Administrations should befriend the locals — they’ll need them in hard times
By Sally Quinn, The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; 9:34 AM
I get asked almost every day how Washington life has changed since the newcomers came to town. The answer is: not at all. In fact, it’s probably duller than it’s ever been. This is nobody’s fault, per se, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. These are difficult times, and it’s just the way it is.
Years ago, the city looked to the White House to set the social tone. Whatever style the president and first lady favored was the style adopted. The Kennedys enthralled the town with their youth, exuberance and glamour. They had round skirted tables at a state dinner, and suddenly everyone had round tables. The Johnsons came in with their down-home Texas barbecues and you couldn’t go out at night without being served ribs and baked beans. It wasn’t until Nixon that people started to do their own thing. He introduced U-shaped tables, like the Russians, and instructed the White House guards to wear imperial hats. Most of those close to the president (except for Henry Kissinger) were distanced from the establishment. Inevitably, hostility toward the White House grew.
Indulge me for a moment on the topic of our cultural bellwether, “Avatar.” In the film, the Pandora natives worship the goddess Eywa, who is the spirit that connects them to their planet. If there is such a goddess in Washington, I believe, it is the spirit of community. Those who live here want to welcome new friends. Washingtonians are open and willing to invite newcomers and make them part of their lives. If they can’t do that, there is automatically a distance that is created so that if — no, make that when — the administration gets into trouble, there is too little sympathy or support.
When an administration begins to express hostility to those in the community, the Na’vi pull out their arrows with the poison tips and begin taking aim. The rougher things get, the more members of the administration need to reach out, not withdraw. Nobody has ever been able to master this yet. Consequently everyone suffers — needlessly.