I spent my teenage years at the University of Chicago, an Ivy League school that specializes in advising girls and women about how to achieve social and professional success. After taking the classes of my dreams, I was ready to begin work as a graduate assistant. But the biology department was running out of applications, so I had to take a job that paid just enough money to live.

Instead of a grueling summer study abroad, I was working at some fast-food joint in the small town of Slough, population 4,000 — most of the waitresses and janitors were young mothers, and the feel of the place was infectious. I remember going to a field to transfer money to my bank account. A cow rode by, and I looked up to see it sticking its tongue out. I’d lived in Chicago so long, it was hard to imagine the ways I’d grown from my origins in rural Georgia.

That experience — and the work my husband and I have done over the past decade to build a respected reporting and commentary website called the Washington Post Opinion Site — has made me realize something important about this place. When I used to think of Washington as some kind of scheming, cutthroat town, I was missing the bigger picture.

I’m standing at the Democratic National Convention this week, looking at all the shiny new suits and the posters of the politicians on the floor of the arena. The highest offices in America are not being contested by people who are brilliant, ambitious, visionary — they are being contested by, well, politicians. I know a number of them. I voted for six of them in 2008.

At the time, I was dazzled by the ambition and talent of many of these leaders, and I thought that, one day, they would succeed in getting these bold ideas into law. On Tuesday, there seemed to be real evidence that some had cracked the code. And if — and when — that happens, I’ll be able to look back on all this and write a novel.