Richard Reeves

Washington Hates Washington, Too

WASHINGTON -- John McCain, as you may have noticed, is a cranky old man. But he is a great American, serving the country in war and peace.

He did it again this week after Michele Bachmann and four other Republican zealots signed on to an investigation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief adviser. The adviser's name is her problem. It is Huma Abedin, and her "crime" is her religion. She is a Muslim.

In the Senate, McCain rose to say:

"Huma represents what is best about America ... the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully."

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer got carried away and compared the attack on Abedin as a "new McCarthyism," after the fanatic Republicans implied that she was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. A journalist, and Blitzer is a good one, is not supposed to say things like that. But truth be told, Bachmann is a danger to the Republic, the land of the free and the home of the brave, and with immigrants like the Abedin family, a smarter and more flexible nation in a world that is catching up with us.

The Congress, I think, and in a strange way, technology, are the reasons we can't get it together. The country we know was born in a hot and sweaty Philadelphia where men of very different beliefs were forced to compromise just to get out of there. Perhaps discomfort is the father of compromise.

I had dinner a couple of weeks ago with friends who have spent their professional lives covering the Congress. They told me the Capitol has become a cold, angry place where members not only don't know each other, but will not make eye contact when they pass through those hallowed marble corridors. They literally do not know each other, which makes it easier for them to hate each other.

Not so many years ago, the humor columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, Arthur Hoppe, wrote this: "Washington is several miles square and about as tall, say, as the Washington Monument, give or take a little. It is surrounded on all sides by reality."

That was the city I came to, a village. Actually it was two villages, black and white, the white village containing people from all over the country making laws and speeches. They lived, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, in the leafy enclaves of Georgetown, Cleveland Park and the rest of what is called the northwest. Far from those pleasant streets and gleaming white marble temples of Democracy were the miles of black neighborhoods of the southwest, southeast and northeast. The twain rarely met.

But in the white village, the power village, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, lived together; their children went to school together. Fathers cheered together at soccer games on the weekends. Whatever they believed about politics and ideology, they went to dinner at each other's homes, especially during holidays when there was not enough time to travel home to their districts.

Neighbors and friends ran the country. What changed that? Jet planes.

What the jets and the technologies of instant communication changed was that many members of Congress were forced to go back to their districts and handshake at Rotary Clubs and local soccer games. Now, many spend only three days a week in Washington and leave their families back in Peoria or Fresno.

We have a Congress now that talks or shouts to itself and each other by press release and Twitter. Our representatives simply see each other as acquaintances and opponents, rather than Americans. This is one man's opinion, but I believe we are paying a high price for becoming strangers governed by strangers.

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