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One for the Road

Brother John Robb Recalls Infiltrating The Heart Of American Power
John Robb , April 24th, 2009 10:28

Gold Blade man John Robb remembers a pre-9/11 Washington where you could sneak into the offices of rabid right-wing politicians and put your brothel creepers up on the desks of power

It's 1999 and I'm in Washington DC doing the policy wonk thing. I'm going to spend 24 hours lurching from the left to the right ends of the political spectrum: hanging in the kitchens and offices of both ends of the American dream, from the counterculture idealists who make the country so attractive, to the curmudgeonly right wing cynics whose policies bemuse and terrify the rest of the planet.

In the morning I take a trip rounded to Dischord house to hang out with Ian MacKaye. We share a pot of tea and talk punk rock. MacKaye as ever is inspiring. His clear eyes and forthright manner underlining his certainty: Dischord is a great operation; the beating heart of the American underground, a place where truth and great music matters a great deal, and is a great platform for doing things the RIGHT WAY.

That afternoon we go to somewhere where perhaps the opposite is true - the American House Of Senate. Here, dark deeds and political chess are played out. The checks and balances of American public life click by as the nation takes a worrying lurch to the right. It's a shift that never seems to reflect the spirit and kindness of the Americans from all walks of life who you meet on the mighty nation's streets.

Somehow this generosity of spirit seems to evaporate in the Romanesque columns of the House of Senate and the neighbouring House of Representatives. There, politicians with gimlet eyes, cynical minds and thin smiles make decisions that can only make the big money, cigar chomping bastard capitalists grin their beady grins.

Somehow we have blagged a guest pass, an all areas deal that would get you into every dressing room at some lumbering rock festival (like backstage at Glastonbury where the models strut in their designer wellies and the lush BBC compound has spotless white shag pile while the punters outside wallow in mud). But I digress - I'm here to spend the afternoon in the den of intrigue, the heart of the American machine. It's 1999 - before 9/11, security in America is very slack. After wandering around the beating heart of freedom, I catch a weird underground train that joins the House of Representatives to the Senate.

These buildings whisper history, in fact there is one hall where the key is whispering. The Old House of Representatives Chambers, known as Statuary Hall, was where the House met until 1857. The hall is encircled with statues representing various great Americans. A gold star also marks the spot John Quincy Adams fell to the floor after suffering a fatal stroke in 1848. He died shortly in an adjoining room. It was also known as the Whispering Hall because of an acoustic effect which allowed those standing in certain parts of the hall to hear the whispers of those across the room. The room was built that way so they could hear the politicians every word and every whisper. It sounds crazy but it actually works. We try all combinations but if you whisper at one end of the room you can hear it at the other.

One of the offices near here belongs to Newt Gingrich, the right wing bête-noir of the liberal free thinkers of the late twentieth century. In the late 90s Gingrich was the anti-liberal republican bruiser. He was the bad guy. Amazingly, we find his office – and he's in there. We can hear him talking as we eavesdrop just outside the door, ten feet away from one of the most powerful men in America. We could wander into the office, join the debate and strike a witty blow for free thinking liberal America. Perhaps we could felt tip some graffiti on the door and make our mark, but when it comes down to it we're so shocked at being that close to the liberal left's boo boy that we just stand there bemused.

Wandering up the corridor our guide takes us into the office of the senator who's a paragon of square-chinned, right-off family value America conservatism.

An hour later we are sat in the office of one of the most right wing senators in the USA. He's got some quite different views than your author. It's an interesting place to be. The room looks very functional, with some bad 70s paintings and some Wild West paraphernalia on the shelves. These are the walls within which all this policy stuff gets thrashed out over in, the sort of thing that sees all free thinkers roll their eyes and the rest of with world scoff that a country as advanced as America could make such weird 18th century decisions. The Republican's religion-driven, Bible-bashing madness is better suited to a corral of wagons making their way across the Great Plains and barging out the locals than the 21st century! There is a large desk and some bound books, but no senator. He's out at a meeting. I sit at his desk and put my feet up.

So here we are taking souvenir snaps behind his righteous table giggling at the ridiculousness of it all. I very much doubt you would be able to get this close now and as we complete our wander around the faux Roman columns at the mighty heart of the Great Empire we are struck by how easy it was to walk into the nerve centre of the the American Bush machine. The next time will be when there is an invite from Obama.