Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the names of Gus DiMillo and Greater Washington Board of Trade President Jim Dinegar. This version has been corrected.
The shutdown situation. Is this why a lot of people hate Washington?
“We are kind of a laughingstock of the world,” says Gus DiMillo, 64, who’s in the restaurant business. He means, specifically, the latest clown-car crash on Capitol Hill also known as Shutdown!: Congress vs. the White House 2013. “It’s a joke.”
DiMillo has lived in Washington for 40 years. He loves that Washington — the District, the physical home of museums and monuments and sports teams, a thriving place. It’s an important distinction.
But some residents and business leaders fear that a government shutdown — and all the noise surrounding it, on 24-hour news shows and even stories like this — can taint the real Washington, too.
Washington fails to pass budget. Washington can’t agree. Washington full of spoiled brats, polls show.
Jim Dinegar, what do you think?
“We are always perceived as a government town,” says Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “We’re a laughingstock” — there’s that term again — “and an embarrassment. If you are looking to locate a business here, you are going to think twice. If you are thinking about bringing a 20,000- member convention here, you will think twice. You can’t afford unexpected disruptions. No business can.”
“I am a big believer that when the Redskins win and a panda is born, people hear about Washington, in a good way,” he says. “And when they can’t pass a budget, they hear about Washington, too, in a bad way.”
Tourism could suffer, experts say. “We get hit with some of that bad reputation,” says Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
People wonder: Will my flight be able to land?
“What is open, what is closed?" frets Dinegar.
Will there be cab drivers? Are the lights even on?
It’s potential mayhem.
On Monday, some visitors said they had to alter their plans. One family from Arizona was squeezing in three museums, 90 minutes at each, just in case everything closed Tuesday.
Excuse us, ma’am. What’s your particular take? As a tourist and an American who follows the political scene?
“I kind of hope it happens,” said Tina Paquette, a 46-year-old financial manager visiting D.C. from West Palm Beach, Fla. “I hope the Republicans stay strong and prove their point.”
“This horrible law took away my doctor and raised the cost of my prescriptions,” she said of Obamacare, a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act.
But is it fair to blame just the Democrats and exonerate the Republicans? “I think they’re both wrong, honestly,” she said.
The poll-takers are discovering that a large majority of people are peeved — that’s the technical term. And they blame gridlock for the nation’s economic woes.
Approval ratings of Congress are in the dumper — down to 10 percent, says one new poll. But it goes beyond just Congress. The entire political culture in Washington is under indictment. A recently released poll from The Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia asked about a long list of reasons why the economy isn’t working for people today.
Nearly seven in 10 blame “elected leaders in Washington who don’t work together.” Among the list of 12 items tested, this is clearly the No. 1 focus of blame, more so than structural problems in the economy such as outsourcing, the growing wage gap or the rising cost of health care.
And a new CNN-ORC International survey finds that many Americans think their elected leaders are behaving like “spoiled children” rather than “responsible adults.” Also: “Public anger at the federal government is as high as at any point since the Pew Research Center began asking the question in 1997,” Pew said Monday.
Then again, lawmakers of all stripes have long been accused of neglecting national priorities in favor of their own peculiar political and personal needs.
“I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving,” Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is reported to have noted to his son.
And the legislative budget process has always been pretty messy. “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets,” Will Rogers said.
Bob Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, is not worried in the least about a shutdown affecting he city’s reputation — even though he is leading an initiative to win the Olympics for the capital region in 2024. Washington is the only major world capital never to have hosted the Games, he says.
“Other than the fact that we share some real estate with the federal government, it really doesn’t impact us either way,” he says. “Honestly, it will be worked out. Democracy will always prevail.”
Inside the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Sonja Brown said, “I think it’s ridiculous. It’s hard to come from the American History Museum and see all the wars we’ve gone through and all the countries we’ve helped, and we can’t even balance a budget.” Brown, 44, who is visiting D.C. from California, said she rushed to get to Washington in time before the shutdown began.
Members of the government, she said, are acting “like spoiled children” — there’s that term again — but she doesn’t hold the failings of politicians against the district in which they work. “D.C. is a beautiful city.”
Especially on a clear day, when you can’t see the Capitol.
Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.