Move Washington To America
February 23, 2009
By Bruce Walker
The noxiousness of Washington and Washington insiders is proverbial. Federal legislators, regardless of their nominal political party, soon become members of the Washington "Party." The geographical separation of elected officials from the people they represent is a constant threat to representative government.
When the federal district was planned, the District of Columbia resided pretty squarely in the middle of a United States which hugged the Atlantic coastline. The nation has grown steadily west since then. The demographic center of America is now in Missouri, and after the 2010 census, the center of American population will move even farther west, just like it has after every census in our nation's history. The remoteness of London from the colonies was one of the very real complaints about royal government in our Declaration of Independence.
The selection of the District of Columbia as the seat of the federal government does not have a noble pedigree: the federal district was placed between two slave states, Virginia and Maryland, to placate the slave-owners in the South, just like the three-fifths compromise (blacks and Indians were three-fifths of a person for purposes of voting and taxation) or the prohibition on banning the slave trade until 1808.
The Constitution allows Congress to create a federal district within which the federal government can exercise jurisdiction as the capital district of the nation. Sometime after the federal government was formed, that site became the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia was not the original capital of the republic. Philadelphia was the capital of our nation until 1800, eleven years after the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution does not even require that there be such a federal district, and there is nothing to prevent the federal government from picking another site. There are many good reasons to abandon the District of Columbia and to create, instead, a District of America.
City government in Washington D.C. is a fiasco. It is a maze of corruption, violence and privilege. The pseudo-democratic process of self-governance is almost as absurd, as the election of convicted felons to the office of mayor has shown. More importantly, the District of Columbia is hopelessly remote to most Americans.
What should be done? Abandon the District of Columbia as the seat of government and return that enclave of Maryland which is the District of Columbia to that state. This would not mean the willy-nilly surrendering of all the federal buildings or surrendering sovereignty over federal areas, but rather returning this odd little area to the state to which it naturally belongs. The people who live in our former capital would then cast ballots for governors, senators, congressmen, state legislators and the like and it would be controlled, ultimately, by the State of Maryland.
Establish a new seat of government somewhere in central Missouri, which is the demographic center of the United States and very close to the geographic center of the forty-eight lower states of the United States. The new capital of the United States of America would be much closer to the governed. It would be free from the insider machinations of Washingtonians which so frustrate normal Americans. It could be made much safer from terrorist attack as well, and located in a state which routinely reflects what the typical American feels (rather than in the Northeast, which stands in stark contrast to most of America politically.)
At the same time, Congress should quit "meeting" to conduct business. The whole idea of gathering together as a single body, meeting, giving speeches no one really hears, holding committee meetings that accomplish nothing and the other "work" of Congress exists because we have been led to believe all this is indispensable. Rubbish! Teleconferencing, video meetings are the norm, and not the exception, in modern commerce. Is there any practical reason why the House of Representatives and the Senate could not each meet with all the members of each body physically located in their home state or home district? No, there is not.
Is there any legal or constitutional reason why the House of Representatives could not meet while its members were actually residing in their home district? No. The Constitution quite clearly says that each house of Congress has the power to make its own rules and regulations. There is not even a requirement that Congress pass a statute for this reform: each house could simply amend its rules so that not only can business be conducted while members are in their own districts or states, but also that business can only be conducted while members are in their own districts or states.
The purpose of the House of Representatives was to allow citizens in the different states to have a direct voice in the national government and to be protected against the abuses of centralized federal power. The purpose of the Senate was to allow state governments in different states to have the same direct voice in the national government and a protection against the same abuses of centralized federal power. It has not worked.
Because the "work" of Congress takes up so much time requiring so many staffers and a separate home in Washington as well as "back home," members of Congress spend most of their time in Washington listening to their real constituents - fellow members of Congress and members of the Washington establishment - and then travel back to the colonies (their congressional districts or states) periodically to make "nice-nice" with the natives (which would be you and me). There is nothing malicious about all this. People go to Washington with good intentions. But having, essentially, moved to a different nation, they cease to remain Chicagoans or Coloradans and become Washingtonians with dachas in the colonies.
These two reforms would be very politically popular. Most Americans are effectively disenfranchised by the remoteness from Washington and the isolation of their elected representatives. Voters know that proximity is power and that everything, now, happens in Washington. The federalization of almost everything makes it even more important that federal power be physically decentralized to where voters live. Once we move Washington back to America, many of the problems of Washington will simply vanish.