Notes from the DC Underground

The Free Agent holidayed in the Greater DC area, her home of fifteen years.  Along with gift-opening and turkey-consuming, she was on a reconnaissance mission to see how her beloved capital has changed over the last four years.  The city got snow on Christmas Day, which is when it looks the prettiest.  But as Robert E. Lee said in 1861 as he looked down on the Federal City from his eagle’s nest in Arlington, “That beautiful feature of our landscape has ceased to charm me as it once did.  I fear the mischief that is brewing there. . . .”

The first bit of mischief The Free Agent observed was on the drive from Regan National airport to the suburbs.  The capital beltway is renowned for its constant construction work, it’s the Winchester Mystery House of roadways, but every centimeter of asphalt seemed to be getting spit and a polish.  Work crews more proportioned to the laying of intercontinental rail speckled 495 from Silver Spring to Fairfax to Anacostia.  Not until she remembered the phrase “shovel ready projects” from the stimulus package did The Free Agent understand what this show was all about.  No wonder certain Washingtonians think the recession is over with this industrious pageant facing them both to and fro every day.

Amid the holiday hubbub, The Free Agent got together with two colleagues.  Both work in journalism and both resignedly suggested they might look for “safe” government jobs.  “Although I know I would hate the rules and the bureaucracy and the people,” the publisher of Hippy Week said.  “Yes,” The Free Agent agreed, “being buried alive is safe.”  These are accomplished, hard-working people who are becoming skeptical that the voluntary economy can support them, and from what they see and hear in DC every day, The FA can’t blame them.  (On the bright side, her publisher friend supplied a list of theaters, overbuilt on Fannie/Freddie money, which may be desperate enough to consider producing The FA’s excellent and subversive play, God Bless You, Mister Scrooge! next season.)

As Nativity drew neigh, a headline caught the eye of #1 Aunt, “This congressman just got a job with a lobbying firm,” she said.  “That’s disgusting, that a company can just buy a congressman, isn’t it?”  The Free Agent knows how to keep the holidays congenial, so she surreptitiously jotted in her little notebook, ‘it’s the other way around—disgusting that elected officials are for sale.’  Earl Pomeroy leveraged his 18 years on the House Ways and Means Committee into a position with Alston & Bird, where he’ll join Bob  Dole as a health-care lobbyist.  Having sailed the pirate ship so long, who better to lead his new employers to buried treasure?

The final note from The FA’s trip can’t be blamed on Washington directly, but reflects the New Helplessness, an unfortunate 21st Century alternative to Rugged Individualism, and that was a suggestion that “times being what they are, food should be a civil right.”  (Are you getting the impression Santa had no love for the poor Free Agent this year?)  Given the late politicization of health care, The FA envisions having to staple grocery store receipts to her tax return demonstrating she has purchased sufficient quantities of vegetables and whole grains to please the FDA, HHS, SSA and whoever else gets a say in it, or pay a penalty.

Of these four bellwethers, the one that most troubles The Free Agent is the second.  There will always be collectivists and pork barrel spending and the post-government revolving door, but the resignation of industrious, independent people to the idea of ‘a safe government job’ is a real lump of coal in her stocking.