January 16, 2013

A lollipop for our capital colony

Sam Smith - Whether out of naivete or his normal illusionary perspective, Barack Obama has agreed to put the slogan "Taxation without Representation" on the DC license plate of his limo. The phrase has been on DC plates for a number of years and Obama's move is like parents giving their kid a lollipop instead of dinner.

The phrase is aimed at DC's lack of representation in Congress, but specifically its lack of a vote in the House of Representatives. Obviously, DC couldn't have full representation in Congress without two senators but that is given no more than token attention - a bill introduced by Delegate Eleanor Norton or this strange wording from DC Vote, the group the establishment considers the major lobby on this issue: "We continue to research and explore legislation to provide full local democracy and to make Washington, DC the 51st state in the union."  Note the absence of the word support.

Furthermore, outside the DC Statehood Green Party, you'll little discussion of really important issues like the lack of full budget control by the city, the lack of local prosecutors, and a congressional ban on a commuter tax. 

As for a vote in the House - one of 436 - it is about the least significant changes that could be made on the way to full equality with other citizens. After all, Algeria had representation in the French Assembly while it was still a colony. It preferred to go for independence.

Further, for over a century, a vote in the House has been used as a distraction from real equality. 

In 1888, conservative newspaperman Theodore Noyes of The Washington Star launched a campaign for congressional representation while strongly opposing real democracy. Noyes wrote, "National representation for the capital community is not in the slightest degree inconsistent with control of the capital by the nation through Congress."

And in 1899 a political scientist described the business group, the Board of Trade - which supports congressional voting rights only - as providing D.C. with the ideal form of local government through a "representative aristocracy."

Such facts are happily ignored by the DC establishment as is the origin of the term that Obama will now sport on his license plate. As I described it some years ago:

City Desk - We have attempted futilely from time to time to point out that the slogan on our city license plates is not a demand for freedom but rather one in support of a slight modification of the colonial system existing prior to the revolution. It fell far short, for example, of Patrick Henry's demand of "give me liberty or give me death" as it basically called for token representation in Parliament rather than granting the colonies control over their own affairs. It was a puny slogan devised by members of the colonial Massachusetts equivalent of our Board of Trade with little to do with the eventual demands of the colonies as laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Now we have learned that this division in the colonies - reflected locally today by the views of the DC Statehood Greens vs. DC Vote - went back even earlier. In 1754, Benjamin Franklin attempted to use a conference on relations with the Indians to foster the idea of a colonial union that would have significant control over its own business. His demand was get the colonies on a par with the rest of England, remarking that "It is supposed an undoubted right of Englishmen not to be taxed but by their own consent given through their own representatives."

Note that he was not talking about token representation in Congress a la Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton but real local power. The reaction of the colonial governor of Massachusetts was to make a counter offer diluting the number and power of the colonies' representatives on the proposed Grand Council. Governor Shirley then proposed a little sweetener - representation in Parliament. Franklin said the idea was a good one provided the colonies had enough representatives and that all acts of Parliament restricting trade in the colonies be repealed.

Writes HW Brand in the 'First American,' "Needless to say, this proviso severely diminished the appeal to Parliament of Shirley's suggestion. What was the point of having colonies if not to be able to discriminate against them in trade, manufacture, or otherwise? Franklin knew this."

Nothing came of the Albany plan, but it is clear that Ben Franklin, had he been alive today, would have sought something better for his license plate than the a request for token representation in the national legislature without any real power. We are fortunate, however, that he was instead alive at the time of the Declaration of Independence rather than, say, DC Vote.

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