Thursday, July 13, 2006

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.”

11 Comments:

Blogger Sean said...

"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."

You should do it NOW. DC is nothing but a giant facade. Everything has already been bought and sold 10 years before you even know about it. Sure you've had a good time in the belly of the beast but if you have something else in mind, I say go for it. Time's a wasting....

11:40 AM  
Blogger V said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:50 AM  
Blogger V said...

Sean: I am not as cynical as you about DC, but you are right, time's a wasting...

However, I have been working on another project that does deal with DC, but not in a policy sense. Worth a shot--

11:51 AM  
Anonymous bill said...

It's good that you're thinking about this both from a personal and soceital perspective. Is the public well-served by having things move so slowly? Probably not. Was this the intent of the Founders? Probably not. Would the effect change appreciably if you and other smart, energetic people abandoned the system en masse? Probably not. If you have an opportunity to accomplish something of which you will be proud, I think you should take it.

12:14 PM  
Blogger V said...

Bill: Thanks. And, I certainly wouldn't advocate everyone jumping ship, but it does give me pause as I consider what exactly I am gearing up for in my professional life.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Happy and Jaded said...

Hence why culinary school just seems so right. Wow are we thinking the same stuff or what!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Wiser words were never spoken.

2:04 PM  
Blogger V said...

Happy & Jaded: Word, sister. And, tonight's going to be fun...and we're not the only DC bloggers out drinking tonight :)

Phil: Right, don't you just love him...maybe he should be inducted into the playaz hall o' fame?

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

V- How did you get your job, if you don't mind me asking? (This is a serious question. Not a "get with your local representative" answer..as I've found that policy is a hard field to get started in)

3:32 PM  
Blogger V said...

Anon: I worked for a union in my field for a couple years and then moved to a private firm.

I also had to start as an intern like so many...

3:38 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

OK, well my only advice then is....be more cynical, toot suite. I know you're still young and all, but give it time ;-)

10:17 AM  

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