The Problem, of Course, Is Washington

The spectacle of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and, yes, John Boehner giving almost daily media announcements on the debt ceiling impasse ought to remind us once again that the principal problem of our nation is government and that the principal problem of government is Washington.   

The Constitution granted very few powers to the federal government, and the Founding Fathers well understood the problems of a distant and insulated central government ruling from afar the vast expanses of America.  A recurring theme in the Declaration of Independence is the remoteness of London, and Washington today is as remote -- in every way, really -- from America as London was in 1776.

A shutdown of the federal government seems in many ways to have affected the heartland of America as little as a parliamentary crisis in London would have affected farmers in Pennsylvania in the days before independence.  The problem of government today -- in most respects, nearly all the problem -- is hyper-centralization in remote bureaucracies which never feel the consequences of mismanagement or waste.

While this can exist in state and local governments, the disease is much more virulent in the federal government hives of Washington.  Federal budgets never need to be balanced, and the federal printing presses can engage in the sort of behavior which would be considered counterfeiting or embezzlement if committed by ordinary citizens or lower levels of government.

Most of us sense that politicians in Washington, whatever their notional ideology or party, are soon overwhelmed by the slavish attention given to them by the media.  These folks can be bought -- and that means not so much criminal bribery as pandering to vanity, or rich jobs for spouses, or other perks and delights that aristocrats in far-off capitals from the Romanovs to the Nomenklatura of Moscow's Red Tsars have enjoyed. 

The problem, of course, is not some grand policy debate over ObamaCare, but rather the dreary, unblinking, dull focus on Washington, that artificial city populated solely by those with a profound professional and financial interest in the perpetual importance of federal power.  This ought to be a way to frame the debate over the federal government shutdown that conservatives can sink our teeth into.

Governor Perry, when he looked like the most promising star in the 2012 nomination season, promised that he would work to make Washington as unimportant in the lives of Americans as possible.  That was precisely the right line of political attack, even if Perry stumbled in the Republican debates. 

What if, instead of trotting out Boehner, Republicans asked Perry to come and lecture all the fatted pols of Washington about how to run governments without shutdowns, defaults on sovereign debt, or endless bickering?  What if the Republican mantra from here on out was this: Washington doesn't work, and Washington, that great black hole of power, pride, and perks, is the problem?

This would allow us to stop defending anyone in Washington and begin to give stern lectures to notional public "servants" like Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.  If federal politicians admit that they are failures, then give us back that power so that states, which don't default on loans, which have to balance budgets, and which must face voters who may be neighbors, too.  Perhaps we could add that almost one third of the states have serious term limits on state legislators so that no Harry Reid (in Congress since 1989) or Nancy Pelosi (in Congress since 1993) or John Boehner (in Congress since 1995) would even be allowed to be in the legislatures of those state governments. 

This approach would let us play to the growing disgust which all normal and decent Americans increasingly feel towards Washington and to propose a real solution -- devolution of federal power -- which ignores party labels or even ideological affinity.

Which creepy Obama flack suggested that a crisis was a terrible thing to waste?  Well, conservatives did not make or see this crisis, but we would be foolish if we failed to note what millions of Americans must be thinking: "The problem, of course, is Washington."