Don’t scandalize away students’ idealism: Clueful questions from history class at George Washington

image image Jon Stone isn’t the only one Q & A-ing me these days.

At George Washington University yesterday, I answered clueful questions from Asst. Prof. Christopher Klemek and members of his D.C. urban history class, including a young woman named Livia (did I get that name right for I-knew-her-when purposes?) who wants to run someday for president of the United States.

The 18 students enjoyed The Solomon Scandals’ mix of satire and realism, at least those who spoke up; and some asked afterwards if I’d autograph their copies. But a pesky question arose during our 75 minutes: “If government is as corrupt as you say, just why should I work for it?” And that’s exactly what several of students hope to do, in areas ranging from energy policy to international relations and the judiciary. Sure enough, Scandals features a corrupt energy ‘crat, a crooked President with an oil-driven foreign policy, and a rich sleaze of a judge. Just blocks from the White House, GW draws its share of aspiring bureaucrats and politicians, so, in a sense, I was in the belly of the beast.  Vice President Joe Biden—take your pick, human horror story or role model—was on the GW campus for an education-related announcement the same day.

image “Go ahead,” I replied in essence to the History 801.10 students contemplating federal careers. “See if you can’t make a little trouble for the bad guys and change things.” I myself went into journalism despite some misgivings; and the same logic might work for future bureaucrats or politicians. The one morsel of advice I should have added, if I didn’t, is: “Try to live within your means and accumulate some savings  so that you can afford to be fired for doing the right thing.” At the same time, I don’t expect everyone in the bureaucracy or politics to be a martyr. But the more idealists at any level of government—or within the press—the less chance for the black hats to lie or steal with impunity. And the more opportunities for positives to happen eventually despite the current anti-government mood. My own pet cause is a well-stocked national digital library system.

image And speaking of a school in touch with the times: On the same Web page as the History 801.10 description, you’ll find mention of American Studies 801.10, Associate Prof. Chad Heap’s separate course on “Washington Sex Scandals.” Alas, it is not frivolous at all—given all the hypocrisy around town, for example, or the unscrupulous use of sex for political ends or as a way to divert attention from more substantive scandals. Additional kudos to GW. All this is very much within the territory of The Solomon Scandals. In a related vein, I’ll be curious to see what Larry Flynt (photo) reveals in his forthcoming book, One Nation Under Sex.

Detail: Yes, plenty is dark in Scandals, but the novel actually ends on a rather upbeat note and even a theme of reconciliation. A lesson for the real-life Washington?

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David Rothman

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