POLITICIANS OFTEN treat the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who live in the District of Columbia as a parochial issue, a concern of Washingtonians alone. It is parochial, of course, in the way that achieving democracy in Iraq is a parochial issue for Iraqis and achieving democracy in China a parochial issue for Chinese. But as President Bush has stated so eloquently, the freedom of Iraqis and Chinese is also a concern for all humanity. "[I]t is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," he said in his second inaugural address. So why not Washington, D.C.?
Post reporters asked Mr. Bush that question during an interview last week. Here is how he dodged:
Do the residents of the District of Columbia -- should they have a vote in the House?
I will look at what Congress proposes. I will look carefully at what Congress proposes.
But what is your philosophical view of that? Because we've gone to Iraq to provide freedom for people in Iraq, and the people in this country --
I understand that. You're trying to get me to opine on specific legislation that may be forthcoming, and I look forward to working with Congress on that.
I'm actually asking you to opine on general --
That's my answer. (Laughter.)
-- philosophy on whether --
I know what you're trying to ask me to opine on, and I'm answering that there is -- I will look and see what Congress proposes.
In fact no one was asking that the president comment on specific legislation. He could easily have responded this way: "I know that citizens of the District of Columbia pay taxes for their country, and I know many of them have gone to war for their country. They should have a say in how their country is ruled. I look forward to working with Congress to find the best way to make that happen."
Instead we get squirming evasions and feeble humor. To be honest, we don't find it funny; if anything, it's pathetic that six years into his presidency Mr. Bush can't bring himself to endorse basic rights for residents of his current hometown.
In that same stirring address two years ago, Mr. Bush said that "rights must be . . . secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed." He didn't qualify the principle; there was no asterisk, as in: *except for majority-Democratic cities. Either he believes in democracy, or he doesn't.