Why on earth would you want to move to Washington, D.C.? Inside the Beltway, this is an absurd and unthinkable question. Washington, after all, is the Center of the Universe. The Pillar of Power. The Dominion of Movers and Shakers. Who wouldn't want to live and work here?
Try real people with real jobs and real families.
A report released by the Brookings Institution last week reveals that most talented Americans from across the country are repulsed by the idea of relocating to Washington and accepting government positions. In a survey of hundreds of prominent civic and corporate leaders, the report noted: "Most respondents viewed Washington as a somewhat less or much less favorable place to live than their current residences." High housing costs and personal family disruptions rated high among the reasons people wouldn't want to settle down in the nation's capital if offered presidential appointments.
Worrywarts at the left-leaning Brookings cooked up the typical Beltway solution for fixing what they called the "Problems on the Potomac": Bribe the outsiders with a host of tax-subsidized goodies such as fatter travel reimbursements, house-hunting allowances, job-search assistance for "trailing" spouses, and school and child-care assistance for the little ones. The report concludes optimistically that after surveying scores of human resource directors who recruit top-level executives, "Washington may not be such an uninviting place as potential appointees think it is."
But where do these human resource directors who hold such a charitable view of Washington work themselves? At think tanks, nonprofits, lobbying and law firms, universities, and Big Businesses in -- you guessed it -- Washington, D.C.
Written by Beltway types and drawing on the self-delusionary opinions of other Beltway types, this Brookings report leaves out some of the most obvious reasons why Washington repulses normal Americans. I speak from experience as an intermittent and reluctant resident of Washington and the surrounding area over the past 10 years. On the surface, this city is a glamorous, patriotic and awe-inspiring metropolis. Up close, it's a rude, family-unfriendly, ego-infested, tax-subsidized, creep-coddling swamp. And that's not including Marion Barry and Gary Condit.
Try walking along K Street -- D.C.'s famous corridor of power brokers -- on a weekday morning with a baby, stroller and diaper bag. If you're lucky enough not to get mowed down by a profanity-spewing driver in an expensive car sporting diplomat license plates, you'll freeze to death under the icy glare of cheerless and condescending lobbyists who automatically assume you are your child's paid caregiver. Pedestrians and stay-at-home parents are endangered species in this part of town.
Try walking the halls of Congress. It's Abercrombie & Fitch meets the Hair Club for Men. Lots of really photogenic young people kissing up to lots of insufferable blowhards. Separated by one or two generations, most of these players have only one real thing in common: They have never been weaned from the public teat. The closest they've ever come to meeting a payroll is when they come together to spend everyone else's payroll taxes.
In Washington, you don't have friends and neighbors. You have "contacts" and "sources." And nobody ever travels alone on Capitol Hill. Happiness is a groveling entourage. Weekends are made for "networking." The typical Beltway denizen's idea of social stimulation is a constantly vibrating beeper.
When the sun goes down, it's time to party. Except that most Washington dinner "parties" are dreadfully joyless affairs, filled with more rivalry than revelry -- and enough name-droppings to fertilize a football field. Nowhere is this more evident than when politicians and the press gather together under one roof to fete each other. Pre-event planners for the White House Correspondents' Association are cattier than Miss America contestants fighting backstage over the last can of hairspray.
The Brookings report raises a public service alarm over the need "to seek out the best through the whole Union," as Thomas Jefferson put it in 1801. It's a legitimate concern. But instead of expanding government's role to lure outsiders to the capital, the ultimate solution lies in the other direction: cutting Washington -- and its bloated culture -- down to size.