On Independence

Recently, we paused in our daily lives to celebrate the nation’s independence. It’s made me reflect on what the word really means, especially as regards to our modern day political process. Increasingly I’ve had a hard time reconciling the history, and yes, the myths, of our nation’s founding with where we’ve ended up. Can one really be “independent” today? A nation whose self image is wrapped up in the notion of “rugged individualism” apparently now judges their leaders on strict compliance with arbitrary values.

So how do I fall on that spectrum?

I generally favor smaller government, well crafted and less restrictive regulations, local control of politics, and wise use of the public’s money. In theory, this should pull me to the Republican side, no?

Sadly, I’ve found that in practice, the GOP abandons these ideals, particularly when the District of Columbia is concerned. It’s impossible to reconcile the idea that “the only just government is one that truly governs with the consent of the governed” with the routine attempts by Republican Congressmen to dictate my laws without even so much as a courtesy meeting with my elected Mayor and Councilmembers. Coupled with their increasingly repressive social policies, there’s just no place for me in the Republican Party.

So that makes me a member of Democratic Party, right? Well sure, I’ve identified as a Democrat since I moved back to DC following my service in the Navy. If you were to pick 100 issues and define them as Republican vs. Democratic, I’d probably pick the Democratic one somewhere around 85% of the time.

But that’s just it. Why does every single issue have to be right vs. left? We’ve seen this trend accelerate in the last few years. Favoring mass transit and rail investment is “left” and building highways is “right”. Liberals like traditional schools and conservatives favor charters. The days of politics ending at the water’s edge is a distant memory. Apparently “believing” in climate change and evolution defines my political party. We’ve reduced the entire set of possible options for public policy to a binary set.

And what does it get us? For the District of Columbia, nothing. Statehood, a cause once pushed by Republicans, is now exclusively a Democratic issue. As such it’s actively blocked by one party and pushed tepidly, if at all by the other. DC, and myself personally, excitedly voted for President Obama in 2008, and again in 2012, and yet he’s barely acknowledged our existence. It took the White House four years to push something as utterly meaningless and purely symbolic as placing “taxation without representation” license plates on the President’s car. When push came to shove, as it did in 2011, the President traded us away for larger National goals, famously telling Speaker Boehner he’d “give” him DC abortion rights for a larger deal. Our rights were the President’s to give, and he did.

The Democratic Party knows we’re not going to elect a Republican to Congress. They won’t even bother to use the word “Statehood” in their party platform, much less push for it in a meaningful way. So why not send them a message? Why not pick another option? Yes, we’re progressive. Yes, we share the same values. But unless they take our civil rights as seriously as we take the rest of the progressive platform, they don't get to take my vote for granted.

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