Why Isn’t D.C. the Testbed for All Federal Laws?

Several years ago, I pitched an idea in an essay addressed to the Secretary of Education — called, appropriately enough, An Unsolicited Proposal for the Secretary of Education — that they might do well to open and operate a charter school in the District of Columbia, with the aim of making it the best school in the nation. After all, if the US Department of Education really is the nation’s repository of educational excellence, it should be able to run a school, should it not? And not just any school, but a model school that other schools would want to emulate.

We could take that a few steps further, though, if Congress insisted that all Federal laws be tested in the District of Columbia for a period of time — five years, maybe — before they go into effect nationwide. Depending on point of view, D.C. residents would either be the pioneers of new legislation or the guinea pigs for it, but the object would be to actually try out the lawmakers’ (and, let’s be honest, the lobbyists’) ideas on a small scale before they get rolled out to the rest of us. Pilot programs: make sure the laws do what they’re supposed to and don’t have unexpected adverse effects before we make everyone subject to them.

This map shows the original boundary of D.C., before Congress gave Virginia back (in 1846) the portion it had originally donated. (Image: “Map of the District of Columbia, 1835,” public domain from Wikimedia Commons.)

Alas, it’s just another harebrained Anti-Candidate idea. (But, hey: if enough people wanted to put me into elective office, I’d be willing to give it a try!)

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Monday Morning Insight: Proclaiming National Thanksgiving

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


On this date in 1789, President George Washington — based on a resolution passed in the Congress — proclaimed that Thursday, 26 November 1789, would be set aside for the people of the nation to unite in devotion to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The proclamation began with a statement that seems quite bold today, especially for a public official:

… it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

Congress had recommended “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation enjoined the people to offer “sincere and humble thanks” to God for several things, including:

  • “His providence in the course and conclusion of” the Revolutionary War,
  • “the great degree of tranquillity [sic], union, and plenty” they enjoyed,
  • “their civil and religious liberty,” and
  • “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Gratitude changes the way we look at the world

(Image: “Gratitude changes the way we look at the world,” by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


President Washington also encouraged the people to beseech “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” to forgive “our national and other trangressions [sic],” and, in particular,

to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

It seems a shame that we have let our government get so out of control, and that we seem unable to place people in positions of trust who are wise and just, who respect the Constitution, and who are able to “discreetly and faithfully” execute the nation’s laws. Perhaps if we used Thanksgiving for giving thanks, and for reflecting on our freedom and what it takes to maintain it, we might have less trouble in that regard.

P.S. The full proclamation is available here.

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Refining My Position on Just About Everything: Don’t Punish Good Folks When Bad Things Happen

Often it seems to me that many of our laws — and quite a bit of the heated rhetoric I read and hear — derive from a tendency to try to correct or prevent bad things by punishing everyone, including those who aren’t responsible for the bad things. I’m against this.

Community Punishment Workshop
(“Community Punishment Workshop,” by amortize, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I first thought about this when I was writing my “If I Were My Own Representative” series, one of which was Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting:

My initial position would be to vote “no” on any bill that had a provision that would hurt some of our citizens, even if it helped some others. I would have to be convinced that the help was worth the hurt; i.e., that the hurt was along the lines as the necessary pain of surgery to correct a life-threatening condition.

If it wasn’t clear what effects some given legislation would have, whether it would hurt some people while helping some others, I would at least ASK. If no one could tell me, again my initial thought would be to vote against it.

I’m coming to believe this in more general terms than just politics: i.e., that in general we shouldn’t blame or punish good people when other people do bad things or allow them to happen. Let me lay out a few assumptions upon which I base this position:

  • There are some bad people in the world, who tend to do bad things. However,
  • Most people in the world are good or, if not actually good, at least not habitually bad.* Even so, some good people may occasionally do bad things (but, I think, usually by mistake or in extremis).
  • Bad things cannot be predicted with certainty, and sometimes not even with confidence.
  • When a person does a bad thing, and is considered likely to do more bad things, it is best to place that person in a position where it is more difficult for them to be able to do bad things.
  • When a person (good or bad) does a bad thing, and bad people may be inspired to follow their example, it is best to downplay the bad things rather than advertise or sensationalize them.
  • When a person (good or bad) does a bad thing, it is a mistake to assume that good people will follow the person’s example.
  • Because good people are the majority, and most good people are unlikely to follow the examples of people doing bad things, it is always a mistake to summarily limit the rights of good people (or strip rights from them) in response to bad things.
  • This approach will occasionally fail, because it is impossible to prevent all bad things or to identify all potentially bad people.

I don’t expect anyone particularly to agree with me on this (or anything else, for that matter), but that’s the way I’m approaching things right now.

*I offer this optional way of characterizing it for those for whom the doctrine of Original Sin, or Jesus’s “no one is good but God” statement (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19),prevents them from admitting that there may be good people in the world.

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