Robert Kaiser, long-time reporter, columnist, editor and most recently managing editor of the Washington Post, has a brilliant, elegant opinion piece in today’s (Sunday, March 2) paper -- http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-republicans-lost-their-mind-democrats-lost-their-soul-and-washington-lost-its-appeal/2014/02/28/2ef5429c-9d89-11e3-9ba6-800d1192d08b_story.html. It’s his swan song; he retired last month and moved to New York. It’s entitled “How Republicans Lost Their Mind, Democrats Lost Their Soul, and Washington Lost Its Appeal.” It sums up a great deal of what’s gone wrong in what passes for our government over the last half-century.
Kaiser is just a year younger than I am, and though he came to DC a decade or so before I did and has obviously been much more a part of its life than I could even imagine being, much of what he says (everything, actually, except his fondness for our baseball team the Nats) goes for me too. I came to DC in 1975, and returned in 1979, with high hopes of accomplishing things. At the time, this was a place where things COULD be accomplished. For all the reasons Kaiser articulates, it no longer seems that way.
I’ve recently been corresponding with a number of people about what might be done, as its fiftieth anniversary approaches, to reform the National Historic Preservation Act, and with a somewhat smaller group about improving the National Environmental Policy Act. As readers of this blog and my recent books know, I think it’s painfully obvious that the implementation of both laws has become thoroughly lost in the weeds of bureaucratic process and been corrupted by self-interest. The first set of discussions has recently resulted in the sad conclusion that there’s nothing to do but write or edit another book to be ignored; the second set hasn’t gotten beyond sharing horror stories and wishing for solutions that remain beyond realistic conception.
There was a time – as recently as the 1990s – when there were people in Congress who were interested enough in good government to give the time of day to ideas for reform and improvement, and there were people in government agencies who were interested in something beyond survival to retirement. There were people in the non-governmental sector who could perceive value in doing things beyond desperately defending the status quo. There were people willing to think, work, and take risks. As far as I can see, those times are gone.
Kaiser predicts that things will change. “I think,” he says, “America is in for discontinuity. Something is going to happen to change this awful game we are playing.” I hope he’s right, and I hope the discontinuity isn’t too damaging to the nation and the world. But I see no way to hasten its coming or nudge it in any particular direction. And unlike Kaiser, I can’t even gin up any enthusiasm for the Nats.