AMONG THE many statements that President Obama will make during the upcoming week’s inaugural events will be a small but significant one about the continuing second-class citizenship of those who live in the nation’s capital. Mr. Obama’s decision to use District license plates with the words “Taxation Without Representation” on all presidential vehicles is an encouraging sign of his support for the city. We hope it signals a new willingness by him to try to correct the injustices endured by the District.
“President Obama has lived in the District now for four years, and has seen first-hand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress,” the White House said in a statement about the decision. Use of the plates will start this weekend and continue for the duration of his second term. The move follows a spirited lobbying effort by local officials and advocates. The D.C. Council unanimously passed a resolution saying that display of the slogan would highlight the “fundamentally unfair and undemocratic condition of District residents.” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) last week hand-delivered a specially made plate to a senior administration official; the advocacy group D.C. Vote launched a petition drive.
No doubt the use of the license plates is mainly symbolic. Their use by President Bill Clinton produced no tangible results in the effort to win rights for the District. But as Mr. Mendelson told us, there is value in symbols, and it’s encouraging that the White House’s statement contained strong words about Mr. Obama’s “commitment to the principle of full representation” and his “willingness to fight.” The latter would be an important change: The president was a disappointment in his first term when it came to D.C. causes, trading away the city’s right to spend its money on abortions for low-income women and not lifting a finger to advance voting rights or budget autonomy.
The president’s second term gives him a second chance to do right by the District and its 630,000 residents. We hope that will mean more than symbols and promises.