No Panaceas

Friday, September 12, 2003
Johnny Cash: When NPR led off with a sample of "Jackson," I knew the inevitable had arrived. If I think back to the musicians I enjoyed at five and the musicians I listen to now at forty, the intersecting set is a singleton.

In 1968 a friend of mine had a copy of Ring of Fire. In retrospect I feel sorry for his parents. We would play the A side dozens of times in a row.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Whither the Liberty Bell?: I visited Philadelphia for the first time the other day. I enjoyed it. I ate at a great restaurant and toured the new Constitutional Center, which is awesome. But my visit reminded me of a question I've had since I was a little kid.

What's the deal with the Liberty Bell?

What exactly is it supposed to signify? An ode to bad craftsmanship? A warning not to import stuff from the British? What? As a symbol of American liberty it's, well, a bit cracked. Why didn't they just melt it down and make it into something really useful -- like bullets for the Revolutionary Army?

Now to make things even worse the bell is getting swankier digs right in front of Independence Hall. I just don't get it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Fun with C-Span: Tonight the House passed the DC appropriations bill. It's almost a tradition for Congress to use this bill to carry out particular ideological and partisan agendas. The Democrats did when they were in power and now the Republicans are doing it. Tonight was no exception as, among other things, a school voucher program was inserted into the bill.

Here was the scene: The voucher amendment vote was 207-208 when time expired. It was a near-perfect party-line vote with the Republicans supporting the amendment. At this point ten members from each party had not voted. (Two of the Democrats -- Gephardt and Kucinich -- were up in Baltimore pretending to run for president.) As often happens the speaker held the vote open while Republican operatives scurried about looking for votes. Then came a nice surreal moment. One of the Dems -- I don't know who -- found an open mike and exclaimed: "Is the House physician on duty. Someone is getting his arm broken over here!"

Eventually the Repubs came up with a vote -- 208-208 -- and then a bit later 209 came forward and the gavel came down.

Assuming the Senate goes along, the District is about to get a school voucher program. I'm not going to get into it now, but vthe oucher idea has its theoretical merits. It's also has some disturbing theoretical demerits that are nicely foreshadowed by Hirschman's terrific Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

Vouchers are an idea worth exploring, but, much like abortion, activists on both sides have turned the issue into a litmus test for ideological purity. Consequently,we no longer debate about or experiment with vouchers. Rather, members of Congress just look for ways to score symbolic points with their bases.

That's what this is all about. In truth even the Republican members are not about to try and force vouchers onto their constituencies. There is way too much risk of alienating middle class swing voters. So instead they cynically force vouchers on the District and then they will run back to the relevant activists and say: "See, we are reforming schools just like you wanted."

This just brings us back to the real issue here. Congress did this because they can. They can do this because the District has no representation in Congress. It does not matter that most District citizens almost certainly oppose the voucher program. It does not matter that virtually all of the District's elected officials oppose vouchers. Eleanor Holmes Norton can debate the issue all she wants and she said plenty last night. But floor debate is nothing. It's a dog-and-pony show. Floor debate does not affect policy outcomes. Votes affect outcomes. The power of obstruction in the Senate affects outcomes. If DC had two senators this would not have happened. It would not have even been brought up.