The ultimate Hobson’s Choice: Voting rights, representation and taxes in DC

Washington DC number plates

Washington, DC has, on her auto number plates, the grumpy message “taxation without representation”—a take-off on an American Revolutionary war cry “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” Prior to the 1964 General election, citizens of the District could not vote for President and had no Senators or Congressmen.

Few readers of this small note to history can remember when DC was absolved from paying taxes to keep the city pristine and prohibited from voting in Presidential, or any local, elections. The full tab for the upkeep of the city was paid by Congress in the manner suggested by President Jefferson, so that the nation’s capital would emulate ancient Rome, a city in which the citizens were a protected class and lived tax free at the expense of the Empire.

All this sounds to some as though it were a bad thing but consider this—no taxes—“this golden city on a hill,” as it was called by both Jefferson and Reagan,  was a protected place and the federal government ran and paid for everything.  Before 1964, one could tell when one entered the city that one had arrived at the capital immediately because the roads were butter soft—the pavement paid for by the Feds.

For some years there was a pushing match over the no vote policy. Some citizens hung signs in their property and held rallies to demand the right to be directly represented.  After the 1964 elections in which the District was allowed to participate, the push turned to getting direct representatives in the Senate and House.  To this day, there are no Senators from DC—although it has been tried and found wanting. The District does have 3 Electoral College votes—all of which will accrue to the Democrats until Jesus returns to us.   There is now a DC US House delegate, a certain Mrs Norton, but the delegate cannot vote–so—one might ask –where is the representation?

This question truly misses the point because the quid pro quo for getting very limited political representation and the “right” to vote for President meant that the citizens now get to savor the great treat of having to pay much in taxes, from which they had previously been exempt—and have no representation—hence no actual representation but the right to pay taxes.  Yippee!!

Occasionally citizens from areas outside Washington, who come to visit ask about the peculiar, some say unfriendly and ominous number plates, and when they are informed of the history behind them visitors are astounded—they invariably ask–who would wish to pay taxes in order to have the right to elect a politician?  The designers of the number plates of course intended the message to mean that they were put upon because they didn’t have a Senator or Congressman.   Instead—everyone who is lucid asks—“why don’t you give up the faux representative and return to the policy of Presidentially appointed caretakers for District affairs and revert back to not having to pay taxes?”

Consider  the ramifications.  If the citizens of the District gave up their powerless representation at the federal level and got in return the status quo ante right to not pay taxes—nobody—and I mean nobody– would be against the idea.

In point of fact, were Washington, which is a truly beautiful, and small, capital, to revert back to having neither a representative nor any taxes of consequence—this city of one-half million would almost immediately have about 325 million citizens overnight.

Perhaps those who adore government would want to push for the most absurd of Hobson’s choices and demand that DC get full voting rights and pay taxes—but one could fit that group into a small SUV.  Paying no taxes in exchange for not being able to vote is a ridiculous option—nobody wants to pay taxes—nobody. Alas, this reform—real reform–is unlikely to happen, but no representation and no taxes would have an instant, and remarkably giddy, effect.

Beyond that, the somewhat trite and overdone number plate nonsense, would be resolved in the most beneficial of ways—Washington, DC number plates could say—mockingly perhaps, to the rest of America: “Welcome to Washington—we pay no taxes!”  That system would not last long because the tax man today is very hungry and needs constant feeding from everyone, all the time.

Beyond that, even initially, how could this little city accommodate  3 million plus new citizens who would move to Washington in a heartbeat?  Having said that–it would be a swell life for awhile.