Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Modest Proposal

I know I said when I started this blog that I wasn't going to say much about politics. But this particular subject has been on my mind for a while, and it really is sort of bi-partisan--it digs at both parties equally, not just one. So let's run it up the flagpole and have some fun seeing if anybody salutes.

I am a lifelong history buff, and one thing I read years ago, can't even remember where or who wrote it, was that the American Revolution was essentially a quarrel between the American colonists and the "governing class" of Great Britain--the nobility, the professional politicians, the Members of Parliament, and the dregs and shirt-tail relations and castoffs of all the preceding who staffed what bureaucracy the British had at that time. Well, as I look at the current scene, I think there is a quarrel building between the American people and our own home-grown governing class--the politicians, members of Congress, their staffs, the bureaucrats of the various agencies, etc. When you look at the approval ratings for Congress, the indictments and criminal convictions of members of Congress and governors, the proposed laws and regulations that make no sense to ordinary folks, and the rest of what's going on, people in much of the country are getting disgusted with the whole thing. And I have an idea that may not totally fix it, but maybe it would help.

I think it is time for a new U.S. capital. Washington, D.C. was good enough when the whole country was east of the Mississippi, and thinly settled once you got away from the coast; but that situation changed over a century ago. And people in Washington have been getting farther and farther out of touch with the mass of the American people.

I suggest we build a new capital city, say out around where Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri come together. That would be a nice central location. But location in itself is not the whole answer. How do we get from here to there? LET 'EM WALK!!! Really, I do think that! Everybody currently working in Washington for the Federal government should have to walk, or maybe ride a bicycle, to the new capital. They can ship their stuff, but their bodies need the walk; not only will it be good exercise, but it will get them out among the people they serve for a while, and give them a chance to get acquainted again. The ones who've only lived in the big cities need to see just how much open space there still is out here in the heartland, and some of those who write regulations should have to spend the time among the people their regulations affect. Members of the House and Senate should have to start by walking their own state--whatever direction is the longest. It really won't disrupt the operations of government that much--departures can be scheduled so there aren't too many on the road at any one time, and there are such things as cell phones and fax machines to enable keeping in touch (wouldn't do them any harm to find out how spotty cell phone reception can be in the rural parts--or how far it can be to a Starbucks or a WiFi hotspot). And if anybody, especially Representatives and Senators, is too old and decrepit physically to do it (and they're welcome to take all the time they need--the more time among the people, the better) then maybe it is time to step aside and retire. A little fresh blood won't hurt.

And when they get there, let's do things a little differently. Washington wasn't built in a day, nor even a year. So let's only build enough office space for, say, five or ten staff people per member of Congress--to answer the phone and the mail and so on. That means the members of Congress, House and Senate, will have to do their own research and write their own legislation instead of having staffers write it. And speaking of legislation, let's require each Representative and Senator to to write out a copy of every bill, in his own handwriting, and present it before he can vote on it. That will have two results: it will guarantee that they have personally read the bill before they vote on it, and it will force them to keep the laws they vote on short, simple, and uncomplicated. It might also make them think more in terms of getting the other two branches to enforce the existing laws so they don't have to write new ones. It might even keep them busy enough they won't have time for dining with lobbyists, going on junkets, and getting into legal trouble. And anybody who feels too overworked is welcome to go back home and let somebody else try it for a while.

But what about the Fourth Estate, the Press? Let them walk, too. New Yorkers and the media have come up with the expression "fly-over country" to describe where the rest of us live. If any members of the current Washington press corps want press credentials for the new capital city, they should have to take an extended itinerary that meanders through all fifty states--they REALLY need to get back in touch with the people! Come to think of it, that would probably be the best route for the President, too--although I wouldn't blame him if he chose to walk separately from the Press. (As for the New Yorkers, they'd learn a lot more respect for the rest of us if we just quit shipping them food--let them live for a year or so on what they can grow within their own city limits.)

But what do we do with the old capital in Washington? It's got a lot of monuments, and we can turn the old government buildings into museums or tear them down and build any new monuments we'll want on their sites. Most government employees don't live in the city itself anymore; they live in the suburbs, out in Virginia and Maryland. And the people who actually do live in D.C. can have the rest of it themselves--as long as they pay for it themselves--no federal subsidies for anything beyond the monuments and new museums. We'll need that money for the new capital.

One more thing: to keep the new capital from ending up just as bad as the old one, let's require The Walk after every new election, for all elected officials and political appointees, and maybe every three or four years for the career bureaucrats in the agencies. After all, when Washington was first built, they all had to travel there by the conveyances available at that time--horseback, carriage, stagecoach or sailing ship. That helped keep them in touch with ordinary folks; even the early railroads didn't allow much distancing from the population. Cars and planes have done a lot to enable the governing class to insulate themselves off from the governed.

I know this is going to be hard to pull off. Some of it might be possible to accomplish by rules changes and executive orders, other parts might even take Constitutional amendments. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen, but it's been fun thinking about it. And just maybe, if enough of us did think about it and talk about it, the powers that be might get wind of it and start to take a hint or two.


ded said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get over here to post a comment.

I enjoyed reading this. Not a bad idea when giving this some thought!!

singingmomof6 said...

I think it's a great idea, Phil. It will certainly be good for the governing class to get more in touch with the folks they're governing. And when being a politician is no longer a cushy job living in the lap of luxury, maybe we'll get the kind of folks into politics who really don't mind working themselves!

DarkGriffin1986 said...

Yes...I think that pretty much covers everything.

A splendid idea all around, and it shouldn't be too hard to slip in with all the other stuff that gets passed by the current government. Just write in a few "good for the people" and "great economic benefits for the upper class", and it should be just as good as everything they pass now. :)

Thank you for this, you've officially won the "how can we fix the government" argument in my book!