I Want to Feel America Again

A reflection on the days of civility in federal government.

Ah, July Fourth!

I’m as patriotic as they come. I still get goose bumps when I hear a (good) version of the Star Spangled Banner. I proudly display my tattered “1776” flag in the front of my house. I always vote. And, for a while, I toyed with the idea of running for elected office because I believe strongly that we should all give back to our country.        

But I’m not sure if I am feeling America anymore.    

Watching the rather predictable July 4th concert on the lawn of Capitol from the comfort of my home (I no longer want to deal with the massive crowds), I could not help but think about the state of affairs in the Congress these days.  When I worked up on Capitol Hill years ago, I cherished each day (despite my embarrassingly low salary). In those days, members of each party would actually debate the issues of the day, as opposed to just reading talking points that were prepared by some interest group on K Street. After the debate, the adversaries would shake hands, maybe grab a beer afterwards. More importantly, those elected officials knew that, although they were sent to Washington to make a point, they also had to govern and that meant the inevitable compromise.      

But when I saw the Capitol in the background this year, all I could think about was the rancor, the grandstanding, the pettiness and the sheer disrespect for our institutions. It’s hard to imagine but I actually remember a time when we actually rooted for our President, even if he was from the other party. Today, the goal is to tear down the opposition, embarrass them, catch them in a “gotcha” moment. And both parties are guilty of this silliness. The result, of course, is a paralyzed government that is fixated only on the next election.      

This unproductive attitude has trickled down to the local level. For example, a friend of mine who was without power for days quickly made the determination that the CEO of Dominion Power should RESIGN. Sure, things were a mess and people were inconvenienced but this was a 100 year storm. I’m sure mistakes were made and things could have been handled better, but the point is that we all seem to be ready to attack, we are quick to judge, eager to create another Facebook page blasting some politician or civil servant. In extreme cases, some just can’t wait to spread the hate. I don’t even want to watch the Presidential campaigns this time around.    

But, there may be glimmers of hope. About two weeks ago, I joined 20 other people at an event with former Governor Tim Kaine to talk about education.  Kaine is running for the Senate against former Governor George Allen.  At one point during that meeting, Kaine actually complimented Republican Governor Bob McDonnell about some action he had recently. I couldn’t believe my ears and, yes, I felt those goose bumps again. Afterwards, I told the Governor that I thought the American people were yearning for a more civil discourse and we appreciated when credit was given, even to an opponent.  And then, a short while later, Chief Justice Roberts knocked our collective socks off when he sided with the liberal faction of the Supreme Court on the healthcare bill.    

I want to feel America again. I’ll choose to hope.     


Ron Fitzsimmons July 11, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Wow Bill, that's a long time to sit in one cubicle :) LIke you, I"m just waiting for that one politician to talk to me straight. Even if they disagree with me, I'd rather hear that from them versus pablum.
T Ailshire July 12, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Incumbents (Hyland is only one of many) who know no one will run against them are a significant part of what got us to where we are. I don't mean this personally against you, Ron, but "my party's candidate is already there" is no way to run a railroad......
Elliot Zebr July 15, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Just remember how American everyone felt on that very dark sad Tuesday morning almost 11 years ago
Curveball August 07, 2012 at 03:07 PM
More than a tad too facile, Ron. You lost me and continue to lose me when you put a pox on "BOTH" houses. I invite you to read the authoritative essay by a recently retired Hill staffer of some considerable stature (Mike Lofgren: http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=3079:goodbye-to-all-that-reflections-of-a-gop-operative-who-left-the-cult) and to check on, if not the book itself, the piece in the Washington Post some months ago by think-tank big guys Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/2012/04/27/gIQAxCVUlT_story.html) Your little walk along the well-worn path of false equivalency illuminated nothing, except perhaps a bit of misguided nostalgia.
Suzanne Pyles August 07, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I think it's a great idea for the media to stop giving assailants their 15 minutes of fame. It can only help. The trouble is getting the media to agree with you. PS - you have to appreciate the irony of the photo.


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