The other day the local media were all over the news that the District had come in last in a list of the best states in which to raise a child. Now I've got a problem with this, and not just because I'm raising a child here. Maybe D.C. is a crummy place to raise a child, or maybe it isn't. But one thing I'm sure of: It is not a state.
This may seem obvious. Nonetheless, the District regularly gets rated (with all the "other states") on a scale of 1 to 51 and frequently lands at the bottom of the heap. When it does, the media air the city's shame. And the mayor regrets the sad news -- then exhorts all to pitch in so our place in next year's rankings will be better.
The mayor does this not because he is a dummy but because defensiveness is unwelcome in a politician. If Anthony Williams reacted with the logical conclusion ("Well, of course we ranked last among a listing of states. We are not a state!") he'd be hounded for unwillingness to face hard truths. So instead he said, "We must do everything possible to turn around these disappointing results."
And we Washingtonians, bumbling along, raising our kids like everyone else, then were treated to the patient advice of the head of the Children's Rights Council (author of this ranking), that "parenting is the key to success in a lot of these areas." When in fact, having area -- square miles -- is a key to success "in a lot of these areas." A diversity of territory -- countryside and suburbia, farms and cities -- is what makes up a state.
Yet, repeatedly, Washingtonians are subjected to the news that, as a state, we're a failure. No question that is true. Just think of the things that states have all over us: the proportion of land in agricultural use, the number of county courthouses, miles of road per 100,000 people.
We flunk spectacularly in sorghum production, steel manufacturing, national forest land, meat-packing plants, foreign trade, farm employment, gravel pits, wildlife preserves. On and on it goes, Washington ranking last, everyone tutting, all of us pledging to do better.
Maybe this state-ranking thing is inexorable. Okay. Then let's see them compile state rankings the District would win: miles of subway tracks per capita, monuments or tourists per square mile, percentage of state land covered by street lights, parking meters per resident, national protests per year, diplomatic visits per month, number of computers per resident. Just think how the governors of Wyoming or Alabama -- and people all over the country -- would be forced to grovel at our supremacy, how they'd pledge to do better. Think of the headlines, and of how we could pat ourselves on the back: the District, number one among the states.
Interestingly, the U.S. Census Bureau seems to get this problem -- at least halfway. It habitually includes the District on lists with the 50 states, but puts an X "for not applicable" under the ranking. In the pure numbers, then, you have the District looking very different indeed on most things. Take persons per square mile: For the District, the figure is 8,615. For the most crowded actual state (New Jersey), however, the figure is 1,085. And the average is 75.7 for the United States as a whole.
What is appropriate, evidently enough, is to compare the District to other cities. And when you do, we don't look so bad in most categories. In terms of percentage of persons below poverty level, we're 46th among 77 cities with populations of 200,000 or more, according to the Census Bureau. Our crime rate per 100,000 population, again compared to the 76 other cities, is 30th.
But I'll grant the state-rankers one thing. There is a category in which we incontestably rank dead last. And that category is representation. We have no vote in Congress. Nada. Zilch.
People in the nation's capital sing praises to democracy all the time, but as far as the representation of the locals, they might as well be gathering in North Korea to praise democracy.
On this, Washingtonians would all agree: As a state, we're a terrible failure. But as a colony?
We're number one.