Running against Washington
Polls show that trust in Congress is at historic lows and that approval for congressional leaders of both parties is pathetic as well. The polls show that Obama is considered an utter failure in the eyes of most Americans. “Washington doesn’t work” is a recurring theme from the mouth of every politician who dwells in Washington.
Conservatives ought to create a clear agenda to capitalize on this broad and deep popular disgust with Washington politics. At the outset, it is important to reiterate the theme that nothing can truly reform Washington. A vast imperial capital like Washington, so addicted to national attention, to luxuriant and unearned perks, to income levels that dwarf the rest of America, and to a sort of self-importance that has become almost psychosis, is not cured by any elected officials sent to Washington by voters.
The people seem to sense this. Although the leftist establishment media has tended to play the popular revulsion with Washington as discontent with “government,” that is not the case at all. The September 2013 Gallup Poll headlined as “Trust in Government” actually shows that it is trust in the federal government that is very low. Trust in state government in the same poll is very high, and trust in local government is higher still.
The April 2014 Gallup Poll that breaks down “trust in government” among the fifty states shows that in many states, the trust voters have in their state’s government is very high. Gallup shows that while Americans have little trust in Obama (42%) or Democrat leaders in Congress (35%) or Republican leaders in Congress (24%), Americans have a high level of confidence in “State governors” (51%) – which probably understates popular sentiment, because that includes respondents represented by rotten state governments like Illinois and California.
Pew Research shows the same pattern. In April 2013, Pew showed that trust in “the federal government in Washington” had been dropping since 2001 (when it peaked after 9-11) and now is at historic lows at 28%. This poll, notably, did not try to sort out the discontent by political party or federal office. The same poll showed that trust in “your state government” was 57% and actually rising, while trust in “your local government” was even higher at 63%.
How about an agenda that would reduce dramatically the power of Washington and that could also be understood by voters? Surely part of this agenda would be to devolve back to states as many current federal programs as possible. Do we really need, for example, a National Labor Relations Board? Do we need a Federal Department of Education or Federal Department of Agriculture?
But this is only part of the answer. Washington, more than the federal government, is the problem. The geographical concentration of power in a small corner of America that is very far from the demographic or geographical center of our nation invites myopia. The only “business” of Washington and its environs is the regulation of American life and how that regulation is mediated.
There is no magic to Washington as a center of federal business. A presidential candidate might promise to have his administration all live near the real center of America – in rural Missouri – and have his cabinet live there as well. Once the slow pace of communications and travel required geographical concentration, but that is not true now.
Why not create a new home for the House of Representatives, in Iowa or Tennessee, and pronounce that every ten years, the House of Representatives will have a new decennial home? Why not have the Senate do the same thing, but in a different state from the House of Representatives? The two houses of Congress have the constitutional power to create their own rules and places of operations, just as the president can reside and govern wherever he wishes.
Physically moving the various centers of federal power out of Washington and into different parts of America is something that people could understand, and the squeals would come only from the entrenched bureaucrats, lobbyists, lawyers, legislative staffers, and the like, who snugly and smugly infest and thrive in the empire of Washington power. Congress could provide Spartan dormitories for any hangers-on who needed to be where the House or Senate was meeting, which would make living off Congress seem much less appealing.
These are promises that could be kept. The Senate and the House, independently and by simple rule change, can designate what places in America are their respective homes for official business. The president, of course, can live wherever he wishes. Running against Washington can work politically, and it can reform and transform the federal government.