The defining feature of Washington is simple: People move here to be part of something bigger than themselves. After nearly nine years in D.C., I take it for granted that everyone I meet (even the people I don’t like) spends time thinking about big, national questions. They have a vision not just for their careers, but for America. Here, the dream that entices young people isn’t the chance to become a billionaire or a celebrity. It’s the chance to be underpaid and overworked in service to the country you love. The origin stories of the transplants who arrive here make Washington a city with a heart.
It’s a city with brains, too. Some politicians value careful analysis, others dismiss and deride it. But no matter the political climate, tens of thousands of men and women continue working behind the scenes in government agencies, think tanks, and nonprofits. As a speechwriter, I was regularly driven nuts by policy people, with their complicated jargon and nitpicky demands. But it was impossible not to admire them, too. They had devoted their careers to the increasingly radical notion that understanding problems helps you solve them.