Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Our Nation's Capital

Riding Amtrak today from New York to DC, a vacationing Australian family asked me some practical advice about getting from Union Station to their hotel. I obligingly told then where to go to get a taxi and assured them that it would be a short easy trip, which I'm sure it probably was - once they got past the nightmarish construction site that currently disfigures the front of the Station! Meanwhile, in my own taxi, riding the short distance from Union Station to the Paulist seminary, I studied the mess and considered the generally unattractive, uninviting streets along the way and wondered to myself - as undoubtedly many others  have had occasion to wonder - what a poor impression our nation's capital must make to visitors from other capital cities.

Not that the trip to Washington was particularly unpleasant. In fact, as Amtrak trips go this was one of the best. We left NY on time and arrived in DC on time. The train kept up a regular pace, and the air-conditioning worked the whole way - an almost utopian state of affairs in the vicissitudes of contemporary travel. Yesterday, for example, I travelled from Knoxville to New York - in theory a fairly simple trip. First, the flight out of Knoxville was delayed an hour because of a problem at Newark Airport. The flight itself, once we were airborne at last went just fine, and we actually made good time, arriving not too much later than we had originally been scheduled to arrive. But then the plane sat on the tarmac an unconscionable amount of time because the gate wasn't ready. That's happened to me before, and always makes me want to ask why no one was expecting a plane to land! At least I had no connection to make, but I was hoping to arrive in Manhattan in time for dinner. That could still have happened. After another delay when the car that was supposed to pick me up was dispatched to the wrong terminal, requiring yet another phone call from me, however, I faced the final misery of sitting in traffic for more than an hour just to get into the Lincoln Tunnel. All of which confirms my suspicion that human beings were really not meant to travel! (In which case, I guess, you'd better really like the place you live!)

But, anyway, back to our nation's unattractive capital! As if the ambience in what passes for our national capital weren't bad enough, what actually happens there in what passes for our national government only adds to the ugliness. So today, for example, the House of Representatives, after a gratuitous waste of 5 hours of debate that stretched out over 2 days, voted 244-185 to repeal the Affordable Care Act (what its opponents immaturely routinely refer to as "Obamacare"). This was the 33rd time the House has performed this stunt. Putting aside our politicians' obscene indifference to the welfare of the 30 million Americans who would be without health insurance if the law were repealed, this behavior represents an amazing waste of congressional time and resources, since, as everyone knows, the House's repeal bill has utterly no chance of passing the Senate and, if it did, would certainly be vetoed by the President. Such is the sad state of politics in our national capital in what has become our permanent silly season that CNN this morning actually treated this like an important newsl news story!

The shabbiness of our nation's capital is sad, and is certainly an embarrassment when Washington is compared with London or Paris or Berlin or Rome. But the shabbiness of the city seems an apt analogue to the even shabbier politics that increasingly threatens to grind our government to a halt.

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