The D.C. Tea Party
Larry Chapman is a firefighter, and during an interview the other day I couldn’t help but notice the burns from a recent fire that circled both of his wrists. He shrugged them off. Part of the job.
He and I were talking about something that bothered him a lot more. He’s an American citizen, lives in the nation’s capital, has kept his nose clean his entire life and has always had a strong interest in national politics and government.
So why, he wanted to know, should he be denied the right to be represented in Congress?
President Bush was on television yesterday explaining why he feels it’s so important to keep fighting the war in Iraq. Nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens showed up to vote, he said, “to express their will about the future of their country.”
Supporting that effort, in Mr. Bush’s view, is an important enough reason to send Americans off to fight and die in Iraq.
But in Washington, D.C., which has more than a half million residents, American citizens are denied the right “to express their will about the future of their country” by voting for members of Congress. And Mr. Bush has not only opposed their effort to right this egregious wrong, he has threatened to veto legislation that would give these D.C. residents — hold your breath — one seat in the House of Representatives.
Someone please explain why the president is sending young Americans to fight and die for democracy abroad while working vigorously to deny the spread of democracy to American citizens here at home.
“Just because I live here,” said Mr. Chapman, “I’m denied the fundamental rights of every other American in the United States. That is messed up.”
The slogan on license plates in the district is “Taxation Without Representation.”
There’s a poster in wide circulation in the city, put out by DC Vote, a group that has campaigned hard for an expansion of voting rights. It shows two firefighters in full gear. One is Mr. Chapman, and the other is Jayme Heflin, who lives in Maryland. The poster says:
“Both will save your life. Only ONE has a vote in Congress — Washington D.C.’s nearly 600,000 residents include firefighters, nurses, teachers and small business owners. They pay federal taxes like all Americans, but are denied representation in Congress. That’s taxation without representation — and it’s still wrong.”
This denial of a fundamental voting right is especially significant at this moment in history. The executive branch is under the control of a belligerent and often amateurish group that has hacked away at civil liberties and is adamant about pursuing a war that neither Congress nor the public wants.
The rest of the nation’s business, including the economy, which looks increasingly like it may be going south, has been neglected. Nothing was more basic to the establishment of a co-equal legislative branch than the idea that it would serve as a check on a runaway executive.
And yet the residents of Washington (who can vote for president) are prevented from having any real say in the business of the legislature. (Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as a nonvoting delegate from the District.) There are, in fact, some Republicans who have stepped up valiantly on behalf of voting rights for the District. Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, has been a leader in the fight to have a Congressional seat established.
But President Bush and some of his mean-spirited, antidemocratic allies are determined at all costs to prevent this expansion of the franchise to decent, honorable Americans.
The threat of a presidential veto was already in the air as the House moved close to a vote last week on legislation to create the Congressional seat. And then the entire process was sabotaged when the sleazoids from the gun lobby, acting with their usual hypocrisy and bad faith, tried to insert language that would demolish the District’s gun control laws.
The legislation was pulled, to the delight of the mischief-makers. Democrats said they will try to bring the matter up for a vote again soon, without the offending language.
This is another example of serious matters not being taken seriously in this country. President Bush and the bozos in the gun lobby probably got a chuckle out of their last-minute legislative maneuver. So clever of them.
But the real issue is the continued denial of a vote — something of tremendous value — to men and women who want and deserve more of a say in the important matters facing their country.