Robert G. Kaiser, a native Washingtonian, joined The Washington Post as a summer intern in 1963. After working as a local reporter, a foreign correspondent, an editor and, from 1991 to 1998, the paper’s managing editor, he retired in February.
‘Do you miss Washington yet?”
A friend asked me this on the phone the other day, and — like a longtime Washingtonian — I avoided a full and frank reply. “Not yet,” I said.
It’s an odd sensation, leaving the town I’d lived in for most of my 70 years, ending my 50-year career at The Washington Post, turning my back on the political circus that enthralled me for so long. But a more honest answer would have been this: I don’t miss Washington, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Why? Because for me, the fun has drained out of the game. So has the substance. I used to get excited about the big issues we covered — civil rights, women’s liberation, the fate of the country’s great cities, the end of the Cold War. I loved the politicians who brought those issues to life, from Everett McKinley Dirksen and Howard Baker (Dirksen’s son-in-law, curiously) to Russell B. Long and Edmund Muskie, from Bob Dole to George Mitchell — all people who knew and cared a great deal about governing. Watching them at work was exhilarating. Watching their successors, today’s senators and representatives, is just depressing.
I realized just how depressing last October, when Congress voted on legislation that would raise the debt ceiling — allowing the Treasury to pay the debts Congress had already incurred — and keep the government open. This was exciting, but perversely so. On Oct. 16, 162 members of Congress, 144 in the House and 18 in the Senate, voted “no,” votes meant explicitly to drive their government into bankruptcy, when there was a real chance that their view might prevail. Here was an entirely new style of public service, and it turned my stomach.