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The Beltway's Beaten Path: From Simple Road To Symbolic Borderland

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It has become a cliche for news reporters and anchors.

(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS NEWSCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are inside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Inside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He see's Rove's effort as an inside the Beltway power grab.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: When your chattering class is inside the Beltway, who just don't...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I was divided between inside and outside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: So this is an inside the Beltway huff and puff. It'll be gone in a week.

SIEGEL: Inside the Beltway? Well, that's where the wonks and the palls are.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Outside the Beltway? That's, you know, America. The real country. The Beltway is Interstate 495.

SIEGEL: Conventional wisdom declares that those inside are out of touch with those outside the Beltway. A selfish, narrow agenda rains inside. Real values prevail outside.

BLOCK: Well, the real asphalt and concrete Beltway that circles the nation's capitals turns 50 this weekend. The final stretch of the 64 mile-long highway was officially dedicated on August 17, 1964.

SIEGEL: It allowed drivers to get around the city without having to go into it. But most week days and some weekends it's a slow-moving commuter route, multiple lanes crawling clockwise on what's known to traffic reporters as the inner-loop and counterclockwise on the outer-loop.

BLOCK: According what we could find, it took more than a decade before the Beltway was used as the metaphorical divide between the nations leaders and everyone else. On October 12, 1975 the New York Times journalist Nicholas M. Horrock wrote this.

SIEGEL: In the White House of Richard M. Nixon it was said that Watergate would become serious only if it got outside the Washington Beltway. If the depths of the disgrace were understood by the American people.

BLOCK: Two years later the hyphenated phrase inside-the-Beltway appeared in a Washington Post headline. It should be noted that the Washington Beltway itself is entirely outside of Washington D.C.

SIEGEL: It's in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.

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