West meets east

This week’s cover story reminds me of that episode of West Wing where, while on the re-election campaign trail for President Bartlet, a few top White House staffers—Toby, Josh and Donna—miss the bus and get lost in America. As they slowly make their way back to Washington, D.C., these three beltway politicos are forced out of their comfort zone and into direct contact with the lives and worries of normal citizens.

The program finally returns the trio to D.C. and concludes with them having learned a new truth, i.e., that there are real human consequences to the work done (or not done) every day inside the beltway. But the show remains memorable not for its conclusion, but for everything that comes before, i.e., the exploration of the giant distance between D.C. and the rest of us.

It’s not a geographical distance we’re talking about here.

In “SN&R goes to Washington,” longtime SN&R contributor Ralph Brave explores this distance by making a series of recent visits to the city on the Potomac. His mission: to find out what our local representatives in Congress—Mike Thompson, Dan Lungren, John Doolittle and Doris Matsui—are doing and thinking, on our behalf, following the dramatic change of party control that took place last November.

With the exception of Doolittle, the local reps invited Brave into their D.C. offices and took time to speak with him about war and debt, history and scandal. Congressman Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, was particularly lucid in describing his opposition to the war and 2002 visit to Iraq. “The trip was important to me. … I wanted to make sure that I was getting every ounce of information that I could possibly get. I wasn’t getting it here [in D.C.].”

Brave writes in an early comparison of Sacramento and D.C. (“both political towns” with “eternal legions of wooden-faced civil servants and mercenary lobbyists”) that one major distinction sets them apart. “Only in Washington, D.C., is there the power to declare and wage war,” he writes. In the case of the Iraq war, it remains to be seen whether those in the Capitol or the country ultimately will declare its end.