Up Front

The Question: What would it take to get you to shop at Wal-Mart?

"I'm there as soon as they open their arugula and Dijon mustard bar." -- Alex Pareene, Gawker

"As an academic, I would first have to decide to upgrade my wardrobe." -- Larry Sabato, University of Virginia

"They would have to pay good wages, promote women fairly, and sell my books." -- Katha Pollitt, The Nation

Dialogue: My Kind of Town

Has Obama's mere presence made D.C. a cooler place to live?

Ann Friedman: In the months since the election, I've had countless people ask me if D.C. "feels different" now that Obama is in the White House instead of Bush, if it's cooler now that it's got that Obama magic.

Tim Fernholz: I say the city hasn't changed; people are just starting to notice how nice it can be to live here. Nobody paid attention to D.C. during the last administration, but now that Obama and his flashy companions are in town, outsiders have the incentive to go check out what's been there all along.

Ann: It's true. I've noted a strange phenomenon. My friends -- those who live in New York or on the West Coast -- are suddenly not averse to visiting. And I have to say, it does feel better not to have everyone ask me, "How's Washington?" in a pitying tone.

Tim: But you don't need that pity, since the answer, of course, is that Washington is great! Well, you know, except for the school system and some other things like that.

Ann: Maybe part of it is psychological. The awful Pan-Asian restaurants aren't being replaced with more delicious eateries. The bars aren't staying open until 4 A.M. The gallery scene isn't growing. But the simple fact that you might run into the Obamas does make D.C. seem better.

Tim: It's not really about the Obamas, though. Their outings are few and far between. (They even flew to New York on a recent Saturday night.) This new attention comes from curmudgeonly outsiders --

Ann: and curmudgeonly insiders!

Tim: taking a second look at D.C. neighborhoods and realizing that they're not all full of crappy Pan-Asian restaurants. There are fun bars and smart galleries. And the best is yet to come: If entrepreneurs see the continued interest in D.C., we can expect better services, too. That's capitalism, Obama-style.

Ann: Well, being the relative D.C. hater that I am, I don't actually expect better nightlife here. I can take the train to New York for that, just like the Obamas do. (Well, they take a private plane. But you get my meaning.) I suppose it all comes down to how you define "cool."

Tim: Doesn't it always?

Ann: A recent poll by New York magazine found that New Yorkers and Washingtonians agree that we're more powerful. And you know what they say about power...

Tim: It corrupts? That's exactly why I wouldn't give up on expecting improvements as the Obama era sets in. What makes New York fun is money. Like it or not, for the near future at least, the economic center of our country is Washington, and that means more dollars in town.

Ann: It's like a social stimulus package!

Tim: If the old cool was trusting the economy to investment bankers while they subsidized the rest of New York, then the new cool is relying on Hill staff and lobbyists. Columbia Heights might not be Williamsburg -- thank goodness -- but Capitol Hill has always looked a lot like Murray Hill.

Parody by T.A. Frank

"Forcing free market [health care] plans to compete with these government-run [health care] programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition." -- Senate Republicans in a letter to Barack Obama, June 8, 2009

Other suggested GOP talking points against a public health-care plan:

-- Just to reiterate: Forcing companies to compete would kill off competition. That's obvious.

-- Joseph Stalin offered public health care, and tens of millions of Soviets were murdered.

-- No one wants to wait for new hips, right? In England, everyone waits forever. Then they die.

-- If people like the public health-care plan better, they might be tempted to buy it, leading to more public health care.

-- A reminder: Hip replacements + waiting = no good.

-- Sen. Byrd has government-sponsored health care, and the guy is a mess.

-- Hips, hips, hips, hips, hips!

-- I remember when doctors did house calls and it cost five dollars. What happened to that?

-- You like new hips, I like new hips. We all like new hips.

-- But things will go to hell if we pass this Medicare thingy.

-- Government-run health care will just encourage people to have pre-existing conditions.

-- Come to think of it, it's time we got government out of the military and gave Blackwater a level playing field.

-- Three words: Barack Hussein Obama. Think about it.

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