Political Architecture vs. the Architects of Politics

It was an interesting weekend. First, I watched The Post, a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It’s about the Washington Post’s release of the Pentagon Papers, which proved that several presidential administrations had lied to the American people about the Vietnam war. It was also about the risk that our country’s first female newspaper publisher took to get that information out there, and how it sparked a landmark lawsuit that reinforced freedom of the press. I highly recommend this movie. It’s kind of a precursor to All the President’s Men.

But to say it reinforced my bitterness toward this nation’s politically corrupt shenanigans is putting it mildly. Politicians suck, man. No question about that in my mind. We need some serious political reform in this country. But the rich people will never let us have it.

So there I am, in that mindset, when we decided to take a road trip down to Olympia, the state capitol of Washington.

For starters, let’s get something straight for all the readers from other countries, and for all the readers living on the east coast. Washington is a state. Really, it is. It’s not the same as Washington DC. They’re two distinct places, about 2,700 miles apart. I know. Hard to believe. But there you have it.

Okay, so now that you’re in the right place, let’s get back to the capitol, Olympia. I’d never been there before. It’s a pretty little town, right on the southern tip of Puget Sound. It’s definitely worth a visit, if only to take a tour of the legislative building on the state capitol campus, which we did.

It looks like your typical capitol building. Classical style. Pillars. A dome, rising up 287 feet. Carved sandstone. Granite. Marble. Masonry. Ornately painted plaster. A big fountain out front. Bronze statues. Lots and lots of flags and official seals.

It took 500 master craftsmen 5 years to build it, and it was finished in 1928. It’s overflowing with Tiffany lighting, and one chandelier weighs 5 tons and has 200 lightbulbs.

There’s an ornate reception room on the third floor, where they have the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, which the public can attend, if you can afford the price of the ticket and the formal wear you’d be expected to sport. In essence, publicly, democratically open. If you have the money.

It was really interesting to see the Senate and House chambers as well. They were not in session at the time, but you got a strong sense of the seriousness of the place. The mahogany and walnut desks alone must be worth a fortune.

That’s the thing about political architecture. It’s designed to inspire awe. It made me want to speak in a whisper. I felt funny walking amongst all that marble in my tourist wear. It’s truly a gorgeous building. I’m glad I went.

But I also struggled, because the ostentatiousness of the place really annoyed me when this state has such a homeless problem. And The Post was still fresh in my mind, with all its political corruption.

We’d like to think that We, the People are who these people are serving, but really? Why the need for so much flashiness? Does that much pomp fit our circumstance?

There is political architecture, which is usually stunning, and there are the architects of our politics, and they can be quite ugly. That juxtaposition of this beautiful building housing what can be, at its worst, a pit of vipers, makes it possible to feel pride and disgust at the same time. And that’s a confusing combination.

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2 thoughts on “Political Architecture vs. the Architects of Politics

  1. Angiportus Librarysaver

    I was there in ’01, and wish I’d taken a closer look at the interior. Nothing was in session that day so it was rather quiet–except for wind-wailings from somewhere high. I loves me some windsong, it is a nostalgia thing as well as scientifically interesting, and now I live too far north for a trip to be feasible. But I’ve got plenty of new sounds here.

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