The Corner

Autumn on the Hill

I don’t pretend to know the right fiscal-cliff answers, but I do know that some of the verbs being used today and some of the self-righteous glee greeting the news of the House going home for Christmas last night was jarring. 

I’m writing this post in the shadow of the Capitol, where dark clouds so appropriately seem to frame the building. The meteorology captures the mood. It’s an autumn 2012 mood for some of us, involving some fog. 

I know Americans love to hate Washington. But Washington is a reflection of the people who send representatives here. Yes, there is the corrupt power-brokering culture everyone loves to hate. But the brokenness of Washington is not all on or of Washington. 

We are a culture right now that is suffering from the fallout of bad choices, including, yes, a tendency, as the speaker of the House might say, to kick the can down the road when it comes to serious decisions, and a posture of denial in refusing to acknowledge our responsibilities to and for what’s right in front of us, surrounding us, overwhelming us.

So many of our most contentious debates, short and longer term, are about more foundational challenges. And they are nothing Washington is going to fix or is suited to fixing. An urgent and sober civic renewal is what’s going to help. It has so many facets involving civic associations and schools and families, all fraught with challenges, some of which Washington makes harder.#more#

But again, why does Barack Obama force churches and schools and business owners into court to make a claim for having religious liberty rights? Because voters sent him here and ignored what he was doing (and I don’t think 2012 was a mandate by any stretch of the imagination on religious liberty; unless you’re an activist on these things, you probably didn’t pay all that much attention to the issue), or shrugged their shoulders about it, lacking a clarity or certainty about alternatives.

I confess that I have a lot of empathy for House leadership. As Rush Limbaugh has been known to remind folks, we all have our roles. And John Boehner articulated a respect for members who bailed on “Plan B” this morning, because he appreciates that. He has long seemed to have a seriousness about stewardship, as the leader of the opposition in a town where numbers are not on his side. It strikes me as a thankless position at this point in history. That needn’t be a vote of confidence so much as an acknowledgement of reality. 

A little gratitude for people who are willing to have their names on ballots and do the hard work of public service might be appropriate as we wind down the year. You don’t have to canonize them or even agree with them. But there are people, yes, actually trying to do the right things for the right reasons, even in Washington. And they include most especially so many staff members who always talk to me about their children– and the ones on the way — who are the reason they bother. 


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