I went to visit my brother and his family for a few days last week at their home just outside DC in suburban Maryland. Since Seth has announced that he is leaving the Labor Department next month after almost five years as Deputy Secretary of Labor (including six months earlier this year as Acting Secretary of Labor after Hilda Solis departed and before Tom Perez arrived), I went downtown to have lunch with him and see his beautiful office one last time.
The walls of that office are filled with photos and mementos from his years in the Obama administration (plus seven years in a similar capacity under Clinton) that will soon have to be packed up and moved to, well, he’s not sure where he’ll store them, but he’ll miss being surrounded by them. He’ll also miss the magnificent view outside his window, over the entire the west front of the Capitol.
Since I spent 13 years on the air in Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, I’ve seen the Capitol dome in person hundreds of times, but still, every time I view it, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” — somewhat awestruck by its beauty. But looking up at it that day, I was saddened. Not by the fact that it will be covered by scaffolding beginning in the spring as part of a two-year renovation. My sadness was due to what goes on under that dome and in the buildings adjacent — or rather, what doesn’t go on there.
My sadness simmered as I thought of the opportunities missed by this Congress, unarguably the worst group of legislators to have ever assembled in that town, with an approval rating just below that of swine flu. My disappointment was (and is) driven by the obstructionists who went there not to move our country forward, but to pull it backward into a morass of ignorance and intolerance. I was angered by the continuing corrupt influence of lobbyists and fundraisers and the bigger-than-ever impact of the almighty dollar, all of which lead to laws that grow the coffers of the ultra-rich at the expense of the rest of us. I was pissed off at the gerrymandering that allows incumbents to be re-elected in perpetuity and denies us the representative democracy that is supposed to be the basis of our republic’s government.
Not everyone who works in and around the Capitol dome deserves scorn, of course. But the numbers of those who do has increased dangerously in recent years, and their voices now create such a ruckus of distraction and obfuscation that they should all be ashamed — if they were capable of that emotion. Meanwhile, those who want to create a better America and care about its people are drowned out by the din of inanity in that den of inequity.
In the modern, real-life version of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” the system is so rigged against the little guy that he has no chance. The power of the Taylor machine has only grown bigger, Senator Payne is filibustering Obamacare, and the press plays along, afraid of losing access to the elected elite. As for Smith, the Boy Ranger, his minions long ago stopped publishing their own newspaper and delivering it in little red wagons. The only thing they publish now are status updates on Facebook as they work for a minimum wage that doesn’t keep up with inflation and wonder why those who’ve ascended the ladder to the top have pulled it up behind them rather than offering assistance to those below.
If that dome ever stood as a beacon of democracy to the world, its light has been so tarnished that no amount of renovation can repair it anytime soon.