In this post-April 15th funk in which we find ourselves every year, I think it’s a useful exercise to speculate on not so much on why we are in the fix we’re in, but to focus on what to do to fix it. Instead of admiring the problem, it’s time for bold solutions. And I stumbled on one this evening. It’s radical. It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s never been even so much as proposed before. And it could work. I propose we shut down Washington.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “This guy’s not been paying attention…the [insert name of the opposition party] just threatened to shut down Washington, and they averted that crisis. And everybody agreed, that would be catastrophic! The End Of The World As We Know It! A death-knell to the economy!” Puh-leeze. But that’s NOT what I’m talking about. At all.
I propose that we shut down Washington, D.C., the city. Or to be specific, I propose that we shut down Congress. Send ’em home. Permanently. Not fire them. Make them work from home.
When our country was first founded, where the seat of government (and we all know what organ is closest to the seat, now don’t we) would be located was a huge source of disagreement between the Southern and Northern states. The compromise choice was to build a city anew, over a mosquito-ridden swamp we now refer to as Washington, D. C. This was necessary, because back in the day, there were no telegrams, telephones, TVs, radios, or Internet. You Must Be Present To Win (pork for your district) was the order of the day. It meant that public servants had to move out of their own districts and states, to serve the country. The result has been what they call an “Inside the Beltway” mentality, that results in one, big, honkin’ Reality Distortion Field. D.C. is like a elegant Roach Motel – politicians get in…but they can’t get out. Well, except to campaign for re-election, go on the occasional taxpayer-funded junket, or jump in front of a camera or two for a career-boosting photo-op. (It was once said that the most dangerous place to be in Washington was between a politician and a TV camera.)
If Kinky Friedman is right, the very word “Politics” tells us all we need to know about what happens to people when they move to Washington. (Politics: n.: from the Greek poly, meaning ‘many,’ and tics, a small, blood-sucking insect.) So if power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, why don’t we DO something about it.
Here’s my idea. Pass a law (or amendment) whereby every member of Congress – House AND Senate MUST spend 300 days within their home district. Period. No leaving. No moving to D.C. No hobnobbing with with lobbyists. They already have offices at home. (Most of them, multiple offices, come to think about it.) They work from there. They maintain a skeleton staff in D.C., and come to Washington for swearing-in and other ceremonies. They do their work by computer, from their home states/districts.
Think of the advantages. First of all, you’d have a way to corner your “public servant” without having to buy a ticket to the Tidal Basin. That alone should justify the concept. They would be exposed to LOCAL ideas, LOCAL needs, and LOCAL agendas. Not seduced into drinking the D.C. Kool-Aid. And the lobbyists? Oh, they’d still be around, but they’d have to work a lot harder (and travel a lot farther) to get some face-time with Senator Blowhard or Representative Handout.
Online meeting software is pretty sophisticated nowadays. And I know that Cisco or GoToMeeting would just love to get a government contract to build a VPN-style system that would be secure – at least as secure as Washington is (which is to say, “not very.”)
I’d wager that the wheels of government would go right on turning without the Senators and Representatives. And the Federal employees, lobbyists, and talking heads of Washington would have their influence at the very least balanced by the influence of the people these clowns ostensibly represent.
This could also be a huge help to the efforts to put some spine back in the 10th Amendment, and get the “several States” to have some serious skin in the game. That alone, would stem the tide of Progressivism, and give the special interest groups some huge headaches.
Now some will argue that Congress is far to valuable an institution to medle with. (Why not? that’s what they do to us.) They’ll argue that a Senator or Representative needs to meet in committees, and be there for votes. Nonsense. I read somewhere that your typical U.S. Senator spends about a half day per week actually in the chamber voting. The rest of the time is spent either meeting with lobbyists, taking time off to campaign, or goof off. If the average taxpayer knew how little a Congressman really works, they’d fire the lot of ’em. Having them back home would at the very least make it easier for the local media to keep tabs on the rapscallions.
Think about it this way: the President already works from home. Congress should too. Nothing like a little local color to get you thinking about your voters and get your head out of the Washington haze.
What would we do with the Capitol Building? Oh, I’d suggest keeping it around for the State of the Union address and other such ceremonial occasions, but other than that, we should simply turn it into a stop on the tour. Or if we need the money, rent it out to high school debate clubs, movie producers (nothin’ like the real thing for cinema veritas, eh?) or conventions and seminars.
It’s time that we realize that sending good people to Washington is like pouring clean water into a dirty well. You end up with not something you can drink, but just more and more dirty water. It’s time to bring our political troops home. We’ve suffered long enough.