Friday, July 4, 2008

"We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident..."*

*Some restrictions apply, not valid in all areas, must be 18 or older to apply.

I've written about this subject at length before, but I think it appropriate to revisit this injustice once again, especially on the anniversary of a Declaration not only of American independence, but of the rights inherent in all human beings. These principles, according to the founding fathers, transcended all time and culture and no outside entity had the right or ability to remove them.

"Give me liberty, or give me death," therefore was a statement prescient for its time. Spoken before Jefferson put quill to parchment, the statement espoused the idea that without the fundamental rights due mankind, life was not worth living.

When Patrick Henry said those words in March of 1775, it is said, he convinced Virginia to commit troops to fight in the revolution against the British. Now, over two centuries later, his words ring hollow in parts of this great nation. I doubt that he would have supported taxation without representation under the new Continental government any more than he did under the Redcoats. Yet that was precisely what was destined to happen.

From 1801 until 1846, citizens of Mr. Henry's own state, Virginia, who had been living in and around Alexandria were stripped of their right to vote. Their neighbors across the Potomac in Georgetown (formerly part of Maryland) and the new captial city never got their votes back.

While it is true that residents of the District of Columbia have been able to vote for President since the election of 1964, they still have no voting representatives or senators. The nearly 600,000 residents of Washington cannot write their senator, cannot visit their representative, cannot be given the full rights guarunteed under the United States Constitution, even though they many are natural born citizens.

And because of DC's unique administrative design, it is even more essential that Washingtonians be able to vote for congressional representation than it is for Americans living in one of the 50 states. You see, in the District of Columbia, the United States Congress has ultimate authority. They even have the power to eliminate DC's elected city council and mayor--without asking the citizens of DC if it's ok to do so. So while Ohioans and Californians certainly have a stake in the federal government, they aren't in danger of having their state legislatures revoked.

The citizens of DC live under that threat constantly. And while it is doubtful that Congress would abuse that power, it isn't unthinkable, and it has been exercised before. Currently, citizens of the District have only been able to govern themselves since 1975. It had been 104 years since the last time citizens could elect their local officials popularly, when congress removed that right in 1871.

For more information on DC Home Rule, see the Wikipedia article:

And even if Congress rarely dissolves the DC government, it frequently overrules it. Because Congress has complete jurisdiction over DC, everything from the budget to the most minor of legislation.

Dr. Zachary Schrag details one example of DC being overrulled by Congress in his book (pg. 258), Great Society Subway (which I highly recommend). In this case, one of Georgia's representatives, Bob Barr, threatened to cancel the District's appropriation to Metro because Arlington County refused to pay to change the name of National Airport Station to "Ronald Reagan National Airport Station*." Why would this man, currently the Libertarian candidate for President, find it necessary to take such a harsh stance on local control?

Even back in Georgia, he wouldn't have had the power to force the Atlanta City Council to rename their airport, but in a state far away, in a region of people who did not vote for him, he has the power to circumvent democracy. No one in our government should have that power.

*To explain the situation a little, in 1998, Congress voted to rename the airport after former President Reagan. Based on a 1987 policy, WMATA requires jurisdictions requesting a station name change to pay the $400,000 cost. In this case Arlington County declined--after all quite a few employees of the federal government live there, and Reagan was kind of mean to them. As a result, Barr encouraged Congress to withhold DC's entire budget contribution to WMATA. As a result, WMATA folded and paid the full cost themselves, to the expense of all Metro riders.

There is no excuse for the lack of representation in Congress for the citizens of the District of Columbia. It is clear from the Framers' actions, that they were against any form of tyrannical government, including in the one they were forming.

America remains the only western democracy whose capital citizens do not have the right to vote. Mr. Bush seems so intent on "exporting democracy" to Iraq that he can't see the lack of it in the city he lives in.

I sincerely hope that this is the last Independence Day when Washingtonians are made to tolerate their lack of full suffrage.


Dave Murphy said...

What you bring up about the Airport Metro Station is a good point. The fact it's affecting Virginia (and ostensibly Maryland) this political hole in the union tarnishes the good reputation of our system of governing.

I'm also wont to point out that the USA is in fact not a democracy, but a constitutional federal presidential republic.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so convinced that citizens who continue to support Marion Barry deserve to have any more say than they have. I'm not sure that citizens who support someone such as Adrian Fenty, whose government, admitting that they will end up in court again (courtesy, for a second time, of the admirable Dick Heller), does everything it can to disregard the SCotUS's ruling in Heller, wasting the money in the city's coffers. It's stubborn ineptitude of this nature that leads to Congress's over-ruling the District.

Matt, you write "They even have the power to eliminate DC's elected city council and mayor--without asking the citizens of DC if it's ok to do so."

Voting is not a right intrinsic in personhood, or even in citizenship. It is a privilege, one that the denizens of the Federal city exercise foolishly. We ought to be disappointed that many more segments of the population needn't to fear that they could have this privilege taken away because they exercise it without prudence. Casting a ballot un-judiciously is the paramount form of the very concept, despotism, against which Jefferson wrote in the Declaration. Patriots can revolt against one tyrant and one body of elected officials. It's much more difficult to break free from the enslaving chains of the stupid voting masses.

IMGoph said...

nathancontramundi: whenever someone like you brings up the specter of marion barry, i just roll my eyes and think, "this person is an idiot." sorry to be blunt, but sometimes brevity of language is appropriate.

alaska voted for ted stevens for over 40 years. he was convicted of 7 felonies, and the people of that state nearly voted him into office again. should we revoke their statehood? they've voted for a governor who, to put it mildly, is a lightweight, and who has clearly abused the power of her office. should we revoke their statehood?

look, either the right to be represented is inherent, or it isn't. we, the people of DC deserve the right to select our own representatives with rights and power equal to that of other representatives. if you argue that we don't have that right, then no one does. period.