Mud on satin -- the American way?
Sandra Day O'Connor can breathe a judicious sigh of relief. Nobody is going to take her new home from her just yet.Despite a buzzing of rumors the Justice of the Supreme Court are not about to be evicted from Capitol Hill, though a plan looking ahead 50 to 75 years does recommend the construction of "a new Judicial Center located in the monumental core of the city."
In his 81-page prospectus George WhiteM the official Capitol architect, also advices: "Further development should on and enlarge the aesthetic and symbolic relationship of the Capitol grounds to the city, the region, and nation."
This is the kind of language that fills any tenant with foreboding, sending a poor wretch fying to check out the fine print in the lease.
These are also words to make a taxpayer grab protectively for the old wallet.
We can hear the sobs all the way from here: "Why me? Why now? Where's that Stockman when you really need him?"
The point that the "not-one-cent-for-tribute" folks forget is this: Austerity is a word with two meanings in Americans-English. There's a special-deluxe austerity for Washington; and then there's the usual austerity for the rest of us.
A simple example will illustrate the diference. Just the day before the White prospectus was published the headline announced -- late bulletin! -- that most Americans cannot afford to buy a new house because of interest rates. That's our austeritym . But we the cramped must understand that before Congress can concentrate on our needs, the legislators must meet their own needs for living space. And so, it is expected, the next Capitol edifice will be built to accommodate members of Congress and their ever-expanding staffs. That's Washington austerity.
It will do you and your ever-expanding family absolutely no good to grumble, "Edifice complex!" Furthermore, such a complaint would assume that congressmen, dreaming of their giant waiting rooms, are giving scant thought to private housing. Not true. the same day the White report was released the Senate voted to allow members of Congress unlimited tax deductions for the expenses involved in maintaining two residences. And while they had their sleeves rolled up, the Senators voted to remove the $25,000 ceiling on "honorariums" Congressmen can earn by moonlighting to pay for all this back-home-and-D.C. double occupancy.
Sen. Mack Mattingly (R) of Georgia noted that the vote came only hours after the President had called for additional sacrifices. But meanwhile, back at the austere (Washington-style) White House more homemaking was going on. Thanks to a salmon-and-peach bedroom, and a 220-piece china set -- plus a thorough cleaning of all fireplaces
When things become tough down on Main Street, the citizens find consolation in seeing the grand style survive on Nob Hill -- this is the theory behind all double standards of austerity, from Versailles to the District of Columbia. Thus, as the economy has faltered, Washington has become a "party boom town," in the phrase of New York Times correspondent, who reported that in the past five years Ridgewell's, a prestigious catering firm, has tripled itb business, grossing more than $7 million in 1980.
Well, would we really want Washington as austere as the rest of us? When Jimmy Carter pulled on a sweater and hunkered up to one of those White House fireplaces -- now thoroughly clean -- nobody quite believed it anyway.
Justice O'Connor is new in town, and, like President Carter in the early days , she hasn't caught onto the Washington taste for a little gilding on its austerity. She's still favoring the old robe she wore on the bench in Arizona. The connoisseurs will try to convince her that one has an obligation -- doesn't one? -- to dress up to one's position. How can a judge show respect for the highest curt in the land without a new robe, to say nothing of a new Judicial Center?
But Justice O'Connor should feel free to submit her first dissenting opinion, recalling that Americans in muddy boots stood n satin chairs at Andrew Jackson's inauguration.
Some of that honest mud came from Capitol Hill.