We go to the nation's capital like other people go to the Vatican
City or to Mecca. On our annual pilgrimage last month, we toured
the Capitol building and the Library of Congress. In the past
we've been to the National Archives, which, along with the Air
and Space Museum, is one of our sons' favorite places. But it
was in the lobby of our Capitol Hill hotel that I had a near-religious
When we visit government buildings in DC, we don't just tour
them. We conduct social-studies-type field trips, talking about
everything from the roots of our democracy to how a bill gets
through Congress (and is then vetoed by the president). Don't
get me wrong: we don't want our sons, ages 10 and 13, to be politicians;
we're just hoping for good citizens. Failing that: strong students.
Failing that: not mass murderers.
The kids like my husband's contributions: he knows actual historical
facts about the great leaders and wars and treaties. I'm just
the small-D democracy cheerleader. I try to impart a sense of
the Big Ideas that America Is Founded On and the challenges of
implementing them in a modern world. Though this topic is not
their favorite, I hold their attention using today's hip lingo.
Political junky that I am, it makes sense that
I'd be happy to meet a member of Congress in our hotel lobby.
I wasn't expecting to swoon, however. Here's what happened: A
picture-perfect family - complete with doting grandparents, aunt,
and uncle - was sitting near the elevator with a tiny infant
girl. I ogled the baby, and we got to talking. First about her
baptism that morning and then, suddenly, about politics. The
baby's amiable dad, who looked to be in his early 30's, introduced
himself as Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Bucks
My husband, who had just read a New York Times profile of him,
asked Murphy about his two tours in Iraq. I started getting dizzy.
An Iraq vet who's also a Democrat? The conversation continued
as I gaped, arms hanging lifeless at my sides. The freshman representative
had also been a law instructor at West Point. I felt faint. A
Fighting Dem with legal chops?
This man was a shimmering vision. Better than a vision - he
was a living, breathing embodiment of Good. An uncorrupted newbie
with a CV chock full of nothing but service to his country. As
if that wasn't enough, as a junior House whip Murphy was heading
up the effort to pass the first war budget with timelines (which
Bush would later veto). Could this guy be our savior?
I finally got it together long enough to expose myself as a
complete idiot, in case there had been any doubt. "Look, kids,
a congressman!" I said, pointing to the man sitting three feet
away. "He's one of the 435 men and women who represent all Americans."
Upstairs, elated, I paced the room.
"It's not like you met the president," my husband said. "Plus,
who knows? He's probably got a few skeletons in his closet."
He was right: why was I so excited? I'd seen people freak out
when meeting movie stars and rockers and here I, who'd always
kept my cool around celebrities, had just done the same thing.
Weirder still: until that moment, I had never even heard of the
Unlike the teeny boppers in Beatles footage and fans crowding
stars today, my fandom applies not to a single person or group
but, rather, to the political process. Stay with me here. Politicians
- especially unpolished young ones who are still idealistic -exude
a different kind of fame. It's a willingness to face the tedious,
stressful work of running a country, especially in the scrappy
House of Representatives. These pols will never be celebrities
- though they may try, like the rest of us, to get attention
through websites and MySpace pages. They're too busy. And there
are too many of them. But for me, they're dreamy.
One last thing bothers me about the encounter.
Why now? Why was I so moved now, in the middle of a career that
has included interviewing, among other people, White House officials,
presidential candidates, and senators?
As a child of Watergate, I don't remember ever having hope.
I grew up in a jaded America that was numbed by the shock of
back-to-back assassinations. The Kennedys. Martin Luther King.
Even Malcolm X's murder shook our home, with its attendant rumors
of government involvement. And then Vietnam. And oy, Watergate.
But when my kids started participating in family discussions,
I returned to a state of political innocence, like a born-again
teen in an abstinence program taking a re-virginity pledge. Some
people turn to religion when they procreate; others turn away
from cigarettes, fast cars, and fucking swears (only to find
it's not always possible). All these steps are affirmations of
the possibilities the future holds.
It's totally naïve, I know. Who cares? President Bush and
his corrupt cronies have screwed up the country, but so have
others before them. And here come these shiny-eyed youngsters
with their big ideas and boundless energy. It's enough to give
a girl visions.