So it was a canard after all, a sort of Trojan horse, that bill introduced in March by Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) to give District residents the right to vote in Maryland congressional elections. For a minute, it looked as though the House's No. 1 District-basher planned to hang up his gloves and adopt a more conciliatory approach. Then along came Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party."
What a lucky stroke for Congress that the University of the District of Columbia recalled Chicago's pottery-and-fabric creation to public attention when it did. As incumbents worried what to tell voters about the savings and loan bailout or the fate of the National Endowment for the Arts, thanks to Parris they could take a stand on whether UDC should be permitted to spend $1.6 million to display Chicago's work -- just as in the past couple of years they've been able to weigh in on abortion and gay rights with votes that affect only District residents (usually the poorer ones).
For what it's worth, I saw "The Dinner Party" five years ago in London. Though I'm no art expert or even a competent critic, I remember liking it. Chicago sets a spiffy table, and I was inspired by the then-novel idea of history's great women gathered together. As for sexual content, no British politicians expressed a peep of concern.
Doubtless, UDC's decision to resurrect "The Dinner Party" at a time when the school has trouble meeting its payroll was misguided. Yet it's hard to imagine that the House members who voted to dock the city $1.6 million in its 1991 budget were only concerned about the use of funds. Instead, they saw a chance to grandstand on "pornographic" art, and they took it. And it was Parris who gave them the chance, by proposing punitive measures.
Parris's own reasons for taking on the District are more complicated. Like the D.C. murder rate, the specter of a commuter tax and early release of prisoners at Lorton reformatory -- to name just a few pet issues -- "The Dinner Party" provides Parris with an ideal whipping boy and another opportunity to campaign for his seat by convincing the Old Dominion's 8th District voters that Washington is unable to govern itself and that he, moreover, is the man to make sure it never will be fully permitted to do so. In effect, Parris has perfected the old technique of creating your enemy in order to run against him. And his enemy is statehood for the District of Columbia.
The District frequently hands Parris the gun he then turns against the city; that's what UDC has done here. But for the sake of regional relations, it's too bad to see Parris out there swinging, whipping up resentment against the District in order to keep his incumbency.
Once again, Stan Parris's efforts point up the District's crying need for its own voting representation in Congress. The sad thing is, for a while it looked as though the guy had come around.
-- Liza Mundy is an associate editor at the City Paper.