Gwen Ifill: ‘Change is Happening Right Under Our Noses’

No one really knows what’s going on in Washington, but one thing is clear.

“Washington is up to its ears in politics,” Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor for PBS’ “Washington Week,” said during Sunday’s afternoon keynote address. “They’re having a hard time in policy and a harder time keeping a grip on the reality American people have asked them to keep a grip on.”

Washington is still in a state of lame duck shellshock after the recent elections, Ifill said. She met last week with chiefs of staff of incoming new members. Many of those new congressmen and senators have never held elective office before.

Those new folks, she said, will be learning some hard realities over the next few months.

“The truth is they’ve all been running against Washington for so long and so hard … and just like that, they now are Washington,” Ifill said. “That means you’ve got to do something about all the stuff you’ve promised.”

The budget might be balanced, but not in one year. Health care law may be repealed, but maybe not and not in a month, Ifill said.

In fact, she said, as she was meeting with staff of new lawmakers meeting to learn the ropes, established lawmakers across the street were electing new leaders “… who looked a lot like the old leaders.”

Still, she said, change is happening, despite what many people might think.

“What does change look like? We were promised hope and change and shiny things only a few years ago. I think change is actually happening under our noses,” she said.

She related information about the night of the Democratic National Convention when she interviewed the Obamas about what would become a historic moment in American history. Ifill, an experienced journalist, was so intent on getting the story, she didn’t think about what was truly happening.

“Change was happening right under our noses, which of course is usually how it happens,” she said.

Ifill authored “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” but said it was about more than the president.

“I was more interested in the wave of candidates taking power outside of Washington,” she said. “They were Americans who were reaping the fruit of seeds their parents had planted.”

“I’ve also been struck by the desire people have to try to engage in conversation about difference that is not about blame or regress,” she said. “They all want to find a way to back our differences, our essential distinctions, our history, some of it painful, without being bound by it.”

She believes people can truly disagree with the president on policy without being racist.

“It turns out governing is not so easy,” Ifill said. “A lot of people who are unhappy with Barack Obama, … it’s more than about skin color and I think that’s progress, too.”