Piqua on the Potomac

By Jim Swift

Contributing columnist

To the uninitiated, Washington can be an imposing place. Not in the sense that it is a big city (although not New York City size), but rather, there are barricades, fences, bollards, and police every where you go. It didn’t always use to be this way.

Long before I moved here, both the White House and Capitol were more open to the public. After 9/11, the anthrax attacks on Congress, and the recent issues with White House fence jumpers, we’re becoming more secure and more isolated. Razor wire on the White House fence has one message: go away.

That’s regrettable, because while security is necessary, the worse it gets the less it does to shake the notion that the leviathan that is Washington could not care less about ordinary people.

Now that we are in summer tourism season (lots of free museums and monuments can do that to a town), Washington is as busy as can be. With the humidity kicking in, Washingtonians can start getting pretty snooty, pretty fast. Some are downright mean to the visitors, cementing their perception that Washington is a town of southern efficiency and northern charm.

The truth is, most people who live here aren’t from here — and the native-born won’t let you forget it! I grew up in Cleveland, my father grew up in Piqua and my mom in Sidney. So, it is a bit bothersome to me when I see D.C.-area denizens talk down to visitors, given that “this town” is so transient: they could be from your home town and know your parents!

Each morning as I drive to the political magazine which employs me, I see buses filled with visitors dropping off school-aged kids and chaperons at the the train station. I often wonder where they’re from, and if that, like when I visited in fourth grade, their trip will inspire them to want to live and work in our nation’s capitol, too.

When I worked in the Senate as an aide, one thing you’ll see every day is the young aides, fresh out of college, giving tours of the Capitol to constituents. One aide, who later became a friend, I met in an elevator giving a tour: Where was she from? That’s right, Piqua.

Piqua on the Potomac!

Both of our bosses have since retired, and we’ve moved on to other jobs. But that is one thing people often forget or ignore when they criticize Washington writ large. Washington is largely comprised of people not from Washington. As Teddy Roosevelt put it: “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

And when people in Washington talk down to or show little respect for, and I’m not making this up, “people in flyover states” they make the same error. America built this town, not the government.

Without you, reader, Washington would not be the grandiose swamp that it is. Not to say there is nothing wrong with Washington: there is a lot wrong with Washington. Extending Roosevelt’s line of thought, that means there is a lot wrong with us. But what’s wrong to you might be right to me. Or the opposite.

What do Piquans care about? What should they care about that isn’t getting much coverage?

Every month, I hope to share with Piqua, “the center of the universe” as my father calls it, dispatches from Washington. Not only that, I’d like to respond to questions and do my best to answer them. Having seen how long it can take some Congressional offices to respond (if they do at all), and with the writer’s permission, share some of them here.

Please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected], and do let me know if you’re ever in town.

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