Good old days were only yesterday but they're gone

Though officially hired by the Pentagon to serve as a historian in Iraq, six months had come and gone and I still had not taken up my assignment. The incessant wait had become financially unbearable, so in an attempt to break the logjam I decided to expend a bit of political capital by asking various congressional friends to contact the department on my behalf.

The senator from Arizona listened patiently as I gave him an encapsulated account of how one delay after another had plagued this appointment. With each detail McCain’s face grew ever redder, until it seemed as if steam might erupt from his ears, when suddenly he let loose with an expletive followed by an incensed “You’re a god damned good American, and we’re going to do something about this!”

Such was a time when a well-connected though relative small fry such as myself could summons a half dozen U.S. senators and several members of the House to come to my aid. Their repeated battery of telephone calls and letters generated a great deal of agitation within the corridors of the Pentagon and I was soon on my way to Baghdad.
In the past few years, however, there has been a marked change in the way elected officials have come to interact with me and I’ve been somewhat mystified as to the reasons.

During the early stages of a hotly contested gubernatorial contest a long-time political friend extended me an invitation to dine with him at the governor’s mansion should his campaign go on to victory, which it subsequently did. Back in the States after an extended period in Afghanistan I telephoned the governor’s office in order to take him up on his offer, only to be turned away.

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Some period of time later, in asking him for an introduction to a cabinet official, I was again given an abrupt no.
There have been a number of other recent cases in point where I’ve called upon my political allies only to be given the cold shoulder.

Lest you think my grumbling is about sour grapes and bruised ego, the change in demeanor by political office holders towards me is for real and it has nothing to do with a sudden case of bad breath or other unknown negative associations on my part. It is likely a further consequence of the startling polarization that exists in American politics.

Much has been written of late as to the absence of established friendships within the current U.S. Congress. There are myriad reasons for this, including the fact that members have to spend nearly every waking hour in fundraising, and that everyone nowadays flies back to their district come Thursday. As a result, senators and congressmen no longer hang out with one another after a week of spirited politics and I believe a mind-set has ensued whereby people like me, who are not hedge fund managers bundling tens of thousands of dollars in campaign monies or serving as a top-level political operative, have been relegated to the sidelines.

The only reason I met the price of admission in the first place stemmed from my ability to speak the language of Capitol Hill, as well as the fact that I was able to augment my paltry $100 campaign contributions with firsthand foreign policy insight oftentimes dispensed over scotch and cigars with members of congress.

It sounds peculiar to openly long for a return to the old days in politics, given that the old days were really only yesterday in the greater scheme of things. But what’s clear is that camaraderie in the political arena is now much harder to come by and that in terms of receiving a friendly helping hand… being a damn good American is no longer good enough.

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