Funny Times, January 2010

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” this month collects quotes on the theme of Washington, DC.  Ada Louise Huxtable’s line, “Washington is an endless series of mock palaces clearly built for clerks” catches a point I’ve often wanted to make.  The official part of Washington isn’t really a city at all, but something more like a theme park.  “Governmentland,” you might call it.  It isn’t particularly dignified for a country like the USA to have such an inherently silly place as its capital city.  I’ve often thought they should have left the capital in New York.  That way the federal government would be just one of many big enterprises in town, not the dominant thing as it is in DC.  Officials would be reminded that their doings are not in fact the center of the uiniverse.  Another quote in the column, Richard Goodwin’s remark that “People come to Washington believing it’s the center of power.  I know I did.  It was only much later that I learned that Washington is a steering wheel that’s not connected to the engine,” can’t have applied to New York when George Washington was sworn in as president there, or to Philadelphia earlier.  There was too much else going on for the political classes to delude themselves into a grossly exaggerated idea of their own importance.   

Many of the quotes Winokur collects are surprising.  For example, I would never have guessed that the remark “Washington isn’t a city, it’s an abstraction” came from Dylan Thomas.  It’s a good line, Thomas just isn’t someone I think of as a commentator on the US political scene.  Nor would I have thought of Peggy Noonan if you’d asked me to guess who came up with the line “The voters think Washington is a whorehouse and every four years they get a chance to elect a new piano player.”  It sounds like something Clare Booth Luce would have said when memories of this photo were still fresh in the public’s mind.  Elliott Richardson was sufficiently full of himself that he couldn’t come up with an effective response when Massachusetts State Senate president Billy Bulger mocked his campaign for governor with the line “Vote for Elliott Richardson.  He’s better than you.”  Still, it did take me aback to see that he had such a superior attitude that he would allow himself to say that “Washington is a city of cocker spaniels.  It’s a city of people who are more interested in being petted and admired, loved, than rendering the exercise of power.”  Personally, I’d choose love over “rendering the exercise of power” any day, but I guess that just shows that I’m not up to Elliott Richardson’s standards.  One line that I would have been able to identify is from Gore Vidal: “I date the end of the old republic and the birth of the empire to the invention, in the late 1930s, of air conditioning.  Before air conditioning, Washington was deserted from mid-June to September.  But after air conditioning and the Second World War arrived, more or less at the same time, Congress sits and sits while the presidents- or at least their staffs- never stop making mischief.”    

Elsewhere in the issue, there is a column of excerpts from Aaron Karo’s Ruminations.com; my favorite of these is “No, Microsoft Word, my name is not spelled wrong.”  There are a couple of good cartoons about the health care debate, including this one from Tom Tomorrow and this one from Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown.

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1 Comment

  1. cymast

     /  December 28, 2009

    Tomorrow is right- women are still considered second-class citizens in most niches of our society. The ERA is not yet ratified. That boggles the mind. Women on average earn less than men except in the fields of sex and fashion. I don’t see myself officially doing anything else.

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