A week ago I was riding in a cab down Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C., with massive federal building after cliff-face edifice hulking on my right. Department of Transportation. Department of Agriculture. Federal Aviation Administration. Then my destination – Department of Health and Human Services, Hubert H. Humphrey building, where I had a communications client.
I could understand why people respond to the Bachmann/Perry complaint that
government is a bloated behemoth that feeds off the taxes grudgingly given up by good honest people making ten bucks an hour. Makes sense, superficially. You can see the size and feel the weight of government right before your eyes. From the air Washington is a little green space in the shape of a cross with beauty points of the Capitol, Mr. Lincoln, Citizen Jefferson, the White House and the founding General’s priapic monument all crowded in by thick hungry buildings full of bureaucrats.
But the real business of Washington is harder to see. Wealth and influence buying power. Lobbyists building bulwarks around the status quo. Money serving money. Influence preserving influence. And nowhere in this town, except in the labor union buildings, is the influence of good honest people making ten bucks an hour represented.
In the 1860s in this town you could easily see the troops and wagon tracks and wounded of sectional warfare. The tracks of class warfare are harder to see. They are indoors. In the charming boutique hotels and the sleek restaurants where a room and a meal cost an honest earner’s full week’s wages. They are tucked away in the manicured suburbs where people whose suits cost more than a soldier’s month’s pay lie in wait for any piece of legislation or regulation that might stop the siphoning of money from the middle class to the already rich. The class warfare Republicans warn about has, of course, been waged and won in this city by the rich and powerful since Ronald Reagan’s days. And except for a couple of Roosevelts, almost non-stop since the city’s founding.
The sin of this town is not bureaucracy that sucks the life out of average
citizens and striving business. The sin of this town is the perpetual
fortification of those who already have so much. The shock of it all is how
those with so much have motivated those with so little to build and maintain the earthworks that protect these best off. The shame is how the very rich and powerful are taking average taxpayers’ labor at an increasing discount and shrinking their share of the American dream.
In this teeming city Fagin is the powerful wealthy criminal picking the pockets of the workers while distracting them with passionate demonstrations crying out against gaysabortionsimmigrantssocialists. “Look, a family-freedom-hating Democrat,” the robber baron calls out at the Tea Party rally, his long claw fingers slipping the mark’s wallet out of his pocket.
I love this city. I was born here. Every time I’m here I am inspired by its
monuments to flawed humankind’s best yearnings.
What’s amazing is that somehow the framing vision of the intellectual artists
who started all this 230 years ago survives our superficial whims and passions, survives our irresponsible lazy lack of critical thinking and learning. This place has endured W’s ignorance and LBJ’s ego and Nixon’s paranoia and TR’s sense of empire and the smallness of Newt and the ineffectualness of everyone from Buchanan to Coolidge to Taft. We survive because occasionally we surprise the universe by sending here a tall thin man from Illinois, a rumpled mayor from Minneapolis. Occasionally we listen to the better angels of a patrician from Virginia, a class traitor from New York, a lieutenant from Hyannis, a preacher from Atlanta.
Washington is a monument to the people of this country, at our best, at our
worst. It is us. Fitting that the monument to Washington, the stubborn general who refused to let a fading dream die, has recently been shaken to its roots by an improbable earthquake. But it stands, still. O’er the land of the free, and the home of the too-easily gulled.
— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from Dan DC)