Ruth: Washington's so evil, I've just got to go there

Published Jan. 23, 2014

After more than four decades of hanging around politicians, election night triumphs and disasters — not to mention all that red, white and blue bunting — there is a riddle about campaigns that still flummoxes me. And I was a political science major, too. No help.

Why is it that so many candidates who hit the hustings for a seat in Congress spend so much energy decrying Washington as a vile den of iniquity, sin, corruption, dysfunction and immorality, while simultaneously begging for millions of dollars to finance a quest to get there as soon as possible even if it means throwing their grandmother under a bus to become part of the very icky environment they so self-righteously abhor?

We saw this disconnect with reality as results were tallied in the special Republican primary election to fill the District 13 congressional seat of the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young. GOP nominee David Jolly wasted no time smearing his Democratic opponent Alex Sink as the centerfold for those duplicitous, conniving dark forces of (cue The Phantom of the Opera theme) Democratic supporters with ties to WASHINGTON!

Sink was no wallflower herself, accusing Jolly of (cue the Reservoir Dogs theme) being the Blofeld of the Beltway for his dark, tainted connections as a longtime WASHINGTON lobbyist!

Some of Sink's Washington connections then seized on the fact that Jolly had registered as a lobbyist for offshore oil drilling interests and a group that wants to privatize Social Security. But if Jolly is to be believed, he has carved out a unique lobbying specialty of getting hired by offshore oil drilling supporters and Social Security reformers precisely not to lobby on those issues. Is Washington not a great city of opportunity?

The tendency of Sink and Jolly to run away from Washington as if it was a suburb of cholera-riven Haiti — while at the same time retaining campaign consultants, hosting fundraisers, shaking hands, kissing babies and running warm and fuzzy goo-goo-eyed commercials attesting to their charm and patriotism just so they can sit on the Joint Committee on the Library's Dewey Decimal Sub-Sub-Committee (000-through-244) — is odd.

After all, both pols are vying to succeed Bill Young, a Republican who served in the House for 42 years and never pretended he wasn't a creature of Washington. Indeed it was that longevity and Young's finely honed skills over decades of accumulating and exercising power to benefit his district that marked his best argument to be re-elected again and again to go back to Washington.

Not to be too overly cynical — or perhaps pragmatic — but when voters are deciding whom to send to Washington to represent them, shouldn't one's understanding of how to navigate the corridors of raw power be considered an asset?

After all, we're supposed to be electing someone who is going to be thrown into a 24/7, highly partisan political knife fight, hardly the place for a naive Wee Willie Winkie or Anne of Green Gables.

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Jolly and Sink are hardly alone in their Washington-as-Lucifer's Spawn faux hand-wringing. There are many candidates for office today who publicly approach their campaigns as if they were forced to carry the heavy burden of the Cross of the Potomac, drawn to run only after hearing the voices of contributors emanating from a burning bush, begging them to enter the arena.

Perhaps no one perfected the high art form of the Politics of the Agony and the Dreadful of public life more than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who spent eight years in Tallahassee as if he was posing for holy pictures.

But alas, what is one to do when a calling comes calling?

This is yet another prime example of why I would probably fail miserably as a political consultant. Were I advising either the Jolly or Sink campaigns, I would likely offer this gem of wisdom when my client was accused of being awash in Washington cooties.

Look the accuser straight in the eye as if they are a complete imbecile and respond by saying: "You betcha. You better believe I know my way around Washington. I even know House Speaker John Boehner's Secret Service code name — Weepy.

"I want to serve in the House because I yearn to accumulate power and influence to not only enhance my political career, but finagle bazillions of dollars back to District 13 so that I'll eventually have more things named after me than Bill Young.

"That's why I deserve your vote."

And that is why the phone isn't ringing seeking out my keen political acumen.