President Obama is speaking at political rallies in a tale of my two cities this week, rousing the base to the rafters in Madison yesterday and in Washington tomorrow. Even as a girl, Wisconsin made me political, which is why living in Washington suits me well.
Both capital cities, named for early republic presidents, have the sweet scent of democratic government in the autumn air, along with rustling leaves. President Obama found high ground in Madison--no surprise for the home of the old Progressive Party. The University of Wisconsin is renowned for its love of reason, inquiry, environmental beauty, medicine, research, science, English literature, arts, history, social sciences, humanities, dairy ice cream on the Memorial Union Terrace, agriculture, and winter sports (and Big 10 football) by the shores of Lake Mendota. It's enough to make you weep, reader.
Then we come to tomorrow's event at a smart symbolic venue, with the background music of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) racial snub of the contralto singer, Marian Anderson, in 1939. But there was just a little problem with the invitation for a nice Madison girl like me. David Pfouffe, organizer for Obama's appearance at the DAR Constitution Hall in the nation's capital, invited multitudes to come to hear the president speak in Washington, "D.C." Ouch. Return with regrets to sender, please.
Adding the "D.C." to Washington every chance they get is part of the Republican code. Haven't you heard the way they speak the name? George W. Bush was a master of this art, adding his best prep school sneer to the two extra syllables. It is a distancing mechanism, a way to telegraph to listeners a distance--and a fundamental disrespect--for the federal government.
This not-very-nice nuance is a common practice among Republicans in Congress: speaking of Washington as if it's foreign. As if they are not standing on the ground in this graceful city, under a marble dome inspired by ancient Rome. The city of "magnificent distances" doesn't deserve to be "dissed" like that. If they don't like it, they should leave and go home.
Speaking of home, I can go back to Madison any time, see our warm family friends and find the place pretty much unchanged. Yet if the principled Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, a lone voice and vote against the Patriot Act, loses his race for re-election, then what? I'll have to rethink a few things.
Whatever November brings for Obama, for Feingold, for us, there's always this touchstone. Wisconsin gave me my first lesson in democracy and dissent. As a young child, I witnessed the anti-Vietnam War movement and felt in my soul how much politics mattered.
Living in Washington, politics matters as much. Every single word of it.
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