Who is “Washington”?

Tonight, I watched President Obama and the Speaker of the House on TV make their cases about the debt ceiling crisis.  All I could say the whole time was… Who is this “Washington” they speak of?

“Washington” has become this non-specific entity – to which no one belongs – that is to be blamed for everything going wrong.  (But does anyone praise “Washington” when things do go right?  Or maybe we don’t know the answer to this question since things rarely go right.)  The Speaker references Washington to mean the White House (I think) and the President refers to Washington to mean Congress (I think).  But apparently no one actually belongs to Washington.

Really what they mean by Washington is Americans, isn’t it?  WE – the people, the country – are responsible for whatever we have done or not done.  The politicians do not want to make us – the country – feel bad.  They don’t want to blame us – the country.  But the truth is… “Washington” is no one.  It is EVERYONE.

Some may say that I’m overreacting – it’s just a play on word.  It’s part of politics. Sure.  But this is a very dangerous game, because we have created a word that is supposed to take the blame for everything and no person or people have to respond to it.  It’s a signifier without a clear signified.  It’s a word that means nothing and everything, constantly shifting.  Everyone in Washington refers to others in Washington as “Washington” but never themselves.  “Washington” is always “the other.”  And this always creates an us-versus-them mentality and consciousness. And THIS is dangerous.

Maybe if we want these guys to stop blaming each other and bickering, we should all take responsibility and accept that this is our country, these are our elected officials, these are our debt that we have incurred, these are our problems… all of us.  Together.  WE are Washington, no?

I don’t normally go on a political rant on this blog (only in the privacy of my home to my husband), but this one gets to me because it’s linguistic manipulation, linguistic bullying – and it says something about the way we do politics.  Not good.

FYI, Online Etymology Dictionary says, “Politicks is the science of good sense, applied to public affairs, and, as those are forever changing, what is wisdom to-day would be folly and perhaps, ruin to-morrow. Politicks is not a science so properly as a business. It cannot have fixed principles, from which a wise man would never swerve, unless the inconstancy of men’s view of interest and the capriciousness of the tempers could be fixed. [Fisher Ames (1758–1808)]”  Interesting.


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