mean it's working as well as it should or can. It takes too much money to run for office. There is diminishing respect between Republicans and Democrats. There is too much demagoguery.

There will always be a certain distrust of Washington and rightly so. Americans should always be vigilant about how their laws are made and how their tax money is spent. It's sometimes infuriating to watch, close up, how the process works. It must be even more frustrating and irritating to watch from afar. There is far too much influence by special interests. And Americans are right to demand more civility from their political leaders.

But it is often those who don't vote - and only one-fourth of those eligible to vote bother - who complain the loudest and are the most cynical. It is those who have never toured the city's amazing (and free) museums or explored its remarkable treasures who denounce the system with the most venom.

Yes, politicians will continue to be elected by running against Washington. Yes, there will always be scandals erupting here, partly because this is where more reporters are gathered in search of scandal than anyplace else in the country.

But it's spring, with the city at its most beautiful, and somebody should say that at least once every American should visit the capital and see what all the fuss is about.

So, y'all come.

Ann McFeatters is a columnist for the Block News Alliance. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS