A City Full of Gamblers
When I was home last week, I talked to several people who were impressed that I was living in Washington, D.C and working in an important policy area. And, while I did my usual explanation of what exactly I did and who signed my checks, I also did that self-deprecating thing that is taught to southern girls and the French: "Oh, it’s not that great."
And, the truth is, I was half serious. While I would be happy to brag to anyone from Tokyo to Paris to New York City about how sweet it is to live in DC, I don’t feel the same way as I used to about the "nobility" of working in policy/politics. Part of it is the old adage that everyone’s job is equally necessary from janitors to senators. This town is really full of business card throwing stuck ups and that pisses me off. But another part of it is that the janitor actually sees the his work completed and knows he did what was asked.
Here is my point: Working in almost any policy or issue area is nothing more than a gamble. That’s right, that country sage Kenny Rogers has important wisdom for us. Because this town is full of people pushing all-in to make careers on long shots and pipe dreams.
Let me give you a scenario: Say you work on healthcare issues. Say you want universal health care to be the number one issue for voters, for example, because that would mean that politicians would pay attention to it and policy would be crafted around it and then those law would be implemented by skilled bureaucrats. That’s a tall order. So let’s say you work your ass off for 40 years and give your blood, sweat and tears to this very noble cause. You probably see small victories, the three steps forward, two steps back kinda shit. Then you retire. Maybe at the end of all that work you’ve got something to be proud of. Maybe you were head of a Presidential Commission or perhaps successfully lobbied for universal healthcare for children. That would be great.
Then as you work the back nine at some golf course you hear that the next administration has overturned your baby. Your 40 years of work. Poof. That happens a lot more than you would think. In fact, the damn system is designed to go slow and easily be reversed, particularly with the growing magnitude of power that has become the Executive Branch.
What I am trying to get at is that DC is a town of gamblers. People who have causes and beliefs and are risking, at the very least, their formative career years on something that is sitting at 1000 to 1 if they are lucky. They probably won't see an inch in any direction, but they are just crossing their fingers that they'll be dealt those Aces and they won't get busted.
It also occurs to me that we all view those pushing for world peace or more acres of rain forest to be kings among men, I wonder how noble is it to spend your time in what may well be fairy land when there are realities happening everyday in which you could actually have had a direct impact. Does this mean I'm ready to cash in my policy chips just yet? No, but it's certainly something I've been thinking a lot about lately.
And, remember Kenny's uplifting perspective, “Cause every hands a winner and every hands a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”