I remember as a child, going with my parents to Washington to spend some time with my dad’s brother and his wife. We made the trip by car and, like all children my age, I probably annoyed my parents by incessantly asking, “Are we there yet?”
Well finally we got there. Or mostly so. That is to say, we were in our nation’s Capitol – a city which, for the uninitiated, has to be one of the most confusing places on earth.
I have heard that the city’s circular design was, in part, intended as a matter of defense. I would advise any foreign entity with aspirations of attacking
Washington by land that they had best bone up on the city’s layout before attempting their assault.
If there were one thing that I remember keenly about my father, it was that he had the most amazingly accurate sense of direction of anyone I have ever known. Knowing where he was and understanding how to get where he was going was completely natural to him. He had a built-in GPS system which was more accurate than the ones on which we rely today.
But apparently, there was something in the air in Washington which interfered with that ability.
My Uncle Howard, who at the time was an Assistant Director in the General Services Administration, the Federal agency which purchases most of the goods and services the government buys, had given my father directions on how, once we entered the city, we should proceed to get to his office. Dad had pulled out the slip of paper on which he had written down these directions and was trying to follow them.
I don’t know if the instructions my Uncle Howard had given dad were inaccurate but we drove as my uncle had instructed and for some reason found ourselves back at our starting point, having looped around the city. So dad tried again – with the same result.
Frustrated at his inability to do anything other than drive in circles, my father looked for a pay phone on the street so that he could call his brother at his office. We finally found one and dad spoke with him.
I think my uncle must have sensed the aggravation in his older brother’s voice because he asked where we were, told us to sit tight and drove over to get us. Apparently we had made a wrong turn somewhere and as my uncle explained, “You can’t get there from here.”
As it was now quitting time for my uncle, rather than going to his office we followed him to his home in Bethesda, MD. To this day I don’t know for sure that there is a GSA building as I’ve never seen it.
We had a wonderful stay. It is hard to visit Washington without coming away with a great sense of pride in what the American experiment had accomplished.
The buildings were more than mere structures. They were shrines to the people who had worked together to show the world what could be accomplished by a rag tag volunteer army who fought and overcame what was then the mightiest fighting force in the world. And all because of their desire to be free of oppression and to craft their own destiny.
I was especially privileged because my Aunt Rose was the secretary to the Director of the National Archives. She received permission from her boss to bring me down to the Archives’ vaults where I was allowed to view documents that had been signed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
If you have seen Frank Capra’s movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” you will have a sense of the pride I felt viewing these – in much the same way that Jimmy Stewart was overwhelmed when he saw the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials when he first arrived in the city as a newly appointed senator.
And you will understand how, when he is falsely accused of attempting personal gain by a corrupt colleague and the attempt is made to expel him from the Senate, this naïve, idealistic man retreats to Abe Lincoln’s feet at the base of his memorial and weeps bitter tears, so disillusioned by the government in which he believed and the reality that he discovered.
Perhaps I also am too idealistic. After volunteering in the political process for several decades it is difficult to hold on to that attitude. Like Senator Smith, I have learned the reality that people in public office are far more likely to be concerned about their personal interests than the interests of those whom they were elected to serve. Maybe that is just human nature – or at least the nature of many who choose to run for public office.
Unlike Senator Smith, I cannot shed my tears at Lincoln’s feet. The next best thing that I can do is watch this outstanding movie and write this blog, hoping to reach at least a few other people who care about what is happening in the land.
This country was founded by people who were great thinkers and its existence was secured by people who were great doers. It was that combination which made America great – and it is the absence of it which is the reason that we have stumbled, and stumbled badly.
If we want the prosperity and the promise to return to this land, we have to make a change both to our political leadership and to our own apathetic attitudes. We have once again to begin doing – and we need to elect people who are common sense thinkers.
There is one thing that is certain to me. With the current cast of characters running the show and most of the people who are sitting in the audience, we can’t get there from here.