The siren call of Washington

Our nation's capitol. Too often an armed camp.
The nation’s capitol: Is the heat from the weather or from all the hot air inside the building?

As much as we love living here in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, an old itch to get back into the madness of Washington sometimes arises.

A national political news web site that I edit each day may feed that itch.  For 23 years, I spent many days on Capitol Hill, the White House or other parts of the national government apparatus either working within that system or covering it as a reporter and photojournalist.

That life was both exciting and addictive.  It also produced a lot of mental and physical stress.

Yet the adrenaline rush of living and working in the middle of history cannot be denied.  As a political operative for the Republican party, I attended meetings in the Oval Office with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  I flew on Air Force.  I traveled the world with a red government passport, which usually meant no dealing with customs or waits in line.

The Washington Amy and I left in 2004 changed dramatically from the one we saw on arrival in 1981.  It turned nastier, more partisan and more driven by deception than service to the nation.  Associations with others were driven by political need, not desires for friendships.  Too many would turn on a friend if it served a specific need at a particular time.

After walking away from politics after a nearly 12 years within that world — a serious mistake on my part — I found assignments increasing involving trips into hazardous places, international “hot spots” and emerging wars.  After returning from Afghanistan in 2003, Amy asked me not to accept an assignment in Iraq.

“I don’t feel comfortable about you going there,” she said.  It was the first time in our marriage where she expressed such fear.  The person who went in my place died there.

I had spent two long days covering the terrorist attacks of 9-11, much of it at the Pentagon, photographing the carnage from the commercial jetliner that crashed into the building.  By 2004, the Washington we knew and loved has changed into a war zone, a military encampment with checkpoints, a Patriot missile battery on the National Mall and an armored military transport with a machine gun guarding traffic near the Pentagon.

That awareness partially drove out decision to leave Washington.

That was 15 years ago.  We have a nice life, a nice house, close friends in Floyd County.  When I look at what Washington has become, with what I feel is an unqualified president, backed by an increasingly-corrupt political party that paid me a lot of money back in the 1980s, I shake my head and wonder how I became part of that toxic culture.  I sold out for the money and the power.

I return to Washington at least once a year, often to participate in panels that deal with journalism and politics.  The traffic we lived with now seems far worse with the hustle and bustle more robotic.  I’m happy to head home here in the mountains.

Still, a part of me misses the action.  At age 71, I’m still younger than the current president and two of the leading contenders to replace him in the 2020 election.

Nah.  I’m not going anywhere.

Then again…

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