Reflections from the River

Washington DC: Karma, or: What comes around goes around…

October 24, 2022 Bill Enyart
Reflections from the River
Washington DC: Karma, or: What comes around goes around…

Washington DC: Karma, or: What comes around goes around… 

As a full-time Army National Guard two-star general I frequently worked with United States Senators and Congressman providing them information on military capabilities and needs. As Illinois’ adjutant general, or commander, I’d get their calls when there was a flood or a tornado or a blizzard in their district and their constituents needed help.

We worked hard to ensure that the National Guard’s motto of “Always Ready, Always There” rang true whether we were assisting in a local disaster or headed overseas to fight our nation’s battles. We didn’t care whether the call came from a Republican official or a Democratic official, the motto didn’t change. Nor did the effort. We served the citizens and responded to the calls of their elected representatives, whatever the party.

When I’d fly to Washington DC to meet with the state’s congressional delegation in the state’s senior senator’s office, I found each and every one of them to be friendly, receptive and eager to ensure that the National Guard had the resources to meet our state’s needs.

As the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, chaired the meeting. His Republican counterpart, Mark Kirk, and the majority of the state’s twenty Congressmen were present to pay close attention to my short, prepared remarks, then proceeded to pepper me with polite but piercing questions. 

In those sessions I never detected any personal animosities, no political posturing, no grandstanding. Not one of those political figures tried to one-up another. I saw serious men and women intent on working for the common welfare of Illinoisans. Had you asked me at the conclusion of any one of those briefings who was a Democrat and who was a Republican I couldn’t have told you.

A couple of years later I retired from the National Guard and stumbled into getting elected to Congress representing deep Southern Illinois. As a friend told me not long ago, the last Democrat to represent Southern Illinois.

Now when you first get elected to Congress and go out to Washington DC, there all kinds of soirees you get invited to. There are receptions at the Library of Congress, parties at the White House, dinners with party leaders whose faces you see on television news every night. Pretty tall cotton for a boy who grew up walking the soybean fields of his tenant farmer grandfather in rural Illinois.

One evening that first week in Washington DC, my wife and I had two invitations. One to dine with Nancy Pelosi, then House minority leader, and a few other newly elected congressmen, and the other to receive a private tour of Ford’s Theater with a few other new congressmen. Ford’s Theater is, of course, the site where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and is today a museum.

My wife and I discussed the merits of the two invitations. We couldn’t do both as they were at the same time. We both love history. We decided that since we’d already had dinner with Nancy Pelosi, we’d accept the other invitation. We didn’t know, and had we known, likely wouldn’t have cared, that since Lincoln was a Republican the event would be attended almost exclusively by Republican congressmen. In fact, we turned out to be the only Democrats there.

As a retired military officer, I was still in the habit of arriving early. I hadn’t learned the Washington DC style of strolling in fashionably late. My wife and I were the first guests to arrive. The museum staff warmly greeted us, ushering us to the appetizer table and the bar. Eventually the other invited guests began arriving. A dozen or so new congressmen and their spouses. I recognized them from the ongoing introductory briefings all new representatives receive. 

As my wife and I stood there awkwardly nibbling cheese and celery sticks, the other guest mingled together and warmly chatted. Not one word was spoken to us. Not one of the arrivals acknowledged us. We simply didn’t exist. 

During the entire evening, which included a tour of the entire theater and viewing artifacts from that awful day in American history, we were ignored. Only as we walked back to our nearby apartment, did my wife and I realize we were the only Democrats in attendance.  We were amazed at the complete lack of civility on the part of the other guests. 

One of the folks most pointedly ignoring us that evening was a fellow House Agriculture Committee member from New York named Chris Collins. One of the insider jokes in Congress is that there are show horses and workhorses. That is people who are there for show and people who are there for work. Mr. Collins, with his ambitions to run for higher political office, was pretty clearly a show horse. 

I’ll save you the trouble of Goggling him to tell you that karma eventually got him. A few years after the Ford Theater event, the show horse stumbled when he was indicted and pled guilty to insider stock trading and lying to the FBI. I sure am glad Mr. Collins snubbed me that night rather than give me any stock tips.

As an Illinois boy from the Land of Lincoln, I’d still go on that Ford Theater tour, even if we were the unpopular kids. 


© William L. Enyart, 2022


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