By Arthur H. Gunther III
Bethesda, Md. -- In 1980, Ronald Reagan came to a sister city quite near here and proclaimed that government was too big, and so in his view too costly, and he meant to downsize. When he left two presidential terms later, Washington and its reach had grown even more. So have the D.C. surrounding communities.
In a visit last week to see a newly relocated son and his family, it was easy to declare traffic the eighth wonder of the modern world. I have not been in the D.C. region in three years, and while the roads were very busy then, it seems volume has doubled. One reason why Bethesda itself is choked is that the famous, old Walter Reed Army medical facility in D.C. has been combined into the Bethesda naval complex, and that has brought more traffic. Just from a medical center? Yes, government does nothing small.
Before World War II, the land on which my son’s house sits was famed or used by nature for floodplains. After the blood of the Civil War battles was shed and farmers returned to crops, the slow southern lifestyle continued for generations -- until Dec. 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, and the war gave us a new Washington, tremendously expanded in just a few years, with huge area adjuncts like the Pentagon and thousands of homes for thousands of new government workers. The growth has never slowed, even as newly minted, naive presidents have promised downsizing.
Reagan knew not Washington, but once he arrived, officialdom quickly learned his ways. Despite whatever observations and proclamations for “change” made on the stump, the president was co-opted by the Washington system, just as every person in that office since has been swallowed in a sea of handlers, lobbyists and red tape that, like a traffic jam, clogs movement for the individual, for the public good. Good intentions have no chance, it seems, no more than a fellow can go one mile on clogged four-lane Old Georgetown Road to get a cup of joe without apoplexy.
Stuck in traffic in the good, old USA, in more ways than one.
The writer, a retired newspaper editorialist, writes at thecolumnrule.com