For those of you who do not know, I really enjoy politics…..like really enjoy it. In fact, I am watching a West Wing episode for at least the 13th time right now. I actually know I have seen this one closer to 20 or 25 times. I work in politics, I have studied it, I study government, I live in the seat of American democracy, and I enjoy attending events for people running for office. Just this evening I was at an event for Tommy Wells, a man running for Mayor of Washington, DC. He has some great ideas about how to move our Nation’s Capitol forward.
Yes, I have finished Season 2 of Netflix’s hit show. And yes it is mind-blowingly amazing, but it is also important to remember that this is a work of fiction. Yes, fiction. If you believe that a Democrat gets elected from the Deep Red State of South Carolina from the district that Frank Underwood supposedly represents then…well….we need some basics of the electorate. This is the man who represents that now safe Republican seat.
I want to focus on the concept that everyone in this town is ruthlessly seeking power and willing to stab people in the back to get there. Sure, their are power grabbers in the District as in any industry or city in the world. However, I would argue that here…you find a lot of idealism to start and some who even after years in this environment still cling to it. Some of the largest ventures in the District are think tanks and non-profits. There are people ranging from Democrat to Republican to Green to Libertarian to everything in between seeking a seat at the table. Seeking to help shape the world to fit their conceptualization of the best role government can play. They are looking for facts and want to help the process.
Americans consistently have a perverse view of the people who work in government. The one thing that helps me sleep at night is knowing how often we hear about errors in the Federal Government or the slips ups that staff have made. It lets me know there isn’t some massively orchestrated cover up happening regularly. Some may remember the GSA scandal which happened in 2010. There was an awards banquet in Las Vegas for members of the GSA. The scandal was minuscule in comparison to the federal government. If I remember correctly the banquet cost about $800,000. Yes, while maybe exorbitant, let us put that in perspective. For FY2014 GSA requested $248 million in appropriations for the upcoming year. That requested appropriation is certainly a great amount, but it is used to manage all of the capital assets of the United States government. This includes federal courts, local Social Security offices, and federally run museums. All things many Americans use on a daily basis. Does this one slip up give people the right to demonize all those who work in government? I would argue no.
I argue that there are amazing people working in the civil service, as political appointees, in government relations, and in Congress. These men and women spend countless hours a year performing some of the most thankless tasks we know. They include weathermen, oceanographers, economists, education experts, engineers, military men and women, and legislative assistants. It is important to put a face to those who are working hard for what they believe is a greater good. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal do a great job of reporting on the numbers of budget cuts and budget realities. However we often miss the story of the staff member who has worked at OMB for the last 35 years warning of the high spend, low tax policies or the story of the FEMA employee who spent weeks away from their families assisting those who were affected by a disaster such as Superstorm Sandy.
It is important to remember when you watch that show that it is fiction. As made up as Harry Potter or Where the Wild Things Are. While I have focused on the executive branch and House of Cards focuses on the legislature, I still truly believe there are many good public servants who are not seeking their own gain, but rather seeking gain for their constituents. I have had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in Congress and I have yet to meet a Doug Stamper or Seth Grayson. Yes, ethical challenges exist, but it is usually whether or not you can get behind your boss’ stance on guns, reproductive rights, or financial regulations. Rarely, or I would say even ever, will a staffer be asked to perform some of the RIDICULOUS tasks Stamper performed during his time.
In short, I want anyone who thinks that House of Cards is how that world works to really take a step back and think again because while I have no patience for useless things, I have even less for ignorant people. Until next time friends, be safe and make good decisions…