The State of the Union: Weary of Washington

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Every time I go to Washington, D.C., I leave town a little more libertarian. Unfortunately, our nation’s capital seems to have the opposite impact on its long-time residents.

Don’t get me wrong: D.C. is really nice. It’s a gorgeous city. But every time I go there, I can’t help but think that it’s really nice because you, I, and your cousin Rick are paying for it. That new hotel with the shower replicating Balinese rainfall is harder to love, really, when you realize it’s probably just your trickled-down tax dollars. That swanky bar with the Prohibition theme may be fun—and ironic!—but it also might leave you with the sneaking suspicion that in some way, shape, or form, through the long, twisting curve of the economic chain, you just bought everyone in the room a very expensive drink made of top-shelf alcohol, artisanal pomegranate seeds, and edible gold glitter. Cheers!

Here’s where it gets even creepier: Odds are, pretty much everyone at that same fancy bar is connected, usually financially, to the growing government borg. I once spent a half hour at the bar of the Park Hyatt Washington, a modern minimalist luxury hotel that advertises itself as offering “a warm, alluring ambiance that pays tribute to Americana.” Whatever, guys. Waiting for a friend, I ended up chatting with a young woman who worked for the Department of the Undersecretary of Interagency Special Projects of Something or Other. After approximately 24 minutes, I felt like the downsizing consultants in the movie “Office Space.” I honestly could not figure out what she did.

As Forbes recently reported, six of the 10 wealthiest counties in the nation are in the D.C. area, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why: again, it’s you, me, and your cousin Rick. Speaking of rocket scientists, the third-wealthiest county on the list is Los Alamos, N.M., a fairly weird and mysterious place where a bunch of government-employed military engineers are likely designing robots that seem friendly and charming, but will eventually turn and destroy us all.

D.C. is also a place where people get excited about seeing people like Gene Sperling and Cass Sunstein on the street, and I feel fairly confident that I do not have to explain why this is alarming.

Tuesday’s State of the Union address exemplified the glossy, impervious D.C. bubble, with President Obama spouting giveaways like a carnival barker and repeatedly misusing the most popular word in our nation’s capital, which is “free.” Community college! Child care! Television ratings for the State of the Union have been dropping in recent years—33.3 million people watched in 2014, which is four million less than the previous year and less than a third of the number who watched the Super Bowl. This is bad, because many Americans are clearly missing a glorious chance to see how insane our government really is.

Before anyone asks me who’s going to build the roads—in my experience, when you express even the slightest libertarian inklings, someone will undoubtedly ask you, usually in all caps, “WHO IS GOING TO BUILD THE ROADS?”—I shall not dodge the question. The government, which, as we all know, is funded by you, me, and you-know-who, should build the roads. It should also manage the military. The government, in fact, has many necessary and worthy functions, many of which are helpfully laid out in the Constitution. (I know, I know. Nobody cares.)

That said, the government does not need to micromanage student lunches, mandate gender-neutral bathrooms in preschools, or leak our personal health information to private data firms when we sign in to Healthcare.gov. The bad news, as the Associated Press reported this week, is that the government might actually be sniffing around that last idea. The good news, I suppose, is that the Healthcare.gov website appears to have been constructed out of fishing twine, used tin foil, and a floppy disk filled with pirated software from the pioneering 1980’s video game, “Oregon Trail,” making it unlikely that any real data could actually get through.

On that note, I have a brilliant idea for a new government program. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but bear with me. If our goal is reasonably limited government in America, perhaps we should start a federally funded fellowship program that would bus average Americans to D.C., where they could then sit at the bar of the Park Hyatt Washington for an hour. There would be no need to stock the bar with employees of, say, the Bureau of Sustainable Orchards and Southern Nativity Scene Management—they, or someone similar, will surely be hanging out, ready to talk all about themselves and the mysterious and important things they do.

The bus trips may seem costly at first, but think of it as an investment. And, unlike a Barack Obama-style government “investment,” this one would actually pay off: Odds are, participants would go home so disgusted that they’d never vote for a spending increase again.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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