A congressman in need of a reality check

A certain stripe of politician, usually from a small town, labors mightily to be sent to Washington and battles relentlessly to stay here while making an avocation of trashing the national capital.

We here in Washington can take it because we know that most of them, even in defeat or disgrace, will never leave. They never go back to Pocatello, the saying goes. Even Tom DeLay upped stakes from Texas to take up residence in a close-in capital suburb.

Even so, Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represents most of western Iowa, made an arresting jab at the city of his employment on the House floor this week:

“Well, I by now have a feel for the rhythm of this place called Washington, D.C., and my wife lives here with me, and I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, she’s at far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C., than an average civilian in Iraq.”

Notice that he specified his wife. That’s perhaps because he works on Capitol Hill, after the White House the most heavily fortified and guarded location in Washington. This is where the cops locked down and searched for several hours a huge congressional office building because someone “thought” he had heard shots.

King’s argument was that the rate of violent death in Iraq is 27.51 per 100,000 people, while in presumably far more dangerous Washington, 45 per 100,000 residents come to violent ends. Hence the danger to Mrs. King.

Really, the capital couldn’t be all that dangerous, because the congressman’s Web site says his office will gladly arrange tours of Washington for visiting constituents. It would be dubious politics to let a visiting group of Council Bluffs schoolchildren wander into insurgent cross-fire on their way to the Lincoln Memorial.

King might have been here long enough _ he’s lived in Washington since 2003 _ to get the rhythms, but not long enough to realize that “this place,” as he so warmly called it, is truly Wonk City. And the wonks were all over his numbers in no time flat.

The murder rate in Washington is 35.8, not 45, per 100,000 and the murder rate for Baghdad is 95, not 27.51, per 100,000, and even that, says the Brookings Institution, is “too low since many murder victims are never taken to the morgue, but buried quickly and privately and therefore never recorded in official tallies” _ a problem that Washington, whatever its other faults, doesn’t have.

King had his knuckles rapped earlier by a conservative Wall Street Journal Web site for “painting a misleadingly Pollyannaish picture of Iraq” and thus giving aid and comfort to liberal Democrats who would then argue, the reasoning went, ‘If Iraq is so safe, we can bring all the troops home.’

In truth, King is very likely in over his head on the issue of big-city violence, here or in Baghdad. He grew up in a “law-enforcement family” in Storm Lake, Iowa, now pop. 10,000, which sounds like a perfectly lovely place, but face it, this burg is not the ‘hood. The town’s 18-member police department probably handles more cow-tipping cases than Sunni-versus-Shiite massacres and is likely happy to leave it that way.

And subsequent moves in King’s life have not been exactly in the direction of high-octane city living. His home back in the district is now in Kiron, pop. 267 and declining.

King’s expertise runs in a rather different direction from urban crime in hazardous capitals of the world. His district, he boasts _ and who would doubt it _ “ranks first in the nation for hogs and pigs,” and he personally has “long been dedicated to adding value to the corn stalk and bean stubble.”

When King leaves Washington _ assuming that unlike his colleagues he eventually does leave _ and he’s back amidst the bean stubble and hog effluent, you just know that from time to time he will yearn deeply for the mean streets of Embassy Row.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)