Tag Archives: politics

A love letter to DC

I have always loved DC for a variety of reasons. My standard line is that it has all the culture and amenities of a big city while preserving  the charm of a small town. It’s pretty, clean, walkable, open…all in all, a lovely place to live and work. When I travel elsewhere, I am always happy to return.

While visiting New York for a wedding this past weekend, I think I stumbled upon what really draws me to DC. As usual, I was struck by how different cocktail conversation is outside of the beltway. Imagine, discussions not dominated by one’s career and politics. That, I would venture to say, is something we all notice when we leave this little city. That superficial detail also says a lot about the kind of people who populate this city versus most any other.

Around this time of year, with an election approaching, it’s almost too easy to see the “bad” of American politics today. The polarized, partisan, soundbyte driven, self-interested culture of the beast is on full display. One can nearly understand why vast swaths of the population are completely turned off by the whole process to the point of not participating at all.

Nearly, but not quite. Being here in the heart of it all affords one a unique view of the other side of the coin. It is the lament of anyone interested in this little system of government we have that the aforementioned characterization of its current state is quite true. However, as a resident of DC who works in that arena (doesn’t everyone who lives here?), I am struck by the people I meet on a daily basis. The overwhelming desire to do good is everywhere. Sure, the endless networking circuit can seemingly wring a lot of the purity out of one’s motivations in the drive to get ahead, but the core is still there. Most everyone I know works for organizations trying to bring about some vision of “improvement.” While we don’t always agree on the logic and method of getting there, there is a common sincerity, passion, and commitment to doing good that has motivated so many thousands of people to move to this itinerant city, which makes it truly unique.

The next time you find yourself rehashing the political drama of the day at a happy hour, consider how lucky we are to be surrounded by an entire community of people who know about what is going on in the world and endeavor, in one way or another, to play a part in it.

Our 44th President, Barack Obama!

The time I first believed was December 2007. I had just driven up to New Hampshire with two friends after work on a Friday night. It was morning by the time we arrived and we immediately set out canvassing, fueled by massive quantities of caffeine. Unlike my two companions, the trip, for me, was not the result of being swept along in the growing phenomenon known as Obamamania. At most, I was leaning Obama at that point. For me, it was more an opportunity for a policy wonk type to indulge a latent addiction to politicking that she doesn’t have much of an outlet for in her everyday life (a fact, on the whole, with which I’m absolutely content). Roadtripping it with former campaign colleagues and getting caught up in the excitement of it all is, without question, a blast.

Thus, I found myself slipping on icy sidewalks and streets and surrounded by about three feet of (arbitrarily plowed) snow. When canvassing, it’s always a treat to find someone at home. Even if they don’t love your candidate, at least you feel productive in having talked to someone. At one of the first houses I went to, I met a man in his late 40s. As soon as I identified myself as being from the Obama campaign, his face lit up. I would be dishonest in saying I remembered anything we spoke of in great detail. What I do recall vividly was how his passion demonstrated the power of a candidate — this candidate — to motivate people for something beyond just winning an election. I’ve worked on campaigns before, but this felt fundamentally different. That quality has been written about ad nauseam in the intervening year and now President Obama is faced with the (infinitely more difficult) task of applying it to governing, but that was the moment I first believed there might be something worth believing in.

As for now, I’m defrosting from several hours standing on the Mall. I have the runny nose and frozen toes to prove I was there to witness history. It seems trite to say I’ve never seen anything quite like this before because I don’t think there has ever been anything quite like this in my lifetime. I feel incredibly lucky to be living in our little city today.

Educated, to what end?

A college degree might be entirely unnecessary. So argued Charles Murray in the NYT over the weekend. A radical thought when it seems like we’ve reached the point, here in the rarified world of DC, where graduate and/or professional degrees are the staus quo.
 
It’s a provocative notion, in theory, but I find his argument lacking. He vacillates between a couple different rationales, which undoubtedly undermines any persuasiveness he might have had in focusing on one core point.

Some thoughts on the points he seems to make (and subsequently, well, “unmake”), in no particular order…

There’s too much of a premium placed on ivy league or elite institutions — Agreed, 110%. I went to a state school after being accepted elsewhere for a variety of reasons. Internships, networking, and plain old initiative can do wonders for career advancement, regardless of the name on your degree. Murray mentions “stripping away the halo” of going to a prestigious school, which almost makes me think he’s mistaking his real argument against intellectual snobbery for dismissing a college degree writ large.

The majority of people don’t have the intellectual heft to succeed in any college setting — Oh, please. Taking the above point into consideration and admitting we aren’t all going to Harvard, I find it difficult to believe the “average” high school graduate can’t sustain a passing GPA at a run-of-the-mill state school. The statistics he cites are flimsy and don’t do much of anything to support this point. If it’s truly the case that the average person can’t hack it, we should be deeply mortified about the state of our public education system — and the answer to that failure, our failure, isn’t, “oh, well, then they shouldn’t go to college.”

Certification tests should take the place of a degree as the bar by which to judge readiness to enter the workforce in a given profession — Maybe if we were all going to work on an assembly line in a factory or something. In a service-sector based economy, it’s difficult to quantify such a thing. A liberal arts education in whichever field one happens to choose at least guarantees a basic level of mathematical proficiency and facility with the spoken and written word, which is what one’s generic office or retail employer is looking for anyway.

College is prohibitively expensive — Noooo kidding! I was lucky in going mostly on scholarship because there is no way my mother could have afforded it while working two jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. That yearly tuition at some of the better schools is higher than my current salary is kind of mindboggling. There should definitely be greater investment in community colleges (btw, DC should get on this instead of debating it every year or two) and government supported financial aid programs.

Ultimately, this is all irrelevant because the “bachelors as minimum education requirement” is a sea-change of sorts that isn’t just going to be rolled back — particularly as the job market gets tighter in today’s economy. Education is a good thing, it makes us better citizens, promotes understanding and tolerance of the world around us (vital in a globalized world), and creates a safety net of sorts in one’s professional life regardless of the career one pursues. All of these are good things. Telling people otherwise strikes me as the impractical sort of idea that could only be cooked up in the world of academia (said by a woman who works at a think tank and aspires to be entirely overeducated).

Things to be thankful for: Health Insurance

Last night, I found myself with a little situation that I thought best to have checked out by a doc before the long holiday when the whole world shuts down. No limbs hanging off or anything, but I didn’t want to end up in the ER on Christmas because it actually turned out to be something to worry about. I went in this morning, got checked out, and everything was fine.

Then I got handed the bill. $671. At that point I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Luckily for me, my company has pretty fabulous health insurance and my out-of-pocket expenditure on that bill amounted to a grand total of $0.

The world of insurance and medical bills is a rather new one for me. My father was in the military, so until recently I had all my healthcare needs covered free of charge. Luckily, I’m generally a healthy person and I haven’t needed to see a doc since that coverage ended and I switched over to my company plan. I couldn’t have begun to make an educated guess about what a basic visit for something cost. Seeing that bill was kind of like being hit by a truck.

As politicians are fond of reminding us during election season, there’s a whole world of people out there who aren’t covered or who aren’t fortunate to have what our HR person describes as the “gold star” of plans. My situation was small but I can see far too clearly how a freak emergency could cripple one’s financial situation. Really makes one think. Today, I add “gold star” health insurance to the list of things for which I’m most thankful.

Almost turkey week links

RealClearWorld (RCP’s site focusing on international relations rather than obsessive polling analysis) has a great article about who will be the cause of Obama’s first “3am phone call.” I definitely agree with their No. 1 ranking… http://tinyurl.com/5pq4sj

NYT article on Obama giving up his BlackBerry and maybe email in general. Seriously? Doesn’t make much sense in today’s world… http://tinyurl.com/6jncql

Cautionary note on getting caught up in the entertainment instead of the substance of politics (for those already looking to 2012)… http://tinyurl.com/67spfq

And, in looking ahead toward the weekend, I think this movie will be worth seeing… http://www.foxsearchlight.com/slumdogmillionaire/

From Iran, with Love

Okay, maybe that’s a bit too sentimental a way to characterize it, but the Iranian leader’s recent missive to President-elect Barack Obama does speak of spreading “love and kindness.” 

In the wake of said letter, it appears Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is receiving somewhat contradictory reviews from members of his own conservative party.  Initially, the response from conservative members of parliament including the speaker of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, was negative.  A member of the Majlis’ presiding board went so far as to suggest the body might open an investigation into the matter. 

However, in a demonstration that political gamesmanship transcends culture, they now seem worried about the appearance of forming a circular firing squad heading into an election year and have begun voicing support for Ahmadinejad, who faces what by all accounts will be a tough contest against former president Mohammad Khatami.  The New York Times goes so far as to suggest the flip flop might have been an elaborate attempt to encourage the selection of someone other than Khatami to represent the reformist ticket:

“Maybe the conservatives are signaling to reformers that if they go after Mr. Khatami, they would get unified behind Mr. Ahmadinejad despite their differences with him,” said Badr-al-sadat Mofidi, the deputy editor of the reformist daily Kargozaran. “The unity among conservatives can change if the reformers do not nominate Mr. Khatami.”

If you’re already missing the high-stakes blow-by-blow drama of a presidential election, this would be a good one to keep tabs on for political theater as well as international impact.

Treasure hunt: DC style

Last night was amazing.

Being the sort of person who loves the printed word and has an appreciation for history, I set out this morning to get copies of today’s newspapers. It started out very easily since the WaPo box on my street still had a few copies. It was all downhill from there. In retrospect, I should have been very happy since I know a lot of people who couldn’t even find that one. However, I wanted the whole array – NYT, WSJ, and somehow had the notion I might be able to find a copy of the Chicago Trib. An hour, three book stores, five CVSs, and about two dozen paper boxes later, I ended up late for work but with an NYT to match my WaPo.

On the way home, people were staring at my bag with paper-envy. Two people actually asked me when and where I found them. Next up: the special edition of Newsweek (and Time?) coming out tomorrow. My plan is simply to be at Borders as soon as it opens and hope they have it out.