Ethics & Public Policy Center

In Defense of Washington, D.C.

Published in National Review Online on August 12, 2019


I adore my hometown, a homey place called Washington, D.C.

The image of Washington as a cesspool of preening pretense is not completely libelous, but neither is it the whole story. You can live here and avoid all that. Among natives — and after 38 years, I think I qualify — weeks can go by without the subject of government even coming up. We Washingtonians walk our dogs, have block parties, attend concerts, grill steaks in the backyard, and shovel the elderly neighbor’s front walk when it snows. We have religious institutions, book clubs, and PTA meetings, just like other places. At the local dog park, we discuss gardening, home repair, our children, and local gossip; rarely does gun control or Medicare for All come up.

That’s the ordinary. Now for the extraordinary: I’ve traveled the world a bit and still consider Washington to be one of the most beautiful cities on earth. “Thine alabaster cities gleam” captures our capital — my town — even if we can’t quite say “undimmed by human tears.” Every time I land at National Airport and catch sight of the pure lines of the Washington Monument, the majestic Capitol dome, and the blue Potomac setting off Lincoln’s white-marble temple, I exhale with pleasure.

Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Regarding Washington, I would add that if you’re bored here, it’s entirely on you. The 20 Smithsonian museums are treasures (though the zoo is having issues), and they’re free. This encourages frequent short visits, which are really the best way to view masterpieces or mastodons. History is everpresent, from Mount Vernon just down the George Washington Parkway to Ford’s Theater on 10th Street.

D.C. is infamous for steamy summers, but it shouldn’t be. We have the ideal climate. Winters are mild, with just enough snow to enchant adults and give the kids some days off from school. Spring explodes with fragrant flowers while you still need a warm coat, and lingers till flip-flop weather takes over — two months in a good year. Summer is hot — but it’s a wet heat. Okay, some people find it oppressive, but we’re not Paris; we have air conditioning. The autumn air is crisp and the skies are the deepest blue of the year, providing a brilliant backdrop for the foliage fireworks. Best of all is what we do not generally have: wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes. If we do get any of these things, they’re so mild that they serve as social glue without the pain of a real catastrophe.

We have no iconic cuisine or accent. Instead, we have them all. “Cosmopolitan” is a much-abused word, but it’s apt. Washington attracts talented — and, yes, public-spirited — people from all over the country and the world. My social circle has included transplants from Kansas, Georgia, Great Britain, Ohio, New York, Iran, California, Canada, Illinois, Indiana, and many other locales. This lure makes Washington the least provincial city in America. Many are drawn here by love for the country. There’s no better place to be.

Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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