Babylon Revisited: Melancholy Thoughts After a Short Trip to Washington, D.C. by Thomas E. Ricks (SHS '73)

ter.jpegAs a young reporter in political Washington in the late 1980s, I noticed that there was a type of person who thrived in the driven, transactional environment of the capital. These were people who somehow, as I thought of it, “enjoyed the game.” I liked interviewing members of Congress and their staffers who conveyed that sense of pleasure in the daily doings of the place.

I decided that theirs was the way to go, and also to maintain some perspective. For me, enjoying the game meant seeing the city’s machinations as a grand Shakespearean show. That is, notice the character types. Enjoy the insiders’ distinctive patois. Admire the deftness of the political tap dances. Step back and watch the daily pageant pass. It was often comedy, and sometimes tragedy, but it was almost always interesting.

This approach worked well for me for almost two decades. I scurried around Washington, from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, from K Street expense account lunches to off-the-record dinners with powerful people, and from Hanoi to Rome to Riyadh and Seoul as I covered the travels of top officials. I marveled one bleary morning in Brussels that when my suitcase was delivered to my hotel room fresh from our Air Force flight, it had moved so fast from the military airport that the toothpaste was still cold from its time in the cargo hold.

Read more