JOHN OLIVER has a knack for turning his subjects into sensations. In less than two years on the air with his own show, Mr. Oliver has crashed the Federal Communications Commission’s Web site with viewer comments on net neutrality and set Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott trending on Twitter.
This week, the HBO television host tackled a topic near and dear to D.C. residents: their second-class status as U.S. citizens. We can only hope the broadcast will put D.C. voting rights on the national stage.
Mr. Oliver told viewers Sunday what we have been saying for years: There is no reasonable justification for denying the more than 650,000 people who live in the District — more, as Mr. Oliver points out, than the population of Vermont or Wyoming — fair and equal treatment.
It was not until 1964 that D.C. residents voted for the first time in a presidential election. It was not until 1973 that they chose their own local government. Those were definite, though belated, steps forward, but even today District denizens lack the most fundamental privileges of U.S. citizenship. They pay taxes and go to war for their country yet have no voting representation in Congress. Despite the appearance of home rule, Congress has the authority to quash D.C. Council laws and the ability to dictate what the city can — and cannot — do with its local tax dollars.
It’s easy to look at the District from afar and see it only as the seat of the U.S. government, swarming with politicians who travel in every Monday or Tuesday, spend the week keeping Congress gridlocked and then leave town for greener pastures. But the District is also home to thousands of federal employees, their families and many other civilians who live and work in what the Founding Fathers may never have anticipated would become a bustling metropolis.
It is difficult to understand how, despite the unceasing efforts of local legislators and advocates, so few people in the United States seem eager to eliminate a relationship that harkens back to the days of the American Revolution. Campaigns for true voting rights and budget autonomy have stalled. Amendments to the Constitution have failed. Most recently, a 2014 Senate committee hearing on proposed statehood for D.C. filled only two seats on the dais.
In a briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest appeared unenthusiastic about D.C.’s rights, even though President Obama endorsed statehood just a year ago. That’s exactly the wrong approach to an issue that has repeatedly failed to gain traction in the national arena. By championing statehood, Mr. Oliver has given D.C. voting rights a new visibility. It’s up to lawmakers and the White House to seize on that momentum.