Washington: America's Ultimate Busybody Neighbor

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Several months ago, I floated the idea of a fellowship program in which average Americans would board a bus, ride to Washington, D.C., and sit at a fancy bar for an hour or two. There, they could chat with big-ticket lobbyists, marvel at the money flying through the air, and mix it up with six-figure government employees who have very important jobs but usually cannot manage to communicate what it is they actually do. Long before the final call for booze, the bused-in participants would leave the capital so disgusted they’d never vote to increase the size of government again.

It’s a brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. With that in mind, I have a second, more ambitious proposal: The Career Politician Fresh Air Fund, in which we send people like Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Nancy Pelosi for sabbaticals in various tumbleweed-strewn, middle-of-nowhere depots, where there isn’t a decent Chardonnay, tanning booth, bribable mob boss, or exclusive-yet-taxpayer-funded private swimming facility to be found. More importantly, no one would (a) know, (b) care, or (c) pretend to care who any of these temporary Washington exiles were.
The Career Politician Fresh Air Fund came to mind on Tuesday as I drove through the rolling hills of central Texas, heading to a junction that boasts a population of three. The tiny town of Luckenbach, which barely escaped ghost town status in the 1960s, now serves as a country music hub, with strangers coming together in “picking circles” underneath giant, beautiful live oak trees. As we pulled up to the town’s post office/general store/bar/multi-purpose run-down shack, so did a couple on motorcycles, fresh off a 1,600-mile jaunt from Maryland. “We made it!” they grinned, dusty and exhausted.

America is a big country, and marvelously diverse. This should be obvious. Yet, in these days of one-size-fits-all politics, it somehow bears repeating. America also contains many places like Luckenbach, with local pride, laid-back people, a sense of quiet independence, and not a single frantic, nonsense-brewing CNN “Breaking News!” chyron in sight. These places are glorious because they are the exact opposite of Washington, D.C.

Alas, the District long ago morphed from a mere seat of government into an all-encompassing state of mind. Rather than serve the country, Washington is Dr. Frankenstein’s monster; it is a machine that runs for the mere purpose of running.

D.C. is ambitious, but it can’t seem to handle the basics—say, border security, education, or not spilling neon-hued toxic chemicals into Colorado rivers. This is because it is too busy being D.C. Thus we have Sen. McConnell telling the press that he can’t possibly defund Planned Parenthood, even after a series of horrifying sting videos. He needs to get things done in the Senate, you see, and decoupling tax dollars from savagery would be a distraction.

“But wait!” a sane person might say. “Planned Parenthood is a thing that needs to get done. It is a very important thing!” Ah, but it’s not a “keep the status quo rolling” thing! The machine must not lose its meaningless hum.

Our political class is so far gone, I fear, that if Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or Nancy Pelosi were magically dropped from the sky into Luckenbach, they would simply not get it. Once their eyes lit upon a microphone, they would charge for it; if refused access, it might deny their very reason for being. They would wobble a bit, then hold steady, then simultaneously implode—or perhaps simply melt, like the sad green witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” amid Luckenbach’s uncaring and oblivious wandering chickens.

Certainly, America has problems. Despite what politicians and much of the media will tell you, many of these problems don’t come from immigrants, or China, or hedge funders, or lion-hunting dentists, or mountains with identity crises. Many stem, instead, from a strangely resilient strain of political thought: “More government can solve the problem. A politician will save us.” Sadly, the opposite is often true.

One of the great ironies of Donald’s Trump’s spectacular poll-driven rise is his odd ability to reap rising anti-D.C. sentiment by tossing around astoundingly tyrannical policy prescriptions. Much like President Obama, President Trump would simply “make things happen”: In Trump’s case, that would be mass deportation, a mysterious health care “fix,” various and sundry bans. Don’t worry about the rule of law, friends: It will be “terrific.” Also, we’ll have Donald Trump on TV all the time!

It’s a shame that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is struggling in the polls, because he repeatedly articulates the most important message any presidential candidate could possibly utter in 2016: “I want to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as possible.” Senator Ted Cruz, legendary thorn in Mitch McConnell’s side, also often leads with this point. Will it sell?

Let’s hope so. In guitar-picking circles, musicians often don’t know each other, but order—and music—emerges. Likewise, we’re a country big enough, and strong enough, to support real diversity and freedom, not greater power for bean-counting, uptight elites. America, in fact, might still be great. It’s our politics that could use some work.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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