Is there such a thing as too much democracy? Well, based on the curious comments of no less than conservative commentator Robert Novak, speaking on CNN’s “Capital Gang,” the answer is yes.
“[T]oo much democracy’s not always good” when it comes to congressional voting rights for the 600,000 residents of the capital of the free world, Mr. Novak said.
Mr. Novak’s words came to my attention on WAMU-FM’s “D.C. Politics Hour,” when I was a guest analyst with staunch D.C. democracy supporter Mark Plotkin.
“Oh no, you really didn’t talk about [my comments] on the air, did you?” asked Mr. Novak when I reached him in his office yesterday.
Want to bet?
The latest freedom-for-all firestorm was set off Jan. 19 when commentator Mark Shields, also a member of CNN’s “Capital Gang” often lobbied by Mr. Plotkin was asked to give his “Outrage of the Week.”
Mr. Shields stated “the case for the 26th Amendment to the Constitution that lowered the voting age to 18 was ‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote.’ But what about the nearly 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C., who are deprived of voting for their members in the United States Congress?”
“In World War II, a higher percentage of eligible men from D.C. fought for their country than that in other states. In Vietnam, more men from Washington gave their lives than did men from 10 other states. How about this? Patriots enough to fight, and to die, patriots enough to vote. Justice demands voting for the District of Columbia.”
To which Mr. Novak retorted, “As a D.C. voter, no thank you, Mark.”
Later Mr. Shields said, “Bob Novak, I thought you were a devout advocate of taxation without representation being abominable, just unforgivable. [Residents of the District] give their lives. They give their taxes. They obey the laws of this country. And you don’t want to give them the right to vote?”
Not only does Mr. Novak disagree, he does Mr. Shields one better.
“[A] federal city in the District of Columbia was created to keep presidents away from a mob, like they used to have in Paris and London. And I, of course, I liked the District of Columbia before home rule, when we had commissioners appointed by the president. We had an engineer commissioner who [took care of] the streets. Too much democracy’s not always good.”
For whom? What mob? This is how D.C. residents are characterized on a worldwide network.
Surely Mr. Novak must have misspoken.
“I didn’t think you really meant to say that, did you?” I asked, initially giving him the benefit of the doubt.
“No, I was being a little facetious, vicious,” said Mr. Novak, saying he was “ad libbing” and “you can feel free to amend my statement.”
Mr. Novak reiterated that “some places are better governed by nondemocratic systems than democratic systems.” What he meant to say was, “The most efficient systems” are not always democratic, “which I think is true here.”
Worse, Mr. Novak said that he was “always against home rule,” and that the District “is a special place and should remain a federal enclave.”
“I understand that is a minority view and that many people believe democracy is more important that efficiency,” he said.
Not only does he think the old presidentially appointed commissioner system was better, he preferred the imperialistic D.C. financial control board, which went dormant in September. “It was a great plus,” he said. However, as a footnote, Mr. Novak said he thinks “Mayor [Anthony A.] Williams is doing a good job.”
But the properly perturbed Mr. Plotkin was still in a snit yesterday about Mr. Novak’s comments. “D.C. just doesn’t count,” he said.
Only Tom Sherwood of WRC-TV (Channel 4), a curmudgeon in his own right, is as blunt as the topic requires: “For District citizens, the basic rights of democracy don’t even amount to an afterthought among many of this city’s most famous politicians and journalists,” he wrote in his Northwest Current column.
“It’s rare to see their disdain for the city and the nation’s democratic principles displayed. The subject bores most of them and is ignored. You know how it is those principles that are cited in all our anti-terrorism actions and nation-building just don’t fit when it comes to the nation’s capital,” Mr. Sherwood said.
Does it bother Mr. Novak that as a D.C. resident he doesn’t have a voice in Congress? No, he answered quickly, “It doesn’t bother me one bit. You can’t always have a voice.”
Come on, Mr. Novak, I’d like to see somebody try to silence your voice. Thousands of your neighbors have no voice as the nation’s legislators decide how their tax dollars are to be spent.
Mr. Novak whose column is distributed by the Chicago Sun-Times syndicate said he has great admiration for Mr. Plotkin, the District’s cheerleader, also a Windy City native. However, Mr. Novak said, “Chicago politics doesn’t fit here.”
Maybe not, but freedom and full voting rights do. You can never have “too much democracy,” anywhere in the world.
Adrienne T. Washington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.