Fighting the Beltway Mentality

I have heard many folks openly observe that all members of Congress must live in a different world from ours. I have pondered this oft-heard statement, and I must at length concur. I have a direct sense and understanding of these now particularly odious folks. Here is a story of life as we knew it around the Beltway of Washington. 

Back in the late 1980s, we were assigned to the D.C. area by military posting. It was a cultural shock to the entire family. In part, the disparity came from living in Germany for four wonderful years and being more accustomed to a quieter, less stressful lifestyle. While in Germany, we enjoyed no loud noises on Sunday, closed stores, and simply a slower, easier pace to things. When we hit the D.C. area, living went into warp speed.  And not only that, but we were surrounded by people, each of whom felt he was more important than the last person introduced, and we found a permeating self-centered mindset unlike anything we had ever seen anywhere in all our adventures around the world.

This was demonstrated as each person we met immediately gave us his or her job title, followed by the title of whatever his or her spouse or significant other did for a living. It was clear that people did this to highlight their personal importance. In part, it amused me, but I soon came to understand that this was only the beginning of what we learned was called the Beltway Mentality. We discovered that this was an area where each person we met was competing to outdo everyone else, all the while cultivating self-importance. 

It was a singularly insular place, where a certain framework of assumption included the concept that ideas formed here should be the gold standard for the nation and the rest of the world. Worse, the assumption's further corollary was that if others did not think your way, then they must have a significant defect!

Keeping our children from developing presumptuous, arrogant, self-centered attitudes required immense diligence within our home. I found a good way myself by staying focused on keeping our home-life balanced and by heading home to my parents' ranch to doing manual labor several times a year. Nothing keeps a person grounded better than good hard work. 

I noticed that few in Washington, D.C. ever did any real manual labor. It seemed like most lived what my old Daddy called privileged lives. I found that one trip home and working cattle or walking fence lines to look for issues could reinvigorate me and keep me sound and balanced, so I went as often as I could afford to. We took the children home during long summers for similar reasons.

The day we left Washington, I picked up the Washington Post newspaper on the lawn before our car pulled out of the driveway on our departure to Texas. Quickly scanning the news, we opened the comic page. One strip in particular jumped off the page: It was about two sad-sack fellows called Frank and Ernest. That day's strip depicted these two hapless characters standing at a crossroads. A pair of signposts pointed directions next to them. One sign pointed to Washington, D.C. The other read, quite simply, "to the rest of the world." Never have I seen a thought quite so revealing and accurate.

I would say that this thought has grown more salient in the years since we moved away to our ranch, living what we feel is a privileged, grounded, and wonderful life. And as I watch the spectacle of arrogance emanating from the halls of Congress, I must draw one conclusion: we need to collectively give the seated legislators more grounding by sending them packing and allowing them the opportunity to work in the real world. We should never grant these privileged fools another chance to force the rest of us into their truly warped and dysfunctional world. 

Frankly, we'd just as soon live in a world where we work happily with our hands and find meaning in family, church, community, and the satisfaction of home and hearth. You see, outside of Washington, D.C., we have grounded lives, and we generally put the welfare of others before our own.

Beverly Gunn is a rancher living in East Texas.  She appreciates hard work and believes her cattle are more intelligent and trustworthy than our country's elected representatives. She is grateful to live and work on the land.
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