I have a modest proposal for cleaning up the mess in Washington.
Get rid of Washington.
Sure, every self-respecting kingdom, empire, democracy, republic, and nation-state since the rocks cooled has had a capital. The capital was where the records were kept, where the treasure was stashed, and where all the best parties, salons, trials, and executions took place. More important, the capital was where the people running the country and the people who wanted to influence them connected, communicated, networked, gossiped, intrigued, schemed, and plotted with and against each other, where they separated themselves from the hoi polloi, and where they convinced themselves that they were an elite uniquely fit to govern — bad habits that persist in the world’s capitals to this day.
Well it’s time to exercise some good, old American exceptionalism, and get rid of ours.
Start by rounding up every federal department, administration, agency, office, and bureau within 50 miles of the capitol and divvy them up among the states. Relocate the Defense Department to Battle Creek, the Treasury Department to Las Vegas, the Agriculture Department to Bountiful, the Justice Department to Truth or Consequences, and the IRS to the former leper colony on Molokai.
That way it will be easy to find them.
Then do the same with the diplomatic corps. Disperse the embassies of the countries the United States has diplomatic relations with to the 50 states, with no more than five per state. Relocate the Russian embassy to Moscow, Idaho, the French Embassy to Paris, Texas, the Greek Embassy to Athens, Georgia, the British Embassy to London, Kentucky, the Germany Embassy, to Berlin, Wisconsin, the Egyptian Embassy to Cairo, Illinois, and the Iranian Embassy (if we ever restore diplomatic relations) to Yucca Mountain.
Buy a fleet of buses and campers for the president and his entourage and put the show on the road. Have him spend a week in each state every year. The president will love it. Presidents are always bitching about how confining and isolating life in the White House is.
Modern Presidents like to travel around the country; that’s how they got elected in the first place. So they won’t have much trouble adapting to flitting around the country like middle-aged rock stars.
The official part of the job — signing bills, meeting with aides, working the phones, and generally running the government — can be done just as well from the back of a tour bus as from Washington.
Hey, there’s nothing new about heads of state governing from the road. Roman emperors used the spend years away from Rome traveling around the empire (you can imagine what their entourages looked like), and the Roman Empire ran just fine for 500-plus years.
As for Congress, instead of meeting in the Capitol, have it meet in a tent, which will be pitched in a different state every year. Heck, thanks to global warming, in a few short decades Washington will be under water anyway. OK, two tents, one for the House and one for the Senate.
The tents would have folding chairs for the members and sawdust on the floor. It would have bleachers for the public instead of galleries.
Granted, this all might seem kind of radical, but there is nothing in the laws of nature and nature’s god that requires a country to have a capital.
True, for most of the life of the Republic, Congress met in the Capitol in the capital because meeting there was the only way the members could conduct business in real time. When the Senate and the House convened back in the day, the members were actually talking to each other, instead of speaking for the record or show-boating for the cameras.
These days when the Senate or the House is in session, most of the members aren’t even in the chamber.
What’s more, Congress only meets for three or four days a week anyway. Most congressmen go back to their districts during the long weekends.
Still, wouldn’t requiring Congress to meet in a tent instead of in the Capitol building (or more plainly in a palace) detract from the dignity of the institution?
You bet it would. That’s a big part of the reason for getting rid of Washington. The dignity of the institution is one of the things that’s contributing to dysfunction of the institution. When you spend your life in plush, paneled chambers in buildings supported by Greek columns and sporting Roman domes, you start paying too much attention to the dignity of the institution and the dignity of your office, and not enough attention to the dignity of the individual.
But wouldn’t moving the government out of Washington devastate Washington’s economy? Of course not. The hotels, the Smithsonian museums, the monuments, and the restaurants would still be there. It would still be a great tourist and convention town. Look at Rome. The Roman Empire moved out of Rome 1,519 years ago, and today it gets more tourists than it ever did back then, even though its monuments are in much worse shape.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.