This Week In Washington

The Nation’s Tragedy

Weathering Loss and Transition

It is with great sadness that I write this today, knowing that the fate of President Paul Garcetti is still undetermined. While I have not always had the kindest words to say about Garcetti as a politician, he has never been anything but a gentleman on a personal level. It’s a difficult dance between the White House and the press corps, perhaps the unhealthiest of co-dependent relationships. You have to continue to see and work alongside people you openly criticize. But President Garcetti never took it personally. He knew we were both just doing our jobs. My heart breaks for his wife Sarah and son Trevor and I can only hope they take some small comfort in knowing that the country is grieving with them.

During President Garcetti’s time in office, my writing wasn’t always critical. He made many admirable decisions, even when they went against the grain. Just in recent weeks, he helped secure the release of three American journalists being railroaded into a sham trial in the Middle East and rescued over 100 crew members trapped at the bottom of the ocean in a Chinese submarine. President Garcetti’s decision to intervene where many would not speaks greatly to his character. Insiders tell me that, in both cases, he relied heavily on the counsel of Secretary of State Elaine Barrish. Which brings me to one of the early decisions that President Garcetti also got right: putting Barrish on his team.

Though the Secretary of State has never confirmed it, it’s Washington’s worst-kept secret that Garcetti wanted Barrish to join him on his presidential ticket as Vice President. For whatever reason she turned him down, but continued to campaign for the candidate. I also believe she was uninterested in being Secretary of State, but when President Garcetti asked, Barrish agreed to serve. And it is to our benefit that she did. Her experience, strength, and intelligence have been a massive asset to the cabinet and the former adversaries have made a terrific team.

But right now, with the nation in need, one can’t help but wish Barrish had accepted Garcetti’s original offer. In American history, only nine men have moved from Vice President to President in the midst of a term, and each time the transition was difficult but graceful. How much better would we feel during this crisis if we knew Barrish was at the helm, guiding the country until we had news of our President? Instead, it falls to Vice President Fred Collier to step up and assume the responsibilities of the highest office in the land. I’m not sure that sits well with anyone — probably not even Collier. (Forgive me; I’m having trouble calling him by his new title, Acting President Collier.)

Unlike President Garcetti, I have nothing kind to say about Collier professionally or personally. He’s the opposite of Barrish, a politician who has made a career out of being a safe choice. One can see why Garcetti chose him as a running mate, knowing he would never be threatened or eclipsed by such a mediocre man.

As I said earlier, Paul Garcetti surprised me in recent weeks. He seemed to be thinking less about re-election and more about doing the job he was elected to do. And just as he was hitting his stride, it appears he may have been taken from us far too soon. Collier’s ascent to the highest office has made it apparent that now, more than ever, this country needs Elaine Barrish. Her experience is vital during this transition, and hopefully Collier will be wise enough to do as President Garcetti did and listen to her.

  • Frank Capra's classic 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an ode to a simpler time, with Jimmy Stewart playing an idealistic Senator who takes on the government and triumphs. It’s inspiring and uplifting and all the things we want in our fictional politics. But could Mr. Smith get ever get elected, especially today?
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