WASHINGTON -- Presidential candidates often attack Washington -- the capital, not the man or the state -- when they're running for the White House, and some continue to do so when they get here. Jimmy Carter did it, Ronald Reagan did it and now George W. Bush is doing it.
Speaking of the mutual blame-placing going on between the FBI and the CIA over their pre-Sept. 11 failures to communicate with each other, President Bush said the other day that "the gossip and the finger-pointing" and "trying to protect their own hide" were "just typical Washington, D.C."
Mr. Bush, as the others before him, made it sound as if the "D.C." stood for District of Calamity.
While the capital certainly has its problems, a high crime rate and an excess of political skullduggery among them, it isn't the combination of Sodom and Gomorrah it often is painted to be by presidents and other politicians in cheap-shot pandering to the outlanders.
In Mr. Bush's latest dig at Washington, he seems to contradict himself on his desire to leave to Congress the investigation of why the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were not detected in time and what to do about it. You might have thought that his feelings about the culture of "Washington, D.C." would have led him to favor a panel of citizens untainted by it to undertake the task rather than congressmen and senators, infamous for gossip and finger-pointing.
Those good ladies and gentlemen have also been known to engage in another Bush peeve: "second-guessing," a label he applied earlier to questions about what was and wasn't known in advance concerning the terrorists and their attacks.
The notion that "Washington, D.C." is an evil place set aside from the rest of the country in attitude, values and integrity has for years been a favorite dead horse to beat by politicians of both parties at all levels of government. Mr. Reagan won himself eight years of residency in the city by promising to "drain the swamp" once he got here, but the "swamp" only got bigger and deeper during his tenure.
Mr. Carter, in winning only four years here before he was forced to leave, campaigned on a promise to produce a government in the wicked city that would be "as good as are the American people," implying it was far below that standard.
It's only natural that officials in towns, cities and states across the country look with disappointment at the federal government, the main business here, when it fails, as it often does, to deliver the money and other help they always seek.
There is also resentment among cities and states toward federal bureaucrats -- and presidents -- who impose restrictive mandates on them and try to tell them how to run their own business, whether it involves public education, cleaning up the environment or any of the myriad other matters touched by the long arm of Washington.
The old joke -- "I'm from the Internal Revenue Service and I've come to take your money" -- is no joke to average taxpayers who, in their expectations of more and better federal services, nevertheless rebel or at least gripe to high heaven each year as April 15 approaches. Not even Mr. Bush's $300 income tax refund last year seemed to have changed that customary lament.
George W. Bush as a candidate in 2000 used "Washington, D.C." as a whipping boy perhaps as much as any other presidential aspirant in recent years, saying in his Republican nomination acceptance speech that while his background "may lack the polish of Washington ... I don't have a lot of things that come with Washington. I don't have enemies to fight. I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."
But by his own acknowledgment of all the "gossip and finger-pointing" and "second-guessing" that still go on here, you would have to say he hasn't succeeded in that objective. On domestic matters anyway, he has generated his share of enemies to fight here. So it's not surprising that he still has negative feelings about his temporary home for at least two more years, and possibly six -- assuming he wants to stay that long in this awful place.
Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.