I have not spent any time in D.C. for over twenty years, but I doubt that it has changed in one respect. It’s a town overfilled with immature egos, each striving to be known as an insider, close to power, if not in power, and vengefully jealous of anyone who gets the public acclaim they wish they had, and are certain they deserve. Other places suffer the same syndrome, especially state capitols and metropolitan city halls, but D.C. tops them all.
Let’s face it, it’s a very exciting town, a world capital, the center of powerful people doing powerful things, and a magnet for ambitious, smart young men and women who want to be a part of it. It’s hard to not get sucked into the ego driven power games that go on. It’s hard not to be seduced by the abundance of sex, booze, and opportunities to make a deal that may promise a bit of intrigue. Obtaining, retaining, and selling information and connections is like a real life game of Monopoly. Forging ahead with the cunning of a Richelieu or Machiavelli is the path many try. Few have the skills needed to make it work. The most common ending is a career train wreck for somebody. Navigating successfully requires emotional and moral maturity that many young people have not yet developed.
For that reason I feel sorry for Ben Rhodes who has labored away in a windowless, basement office in the West Wing writing speeches and advising the president on international issues. Apparently he is as good or better than anyone else in that role, but few outside the White House paid him much attention until David Samuels of the The New York Times wrote a long, well written article about Mr. Rhodes, who carries a lower mid-level white house title and has become a trusted presidential altar ego on international issues. It was a good article, but it lifted Rhodes out the basement and into the lighted target range of a legion of adolescent egotists who will do everything they can to bring him down. Not for anything he has done, but because he got the limelight and they didn’t. They will be aided and abetted by another legion of wannabes climbing over each other to pander to him in whatever way they hope will bring them into his circle of influence.
There are only two options for top notch background staffers who make it into the limelight, if they want to avoid the onslaught of slings and arrows. One is to ignore it as if it never happened by steadfastly refusing to get sucked into any conversation about it. The best way for him to do that is to hide out in his basement office, move to a new address, and get on with his work to the best of his abilities, looking neither to the right or the left. It’s my recommended option because the slings and arrows don’t last long. Other targets easier to hit will pop up soon enough, and the second option will always be open at the end of the president’s term.
The second option is to resign at the earliest opportunity to take a job on K street, or some other prestigious place, and begin making a lot of money based on his real or imagined contacts. It’s a sure path to riches, especially if one remembers that the big income will continue for only a few years, so long term investing is in order. Of course he could always become a teacher, writing novels and articles in pursuit of a Pulitzer. That third option carries too many financial risks for some, but it could lead to a happier life.
What will young Mr. Rhodes do? I have no idea. Like I said, D.C. is overfilled with immature egos. I hope his isn’t one of them.