Suddenly, Washington is the guiding light
After years of denigration, the capital is called to tackle terrorism, save economy.
In a sudden shift, Washington is again the heart of the country.Skip to next paragraph
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For the past two decades, it was fashionable for politicians to campaign against the city that is the nation's capital. Washington was stifled by bureaucracy and was the home of busybodies and spendthrifts. Efficiency and clear vision resided in the provinces. And while Washington downsized the scope of government through everything from deregulation to welfare reform, the nation was lionizing Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
That vision no longer entirely holds. In a swift, dramatic change, a city that has seen its share of denigration is now called upon to lead the US in one of its most troubling hours.
Now there's a dawning sense that today's actions here will ripple across the generations. And there's a new kinship with Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a muscular government protecting the nation and world - and a sense that Ronald Reagan's small-government ideal is, at this moment, simply not practical.
Only Washington is stepping up with a multibillion-dollar bailout for the airlines. Only Washington, perhaps, can restore public trust in airline security - by putting its agents at checkpoints and on planes. Washington is also clearly in charge of the new war on terror. And it may try to save the struggling economy with a big stimulus plan.
Yet some wonder if Washington is up to the task. Have the partisan battles of the past two decades - including the impeachment of a president - left deep wounds that sap the city's ability and agility? Also, is government ultimately the right player to tackle tough economic troubles?
Ready or not, however, "Washington is in," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Foreign policy has now been moved to the front burner again" - and as long as it stays that way, he says, Washington stays "in."
And it's given the governing class here a new sense of purpose. "Nobody is confused about the need for a federal government these days," says Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) of California. "We don't need to be worried about ... whether we're needed anymore."
She's part of a bipartisan group spearheading an airline-industry bailout. Without such aid, some airlines may shut down. Details are still being hammered out, but one plan from President Bush would give airlines $5 billion up front - and $3 billion to boost airport security. It would also limit airlines' liability for damage caused during last week's terror attacks.
This would follow the $40 billion already agreed to for initial rescue, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. And it's only part of an economic stimulus effort that's still being shaped. The package could include everything from a capital-gains tax cut to a quick rebate on payroll taxes to other new spending.
Furthermore, defense and intelligence budgets are expected to rise sharply in coming years.
It all flows out of a new attitude: No action is too costly if it will prevent terror or boost the economy - even though it may bring the return of deficit spending and mounting national debt.