Skip to main content

Political Culture

Last week I watched Frontline's documentary Obama's Deal. Like most of PBS's work, it's a well-told story and a well-produced piece. One thing I that caught my attention was the portrayal of Washington's political culture. I think that if I didn't know anything about the city, I'd probably think that nearly everyone in the city was a well-paid, high-powered lobbyist hell-bent on influencing Congress.

(from wallyg on Flickr)

Without a doubt, politics is a major part of Washington culture. It would be strange if it weren't. But I don't feel like it dominates the culture to the extent that media often portrays it. Government is the region's top industry, but most federal employees are executive branch bureaucrats or contractors, with little or no connection to politics.

When I walk around Capitol Hill, something I like to do on the weekends, it feels like a pleasant urban neighborhood. I'm yet to bump into a well-known politician or lobbyists who you'd think would be chasing them. It's just regular people living seemingly regular lives.

A few weekends ago I was sitting at Peregrine Espresso on the Hill, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the paper. It was busy, so table space was limited. Two guys asked if they could share the table. Of course I said yes. As it turns out, one of them was a rocket scientist (he's worked for NASA for years and worked as a physicist in London before that) who lives on the Hill. The second guy was a professional squash player from Europe who was vacationing in DC before catching a flight to Chicago the next day. Both were really interesting guys. Neither had any connection to politics.

Even though I can't deny that DC is inherently a political town, I feel like local politics, not national politics, is just as dominant. And why shouldn't it be? The people who live in DC are concerned about what's happening in their neighborhood, as least as much as they care what's happening in congressional committees. National media focuses on Washington as the home of national politics, because it is - but that's not all it is, and I'm glad it's not.


B. P. Beckley said…
I've read in a couple of places that congresspeople no longer stay in DC on weekends .. they go home to the district, because they don't want to be accused by their next opponent of forgetting the people back home.
rg said…
My favorite misconception among out-of-towners is that a change in administration or in the control of Congress has a significant impact on DC in terms of people's day-to-day lives or on the "atmosphere" in DC. It's a misconception fueled by the national media. Perhaps the "atmosphere" part is true for the hard-core political class, but there is really no difference in my everyday life or in the "atmosphere" of my neighborhood under the Obama Administration verus under the Bush Administration.

A good example: I bought my house right around the time Obama was inaugurated. My non-DC friends all assumed that the change in Administration somehow made finding a house to buy more difficult. Of course, in a city of 600,000 people and a metropolitan area of several million, the political appointees brought in by a new administration are but a drop in the bucket.
B. P. Beckley said…
Not to mention that if the new political appointees are buying, the old are presumably selling....
Jeff said…
Are you sure most people assume that everyone is in politics? Or simply living from a paycheck derived ultimately from the federal government? I always assume the latter, and my suspicion is that it is largely as correct as outsiders believe it to be.
Even in your anecdote, one of the guys worked for NASA.

Popular posts from this blog

In Praise of Southwest's 'C' Boarding Group

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from someone complaining that their Southwest Airlines boarding pass had been assigned A20 (meaning they would be at least one of the first twenty passengers to board the plane). Apparently this person though they should have been assigned a higher number, less their flight experience be considerably spoiled.

Despite the complaints, Southwest has resisted demands to assign seats on its flights, a decision which I personally applaud. I'll admit that I was skeptical when they rolled out the newest boarding procedure, assigning both boarding groups and a line number; but in hindsight it seems like one of the best operational decisions they've ever made. If nothing else, it effectively eliminated the infamous "cattle call" whereby fliers were getting to airports hours in advance and sitting in line on the floor as if they were waiting for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie.

When I was an intern at Southwest Airlines last winter, I…

So You Want to be a Southwest Airlines Intern?

My personal website must have pretty decent SEO - because in the past year, I've received about two dozen emails from aspiring Southwest Airlines interns looking to draw on my experience in search of their own dream internship. In the past two weeks alone a few new emails have already started rolling in...

(from flickr user San Diego Shooter)

If you've found your way here, you might be hoping for the silver bullet; a secret tip that will propel you above the competition. Unfortunately, I do not know any inside secrets. I can only share my experience as an internship candidate about two years ago and, rather than responding individually to future emails I anticipate to receive, I hope that potential interns will find the information posted here valuable.

Understand: Southwest Airlines is a very unique company. The corporate culture at Southwest is truly unlike that of nearly every other company. But you probably already knew that, since it now seems mandatory for every management,…

Mixing Sports and Business

In the last two days I've devoured every article in the Washington Post about the Nationals painful and epic defeat on Friday night in the NLDS. It was a tough way to see the season end, there's no doubt about that.

(from wallyg on Flickr)
These articles make it clear that there are a lot of people emotionally invested in professional sports. I think they sometimes they forget that, ultimately, Major League Baseball is big business. Each team is a major corporation and the league itself is an organization governed by a bunch of executives. The television networks that show the games are under contract with the team owners and the games aren't usually available to those without cable.

This is why it can be so hard to be a fan in this game. It's the multi-millionaire and billionaire owners that call most of the shots. They get to decide how much they're willing to spend on players. They get to decide who to hire as the CEO of the company. They get to decide how much t…