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D.C. on (quiet) edge

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When Islamist jihadists bring carnage to Washington, D.C., the city will be traumatized, but not entirely shocked.

Turns out many, many long-time residents are expecting it. When a Paris-style slaughter hits a Metro station or one of the city’s bright, bubbly-with-youth-and-ambition corridors of fun, or even the Capitol or the Smithsonian, the residents of the new Rome who are not dead or wounded, or the friends of those who are, will tell tales of how they had prepared for this event but still cannot believe the searing impact of the horrific scenes.

I came to Washington on Friday for the panel on CNN’s Sunday “State of the Union” hosted by Jake Tapper and will return in a week after Thanksgiving dinner in California for the panel on “Meet the Press” hosted by Chuck Todd. Having been thrust by the GOP presidential cycle into the chair of uncommitted, credentialed conservative pundit with a national platform and unlikely to embarrass the producers, the invitations to hold forth on various Sunday shows have been a welcome side effect of the conservative chaos.

Not being for anyone or against anyone in the GOP race means you can ask them all questions and then relay word of the reactions on the right to the Manhattan-Beltway media elites. It is a role with some significance and it is fun, and it gets me back often to the city I love.

I spent my young adulthood in D.C., newly married and lawyering in various posts for President Reagan, working for Attorneys General William French Smith and Edwin Meese and then for the legendary Fred Fielding in the White House Counsel’s office, before stints as the general counsel for John Agresto and Lynne Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities and at Office of Personnel Management as its No. 2 before it was burgled by the Chinese.

Then I decamped to California, and have opined on the political and the cultural from the safe-from-the-echo-chamber distance of 3,000 miles.

For 25 years.

Now, nearing 60, I am back and forth often, tempted to come back for good. Last week Harvard historian Niall Ferguson was writing about the Paris attacks as the sign that the West’s Gibbon moment was upon it. If so, it will happen here in D.C., just as it almost happened on 9/11. Certainly the quiet conversations of the past three days are about the inevitability of an attack, and resiliency in its aftermath. But what if the fanatics have more than automatic weapons and exploding vests? What if they have pathogens, chemicals or, as Ted Koppel chillingly speculates in his new book Lights Out, the secret keys to our Internet kingdoms of water and power supply?

Then this will definitely be the place to be if you want to see the staggering blow fall first hand. And the resiliency — or not — in its aftermath.

People here are worried. The five-word administration of President Obama — “leading from behind,” “jayvees” and “contained” — is known and understood by all but the most delusional. But even with the deep worry that comes with that knowledge, the city cannot break out of its habits, away from its routines of kabuki conflict. That would take a Reagan-size personality and W-depth-of-conviction in the Oval and a Cabinet of brilliant talents.

Or a disaster of unprecedented scale. Either way, this is where the blow(s) will fall and where they will be absorbed and countered. Or not. Thus it is history’s front row seat, again. The lure is immense.


This column was originally posted on


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