I knew back in January traipsing around the nation's capitol in my stiletto gold heels while my exposed toes froze that Change City would not sustain its hyper-festive jubilee beyond the inaugural hullabaloo. With all my bicoastal coming and going between New York and Los Angeles most of this year, it wasn't until last week that I finally made it down to DC to experience the descent of Obamamaniacs in a more natural habitat.
We were promised during the campaign that Washington DC would develop a healthy respect for those of us living outside the Beltway when Barack and Michelle moved to Pennsylvania Ave. I am not sure what metrics would be used to judge such progress, but my personal straw poll indicated that there is a vibrancy to the city that did not exist when I visited during the Bush era. The locals told me how great it is that the first couple goes out in the city as opposed to W, who tucked in every night at 9pm. Travelers like myself acknowledged begrudgingly that if we lived there, we would totally stalk Malia and Sasha and look at Michelle's outfits every day. (Hey, we know what's important! And it's Lynn Sweet's FLOTUS blog on Politics Daily.)
On the more substantive front, however, I felt during the course of my various meetings the strong pull of tradition. Sure, the walls of the New Democratic Network offices were painted a vibrant yellow and David All was wearing Diesel jeans, but we were still heatedly debating the boundaries of universal health care in our country's social contract. The media may be twittering the play-by-play and blogs like FamousDC are handicapping the goings-on of the city's rising stars, but the familiar forces of the Sunday talk shows, partisan politics, international crises, the collapsed economy and the Supreme Court confirmation circus are firmly in place. Like so many American institutions, DC's culture appears to be afflicted by the generational shift to the techie progressive majority that is still in its infancy, while the old guard watches in awkward futility.
It's a very ambitious thing to perform a makeover on a power center. Having spent three years living in Chicago, including during Obama's run for senate against the laughable opposition of Alan Keyes, I'd hoped the Prez would bring a little bit more of the Windy City's grounded, midwestern sensibility to DC. I'm obviously not referencing Mayor Daley's machine culture, but the subtle intersection of respect, manageable urbanity, checked ambition and down-home values that make Chicago America's most accessible city. Perhaps he's starting with a grassroots campaign around deep-dish pizza, which will blossom into a bipartisan revolution. He is, after all, never to be underestimated.
I'm interested to hear the impressions of anyone else who has witnessed the transfer of power firsthand or visited recently. Do you think change has really come to DC?