Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Just let it be known going forward that for all of the change the Obama Administration has promised to bring to Washington, some things NEVER change - like the down-and-dirty business of politics. This has already been proven several times in the 70-odd days since the President took office, from his nomination of tax-challenged candidates for cabinet positions to his about-face on his own ban against hiring employees who had recently lobbied on Capitol Hill.

The latest case of politi-creep is the lead story in today's Washington Post. It seems that some lawyers in President Obama's own Justice Department opined that the bill to give DC a vote in Congress is -ahem - unconstitutional. But rather than pass that report on to the President, Attorney General Eric Holder - like the President, a longtime supporter of voting rights for DC - ignored the advice and went looking for some other lawyers to give him the opinion he was looking for. Holder apparently got what he wanted - a pro-DC vote opinion that can be argued to the Supreme Court.

The Post story notes this is not necessarily an opinion that the Obama administration believes can be argued successfully, but the President would still be able to enjoy the political victory of having the bill pass through Congress - before it gets shot down by the Supremes.

Look - regardless of whether you believe DC should have a vote in Congress - you have to see what's going on here. For better or worse, the Obama administration is quickly forfeiting any moral or ethical high ground it may have claimed over the previous White House.

I'm not saying President Obama is directly to blame for this, or that this is some sort of scandalous behavior. To the contrary - it's business as usual in Washington.

But it's NOT "Change You Can Believe In".


Katie said...

I think it's worth noting that just because something makes it into the Constitution doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. A good example of this? The three-fifths compromise, which allowed slaves/people to be counted as partial human beings so that white people could up their representation, while still denying slaves the ability to vote (partially or otherwise.) Prohibition is another.

I think this is a good issue to take to the Supreme Court, to debate whether this is a stipulation that, 200+ years later, still makes sense. Keep in mind that when this stipulation was placed in the Constitution all those centuries ago, D.C. was a city that had been built basically out of nothing, where there was no substantial non-political population in residence, and it was a city almost entirely made up of politicians and their families. It is now a city of over 500,000 people, a fairly substantial population of Americans who are wholly unable to participate in elections and who are denied representation. Keep in mind that lack of representation was the very reason our country broke away from England.

There have been many alternatives offered up as a remedy to the situation: returning the land to the state of Maryland, as some of the land that once made up D.C. was returned to Virginia in the 1800s (leaving the area surrounding federal buildings as the official D.C.), or grant the district statehood. I think these are issues worth exploring. For over 200 years, D.C. residents have been asking for full rights for voting and representation that, as tax-paying citizens, I don't think they are incorrect to demand. Why should we not ask if this provision--like many others put into our Constitution which have since been removed or modified due to social and political changes--is still relevant, or if perhaps it has outlived the conditions that first gave it birth?

There is nothing un-American or un-Constitutional about such debates. Moreover, I think keeping alive the conversation that stresses that voting and representation rights are important parts of American life and freedom, and are in fact the very foundation upon which our country was built, are great ways to remind us of our heritage, our good fortune, and what makes our country great.

John Matthews said...

Katie - Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. The arguments over DC statehood (or simply a DC vote) have been going on for decades, and will, no doubt, continue to go on for decades, because this is not going to be settled by Congress OR by the Supreme Court - at least not for some time to come.

The Constitution is certainly not a perfect document, but it is the one that has been steering our government for 220 years, and it's the one that the Supreme Court will use as a guide map, for better or worse.

Any one of the possible solutions you cite (and I've heard them all) will still require the Congress' involvement, and quite possibly ratification by the states in order to become law, regardless of whatever the Supreme Court rules.

This, unfortunately, leaves these decisions back in the hands of - gulp - politicians - which takes me back to the topic of my blog entry.

Just because the constitution is the legal guide map, it doesn't mean it's not affected by politics. Just look at the 2nd amendment. There are a lot of people in this country who would like to abolish it. And just as many who would die to maintain the right to bear arms.

And believe me - there are plenty of local politicians here in DC crying for the right to have a vote in Congress simply because it gives them something to cry about.

I hope that doesn't come off as totally cynical... Just call it an occupational liability of mine.