BOSTON BLOGGING. I'm spending the fall in Boston as a fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, but will still be popping over to Tapped to blog every so often. I have to say, after nine years in a Washington whose days of Democratic rule are but a distant memory (even during the late Clinton years, the town's central narratives were set by Republican attack, rather than Democratic initiatives), the most striking thing about being again in Cambridge (other than the 20 degree drop in temperature) is no longer feeling myself to be outside the political mainstream of the local community. In Washington, I've become used to being presumed to represent the left-most point on the spectrum of acceptable opinion in most every room I am in, and long ago made my peace with the frequent razzing for being a "a big lib" that comes with working at The Prospect during this era of Republican dominance. How odd then, to find a community of people here who sound as if they could, without much stretching, be members of the Prospect's editorial staff. And it's not just that the Kennedy School of Government is animated by the spirit of a former Democratic president and his vision of politics as a noble profession. Some of the locals, in fact, are regular Prospect contributors: Jed Purdy, for example, is just down the hall, where's he's spending the year as a fellow at the center for The Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.
Washington may be as heavily Democratic as Boston, but its liberalism is of an entirely different variety. Indeed, I sometimes think that D.C. liberals are actually more in touch with America than those outside the Beltway, if only because so many of the city's significant players are Republicans and from the hinterlands, and because of our proximity to Virginia and the rest of the South. Live in Washington long enough and you inevitably develop friendships with Republicans, southerners, conservatives, and people in the military and allied agencies, which are headquartered just across the river and whose wealthy contractors and lobbyists have apparently been partly responsible for the outrageous run-up in local property prices. As Michael Crowley so nicely documented, the social and power center of Washington life has moved to Virginia, and whereas the city might once have seemed more in tune with Maryland and the North, these days its orientation is toward the sprawling communities of the new South across the river. This makes D.C. liberals far more conventional than those in New York or Los Angeles, the two great bastions of cultural liberalism and creativity in America, and more pragmatic, perhaps, than Bostonians. It's also why real progress in American life can't come out of Washington. We share too much of the mindset that those liberals who live in real liberal centers are trying to change. This does make us more in tune with America, but also much less capable of leading it in creative new directions.