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Nation's Capital in Eclipse as Pride and Power Slip Away; Some See Descent as Steep and Permanent but Others Regard It as Temporary
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Washington, D.C.
Author: Broder, David S
Date: Feb 18, 1990
Start Page: a.01
Section: A SECTION

In the days of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO, [Clark Clifford] said, "we saved the world, and Washington became the capital of the world." Partisan Democrat though he is, Clifford is willing to say that Washington was still playing that role when President Richard M. Nixon "signed the first arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union and opened the dialogue with China." Since then, he said, "we have frittered it away," largely, in his view, by the economic policies of the 1980s that "reduced this economic Gibraltar to the largest debtor nation in the world."

University of California-Berkeley political scientist Nelson Polsby argued that the alleged pettiness of Washington's current concerns is nothing unusual. "Go back to the [Harry S. Truman] days," when NATO and the Marshall Plan were created, he said, "and you'll find people lamenting that all the discussion was about deep freezes, mink coats and scandals in the Justice Department."

Those who have fled important Washington jobs testify that they have escaped, not just tedium but a sense of irrelevancy that drove them almost to despair. Former senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, now a Boston lawyer, said, "I always get back on the plane feeling discouraged" after one of his one-day-a-month visits to Washington. "The things they talk about there are so short-term, they're almost irrelevant." Arguing that Main Street America is much more aware of the danger of the nation's "economic decline" than either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Tsongas said, "It's almost like Washington is pre-Pearl Harbor and the rest of us are post-Pearl Harbor."

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