Magazine | September 7, 2015, Issue

Poor Powerless Washington

Many of you looked the other way when Donald Trump accused illegal Mexican immigrants of being rapists and murderers, because you’ve had it up to here with those do-nothings in Washington. When he demeaned John McCain’s military service — only losers get captured, of course — many of you shrugged because a Trump candidacy means always telling it like it is. And when he insinuated that cable-news favorite Megyn Kelly is some sort of “bimbo,” you let it slide because there’s already far too much political correctness in America.

We get it. You’re angry. Surely, though, even the most frustrated voter should concede that some positions are beyond the pale.

In a recent interview on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked the real-estate tycoon whether he believed Washington, D.C., deserved voting representatives in Congress, like the 50 states. After some of his predictable self-assured blathering, the 69-year-old offered no objection, uttering the following words: “I would like to do whatever’s good for the District of Columbia.”

Obviously, this kind of inanity should disqualify any candidate from higher office — especially a candidate who’s in the midst of pretending to be a conservative Republican as he seeks the highest office.

There are those of us living in Washington for whom the District of Columbia license-plate slogan, Taxation without Representation, is a refreshing reminder that our statist technocratic neighbors are thankfully unable to fully participate in the democratic process. Most residents, though, regard the slogan as a summation of a compelling contemporary grievance. Which is weird. Because there are few things less convincing than listening to a Washingtonian whine about disenfranchisement.

As you probably know, the District of Columbia is a special federal district and does not elect voting representatives or senators. This meant that America was deprived of a Congressman Marion Barry, a fact that inexplicably upsets many of the 600,000 or so people who live in the city.

A few years back, President Barack Obama made common cause with the D.C.-voting-rights campaign by using Washington’s Taxation without Representation license plates on all presidential limousines. Surely his support had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Democrats would be the undoubted beneficiaries of voting representation for D.C. No, the president argued that, after living in the city for a number of years, he’d witnessed “firsthand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children, and pay taxes without having a vote in Congress.”

The problem with this contention is that D.C. denizens are the most overrepresented constituency in America. No one living anywhere in the nation has a more significant say over policymaking. This place is infested with lawyers, do-gooders, media, and public-relations types, all of them proposing, writing, lobbying, commenting, flacking, or dictating policy. Yet speak to the average Washingtonian and you might get the impression that the city lives in the shadow of a momentous injustice.

How the victims of this tyranny suffer! The District’s personal income per resident is around $75,000, according to a report from the city’s chief financial officer. The U.S. per capita personal income is around $44,000. Connecticut, second on the list, comes in around 25 percent below the capital city. D.C. residents like to complain about all the federal taxes they pay, but since Washington produces nothing but laws and white papers, consider the city’s perpetual economic boom a taxpayer-funded gift that keeps giving.

I would like to believe that the Founders anticipated the kind of people who would be drawn to a center of national power. It’s indisputable, however, that they fully understood the influence a capital could have on the nation. Since the federal government exercises powers over states (now more than ever), allowing those who populate the center of power to vote in a representative democracy would only imbue whatever state the capital was in with extraordinary sway to dominate the others, undermining federalism. The only thing worse than endowing a state with this kind of disproportionate authority would be to create a capital city and treat it as if it were a state of its own.

A few years back, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — a group including such nations as Bolivia and Venezuela — found that the United States was in violation of the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Not because the D.C. school system spends nearly $30,000 annually per pupil while 83 percent of its students are still not proficient in reading, or because Washington now ranks as the most congested metropolitan area in the United States, but rather because the Constitution denies D.C. residents the ability to participate in congressional legislating. Critics of this arrangement claim that America is the “only democracy in the entire world” where the residents of the capital have no say in national lawmaking. Everyone else says, Thank God.

“I would like to do whatever’s good for the District of Columbia” is the kind of thing a construction magnate building a $200 million hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue might say to appease local government. So Trump says it. The good news is that, like almost every audacious promise made by the nation’s messianic populist of the moment, the decision to grant Washington voting rights would not fall under his purview.

Mr. Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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