Politics & Policy

Make It a State? I Have a Better Idea

Make D.C. tax-free.

Note to readers: Just so you know. There are ten – count them, ten – announcements at the bottom of today’s column. So if you’re bored to tears with the column, stick around.

Currently, license plates in Washington say “Celebrate and Discover.” There’s a proposal making its way through the City Council to change that to “Taxation without Representation.” More of that in a moment, but first some testifying.

I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., for close to a decade, so take this with a grain of salt; DC stinks, often literally (when the rain is slow, the garbage pickup slower, and the humidity constant). Henry Adams once said, “One of these days this will be a great city if nothing happens to it.” Well, we’re still waiting, I guess because too much has happened to it. Yes, local government has improved in recent years now that we have a grown-up for Mayor, but that’s sort of like saying things in prison have improved since they abolished the trusty system.

Quick story. The last time Marion Barry was elected mayor of D.C., I was with friends in a bar (sort of like saying, “ when Barry was elected I was breathing”). Barry had recently spent some time in the pen for smoking crack. The bar had the local news on and there was a reporter doing a stand-up from Barry campaign headquarters, where the victory party was already starting. The reporter — in total, complete, un-ironic seriousness — said something to the effect of “Well, Jim, I’m here tonight at the Barry headquarters. It’s a really diverse group, with people from every part of the Barry coalition…..with a strong turnout from the ex-offender community.” Recall that Barry campaigned in the local prison, telling inmates to tell their families to vote for him because he would liberalize parole, create an “office of ex-offenders’ affairs,” etc. The “ex-offender community” (a.k.a., criminals and hangers-on) accounts for a sizable portion of the voting population.

At that point, we decided that any mayor who could rally the ex-offender community without losing too many votes from the, say, law-abiding community, deserved a drink named after him. We came up with a concoction of Jagermeister, Kahlua, bourbon and Coke. Why this collection? Because we wanted a drink “so black not even the man could keep it down.”

Anyway, I don’t drink Marion Barry shots any more, and D.C.’s ex-offender community is more ex and less offender than it was. Nevertheless, the local politics were never the real problem, as much as a symptom. I could explain in depth, but it is a fact of the media age that nobody cares about Washington, D.C. Why would you?

Instead, let’s get back to those license plates. There’s this idea to replace “Celebrate (high taxes) and Discover (another rat eating your electrical wiring)” with “Taxation without Representation.” Mayor Williams originally wanted new license-plate mottoes celebrating the environment and children. And for this reason alone, we should favor this “Taxation” motto. I, for one, do not need a license plate to teach me that children are “good.” Was there ever an anti-child person who was reformed via license plate?

Anyway, Williams now supports the protest license plates. He says it’s “a creative and effective way to raise nationwide awareness about the lack of full democracy in the nation’s capital.” Indeed, the motto would even go on the president’s car. This would replace the current motto: “If the limo’s a-rockin’ don’t come a-knockin’.”

Anyway, if the pro-statehood lobby were a high-school football team, they’d be tackling the lockers and pounding on each other’s shoulder pads right now; D.C. pols are psyched! “This is going to happen,” says Eleanor Holmes Norton with a confidence normally reserved for phrases like, “We will kill Rydale at homecoming!”

Now, I think statehood is an abysmal idea. First of all, it’s unconstitutional (see, among other things, the 23rd amendment). Second, D.C. would make a terrible state. It’s too liberal and too small. Jesse Jackson — when he though he could be Senator on the cheap — said that statehood for D.C. is “the most important civil rights issue facing America today.” My response to that has always been, “Hooray! That means there are no important civil rights issues left! Problems solved!”

Still, even if there were good arguments for statehood, it will never happen. Republicans will never agree to it — for good and not- so-good reasons.

But just because the remedy is wrong, that doesn’t mean Republicans should dismiss the diagnosis. Taxation without representation is bad— really bad. As Republicans are nominally the party more concerned with keeping the Founders’ views alive, they should not dismiss that fundamental insight upon which this commercial Republic was built. You can’t take money from people without giving them a say in how it’s spent. Linda Cropp, the co-sponsor of the license-plate resolution, says “For us, this mirrors the frustration the colonials felt in padding the coffers of England and having no say.” She ain’t all that wrong.

One solution is retrocession. This would mean giving D.C. to Maryland. That’s where the land comes from originally. Virginia’s portion was taken back, retroceded, in 1846. All of a sudden, residents of Washington, Maryland, would be able to vote for two senators, a congressman or two, etc. Badabing: representation with taxation. It’s a fine idea, but I’ve got a better one. Screw representation. I want the license plates to say “No Taxation. Period.” Personally, I don’t see the burning need for another Democratic hack Senator. I’d much, much, much, much, rather not pay federal taxes at all.

There are several reasons why this idea has merit. First and foremost, it would be very good for me. This point really cannot be overemphasized. But it would also be good for the District’s mostly black, mostly poor, 700,000 residents. Of course, if this proposal were implemented without care, the District would become Monaco on the Potomac almost overnight. Rich Americans would buy up land and property everywhere they could. Poor people would be evicted and all the rest. Honestly, that wouldn’t be that bad in the big picture.

But, for political and compassionate reasons we should be more careful. If the Russians can sell off socialized industries, public housing and the rest, surely we can do the same here. People in public housing could be given vouchers for their “stake” in the buildings which would have to be purchased by any developer. Those who already own their homes would be in great shape.

Either way, there would be a huge transfer payment from the private sector to some of the country’s poorest people. Would this result in poor people being squeezed out of the District? Sure would. But most wouldn’t be poor anymore. That’s a poverty program that works. Besides, the local government could still collect taxes from the richest people in the world who’d be moving into town in droves. That would pay for schools, roads, rat eradication, etc.

Meanwhile, supply-siders would have a perfect field test of their theories. We could make Larry Kudlow or Jack Kemp the commissioner for privatization of the Capital. Think of the symbolism. As the District became grander and grander, the benefits of low — or no — taxes would be hammered home. The District’s 25 million annual tourists would see a New Athens in the making, and they would take home with them the lesson that great things are possible when government gets out of the way. This country was founded on the notion that representation and taxes must be wed to be just. What better way to put our money where our mouth is?


1. We are proud to announce that we are launching a new forum for committed NRO readers (that is, if the nurse lets you use the Internet). It’s called The Arena. It’s cool. It’s fun. It’s a work in progress — so let us know if there are problems. We do know that AOL users may have trouble, though we are not sure why. We hope eventually to make it such a crazy-fun-wacky-cool place that you will lose your jobs from spending too much time there. Please check it out and keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.

2. NRO is looking for a sportswriter. He or she should know a lot about sports stuff. He or she should know how to write well about sports stuff. And, most importantly, he or she should not be particularly concerned about getting highly compensated for writing about sports stuff. If you’re interested, please send Jessica Kelsey an e-mail with the subject header “Sportswriter.”

3. I’m going to lunch now.

4. Okay I’m back. In the latest issue of National Review Onpaper, I have an article about the web and my experience with it. For the diehard NRO readers, much of this will be familiar territory. It was really written for all the Old Economy people who prefer their information presented on dead tree. Still, I wanted to call your attention to the article for a couple reasons. First, because I call you people “flying monkeys.” You should know that this was a term that came from one of the suits at NR and it stuck. Still, I only use it in the most positive way possible and I apologize for any offense. Second, because I want millions of you to read it. And third, because I mention in the article that I am going in for an operation soon. It ain’t no big thing, but I thought the loyal readers should know. I’m getting an ego reduction. No, just kidding. I’m going in for a hernia and hopefully not coming out a eunuch. Will report more as events warrant.

5. National Review Online has officially joined forces with Voter.com. You should not take the fact that this announcement comes after an update on my intestinal situation as any indication of a lack of enthusiasm on our part. How this partnership will manifest itself, remains to be seen. But we’re looking forward to it.

6. Rumors that this medical thing is really just a ruse to have Joe liquidated are untrue. But if there happens to be a skilled lyposuctionist amongst my readers who wants to work pro bono, let me know. Maybe we could do it on C-Span?

7. Speaking of which, don’t you think it’s time they had me back? NRO could use the publicity; you guys could find out how large I really am; and I could discover whether I can actually button the top button on my dress shirts. If anybody regularly e-mails those guys, could you put in a good word?

8. I was not kidding last week when I wrote “ …I will be celebrating Memorial Day like a Frenchman — face-down drunk in some onion soup, very far away from the action.” I was in Quebec City. It was very cool. And since I want to write it off my taxes, expect a column about it sometime soon.

9. Now, about this Carthage thing. I have received a couple dozen e-mails from readers who insist that “Carthage Must Be Destroyed” in Latin is not “Delenda est Carthago.” They say its “Carthago Delenda est” or a zillion other things. My books say I am right. If yours say differently let me know. For I am planning the mother of all Carthage columns because it seems I can’t write the damn word without getting a zillion e-mails from people telling me I’m wrong or right but for the wrong reasons about this long dead society. If you have ANYTHING to get off your chest about Carthage: Did it take your lunch money? When you were a small child did a band of Carthaginians ride through and burn your farm and wipe out your family? Are you an expert on Carthaginian erotica? Can you bake seven-minute brownies in five minutes if you say “Carthage” five times fast? Was Cato the Elder your name in prison? Whatever floats your Carthaginian boat, man; just get it out of your system now, because I’m not stopping this car once we’re heading to Carthage.

10. And finally, Tito Puente has passed away. He was a classy guy and very good at what he did. But I would lose my union card if I did not quote Stripes on this occasion. Remember when John Winger (Bill Murray) prophesied 19 years ago: “Tito Puente’s gonna be dead, and you’re gonna say, ‘Oh, I’ve been listening to him for years, and I think he’s fabulous.’” So true (and a nod of credit to the gang at the Hotline who paid similar homage yesterday).


11. Somebody has reserved the domain name JonahGoldberg.com. I want to know who did this and why.

12. Click here for Newt Gingrich’s Bridal Registry.


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