I was 24 years old and a something of a stranger to Washington when I assumed my post at the White House as a speechwriter for George W. Bush. That has consequences. The longer you hang around our nation's capital, the less you're impressed by its inhabitants. The old saw has it that you spend your first six weeks in D.C. thinking "How did I ever get here?" and the rest of your time thinking "How the hell did everyone else get here?" (I'm told, by those who know, that Wall Street and Hollywood are both the same way).
When you're as young and as green as I was, however, you arrive with eyes substantially less jaundiced. And one of the disheartening aspects of the experience is the frequency with which you notice that people you once regarded as heroes have feet of clay.
Like all centers of power, Washington is overstuffed with individuals obsessed with their public standing, monomaniacal in their pursuit of a heightened Q rating. The District of Columbia was founded nearly 222 years ago, and for nearly 222 years it has been stricken with a drought of humility.
Every once in a while, however, you'd find someone who had achieved something truly momentous -- someone who could be forgiven an excess of ego because they had doubtlessly earned it -- who conducted themselves with all the earnestness and warmth of the deacon in your childhood church or the owner of the local corner store.
The reason I'm indulging in this reflection? Because of this line, that appeared in a column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
This may sound odd coming from a Reagan speechwriter, but for much of these past 25 years a question about the Berlin Wall address bothered me: Had it really mattered? The speech had been just that, a speech. Mere talk. Had it made any difference?
The author, of course, is none other than our own Peter Robinson. Peter, I'm sure, wants you to read the piece for what it says about Ronald Reagan (and you should). I want you to read it for what it says about Peter.
I can think of virtually no one in Washington who, having done something as singular as authoring a speech that marked a historical inflection point in the Cold War, wouldn't have made sure -- to his dying day -- that his accomplishment was treated with breathless reverence by everyone he met. People have made much more out of much less. And questioning the impact of your signal professional accomplishment? Unheard of.
That such people can still arrive in such positions of power gave me hope in my White House days. It still does now.
Take heart, Ricochet. Every now and again, Mr. Smith does actually get to Washington.