I didn't write last week because Ann and I had just gotten back from a weekend in, of all places, our Nation's Capital, Washington D.C. The thing you notice about Washington when you visit for the first time since 9/11 is that the city is a fortress: there are barricades everywhere. When I lived in Washington (1969-70) you could easily walk down Pennsylvania Avenue right in front of the White House. Now the entire street is in a state of permanent demolition and you can't get within a thousand yards of the place.
I really don't know why they bother. It's not like you can actually GET any where in Washington any more. The traffic is worse than New York. One afternoon we made the mistake of trying to drive toward my old alma mater, the George Washington University (where I actually went to classes for a month in 1969). I later described that adventure as our "Grid Lock Tour of Washington." I think the traffic might be the most effective anti-terror weapon the city has in its arsenal. After about 30 minutes of "you can't get there from here," we gave up and just went back to our hotel.
We went to DC because Ann had a conference to attend, and I went along to do some research on this book I'm working on. I spent one day combing through the archives at the Smithsonian Institution, and another contemplating the displays at a place called "The International Spy Museum" - a rather interesting establishment that goes out of its way to glorify the cloak-and-dagger professions. I'd love to tell you why I was there, but if I do... well, then I'd have to kill you...
One of the highlights of the weekend, if you can call it that, was "having dinner" with our own Senior Senator from Tennessee, and the Senate Majority Leader, Senator/Doctor Bill Frist. OK, we didn't really have dinner with him; Ann and I were dining with my brother and sister-in-law at an Indian restaurant near Georgetown, and when I looked up from my seat, there he was at the table next to ours (this is why I never sit with my back to the door, you just never know when the Senate Majority Leader is going to show up.). Not wanting to disturb him, I just sent over a business card with greetings from a constituent. But, being a politician, he could not resist the opportunity politick, and came over to our table to shake hands and introduce himself.
As my brother pointed out, that's how these guys operate: they figure if you meet them in person, maybe you won't think they're so bad after all and maybe you'll vote for them. If that was the tactic, I'd have to say it didn't work in this instance. For me, the encounter was an awkward experience. I found it rather difficult to make small talk, because the whole time I was thinking to myself, "you're an intelligent, educated human being....how on earth can you blindly support George W. Bush??" Fortunately (or not....), this was one of those rare occasions when I actually refrained from saying what I was thinking...
So the evening ended congenially, if a bit oddly: After our brief chat, Sen. Frist returned to his table, but invited us to take a picture with him and his wife before we left. Then the most bizarre thing happened. I had no sooner signed the bill than my sister-in-law asked, "do you smell something?" I sniffed and looked around and, sure enough, there was smoke drifting out of the light fixtures, and the restaurant staff was looking around trying to find the source. I said, "maybe this would be a good time to go...." and we got up from the table, but we had no sooner left our seats than Sen. Frist rose from his, to orchestrate the photo opportunity. Mrs. Frist, on the other hand, was looking at the thickening smoke and saying "let's get out of here!" The Senator absolutely would not leave until we'd had our photo taken with him (click here to see the picture). But the instant we were done, we all beat a hasty retreat out of the joint.
I guess the Senator had already pressed the button on his Majority Leader Utility Belt, because his big black SUV and two Secret Service agents ("Federal Muscle," my brother calls 'em) were waiting at the curb when we got there. I guess it was a good thing I'd managed to refrain from saying to the Senator what was really on my mind, or I mighta been thrown into the back of that SUV and shipped off to Guantanamo....
The restaurant was evacuated shortly after we got out, although the smoke stopped pouring out of the roof as the fire trucks arrived and when we went back later that evening it looked as if there had been no serious damage to the building. But as the other patrons filed out of the restaurant just after we did, it occured to us that we were probably the only people there that night who actually paid for their dinners....
As long as we're talking about "politicians" and "fire:" I think the highlight of our trip was another chance encounter, this time with an individual at the other end of the spectrum of Washington Elites -- a bartender in Alexandria, Virginia.
We'd stopped in for a burger on our way to the airport after visiting George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon (the third stop on our ongoing "Southern Slave Holders Tour of the Founding Fathers' Estates). Of course, one snide comment about "comparing Georges" got the ball rolling, and the conversation drifted around to a critique of W's muddled April 13 prime-time press conference. The bartender - who's "day job" (?) is serving on the staff of a Republican North Carolina congressman, just shook his head and said "I can't believe that guy is on our team...."
Well, neither can I. And by "our team," I mean all-of-our's team. Which brings me to the real reason I'm writing this morning:
As I've said from the outset, the task before us, come November 2, is going to be finding the men and women like that bartender in Alexandria who are sufficiently discontented with their party's incumbent candidate and they might consider the reasons why they should vote for John Kerry - a candidate that many will consider their political anathema.
But just like you need to leave the restaurant before it burns down, or, as I heard Arianna Huffington say on "The Daily Show with John Stewart" last week, "you can't remodel the house until you've put out the fire." And I think there is a growing number of erstwhile Republican types - like that bartender in Alexandria - who are beginning to realize that the current crew is just pouring gasoline on the fire.
And so I offer the following essay, which came through my in-box last week by way of one of my comrades among the radical, insurrectionist, (read that "liberal") faction of the Music Row Democrats . This is an essay by Seattle-based psychologist John D. Goldhammer (reprinted here with permission) that gets to the real heart of the issue regarding Bush.
As this article illustrates: the gang currently occupying the White House is not an administration, it's a cult. They are not guided by policy, they are guided by dogma.
Remember: George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 on a pledge to "restore integrity" to the White House. What we now need is somebody like John Kerry, who can restore intelligence to the White House.
So I encourage you all to pass this essay on to your Repubican friends who still need a reason to abandon their candidate. Let them see this administration in a different light than what even the "liberal" media presents.
The salvation of our Republic requires that voters in this election rise above their partisan allegiance. We have to vote for the guy who can put out the fire.
That's all for now from me, now read John Goldhammer.