Source: Washington Post
Copyright: 1998 The Washington Post Company
Pubdate: Mon, 23 Nov 1998
Page: B01, front page, second section
Columnist: Steve Twomey - email  


On Oct. 5, the day the House Judiciary Committee voted to open a formal
inquiry into whether President Clinton should be impeached, Robert L. Barr
Jr., a committee member who nearly foams with disgust at our president's
behavior, put the Lewinsky scandal into historical context with some
sobering thoughts, now available on his Web site ( ),
should you care to check.

"Imagine," the Georgia Republican began, "a place where a dictator, a king,
a prime minister or a president could walk into your home at any time, and
force you to accede to any demand, however unreasonable."

Imagine such a place. Terrible.

"Throughout history -- including 18th century Britain -- such regimes have
been the norm," Barr went on. "The system of rule by law under which we
live stands as a stark exception to the historically prevalent notion that
a ruler can take whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, from any subject."

Imagine such a ruler. Horrible.

But there is, really, no need to trouble your fantasy cells. A place where
people are forced to accede to unreasonable demands exists right here, and
a ruler who takes what he wants from his subjects exists right now.

The District is the place, Barr the ruler.

The man who embalmed himself last month in sanctimonious blather as
defender of democratic virtues against a brutish president is the same man
who was in August the chief assassin of a free and fair election,
sponsoring an ultimately successful piece of legislation to steal from a
group of Americans -- those in the nation's capital -- the right to decide
at the polls a public policy issue.

Perhaps the next edition of Webster's will feature Barr when it gets around
to defining "two-faced."

His amendment forbade city officials to spend any funds to supervise or
conduct a particular part of the Nov. 3 election: Initiative 59, a ballot
measure on whether doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana to ease
the pain of serious illnesses. Because the Barr Amendment passed after the
ballots had been printed, residents still got a chance to say yea or nay.
They just never found out the results.

Twenty days on, the outcome remains known only to a computer because the
Board of Elections and Ethics fears that even the nearly invisible cost of
printing the results would represent illegal spending under Barr's
amendment. The wishes of 137,523 Americans -- the number of residents who
voted -- are being held hostage by an act of the Congress of the United
States, may it rest in perpetual shame.

What country is this? Anybody?

I keep waiting for U.N. teams under Jimmy Carter to show up, dispatched to
look into the suppression of voting rights. But the abuse of Washington has
gone on for so long that nobody cares, certainly not the nation, 99 percent
of which doesn't even know the District is a wholly owned subsidiary of the
Hill, its people bereft of voting representation in the House and Senate
and at the mercy of 535 holy patriots who see no irony in walking into the
District's house and forcing it to accede to any demand, to use Barr's
colorful description.

Yes, the Constitution gives Congress that power. But it doesn't require its
use. It doesn't require meddling on the most mundane of issues, in ways
that mock the notion that being a citizen means being equal to all other
citizens. Other Americans get to control their destinies. Those in
America's capital don't.

"Our Founding Fathers understood the importance [of] restraining unbridled
power," Barr said in his Judiciary statement.

At least he didn't claim he does.

Barr has said the issue in the District is illegal drugs. His constituents
hate them and won't tolerate having their money used -- in the form of
federal support for the District budget -- for an election that might
liberalize drug laws. In Barr's World, I guess, governing yourself is not
an inherent right. It's a matter of money.

Who knew there was such a thing as too high a price to pay for democracy?

Well, $500 is apparently too much. That's what the election board says the
total cost of printing, advertising and tabulating the marijuana initiative
would be.

Maybe Clarke v. United States will free the District 137,523.

A decade ago, Congress ordered the D.C. Council to pass a certain law or
lose its entire budget. But the city argued, and the U.S. Court of Appeals
agreed, that to tell a group of Americans what to say by ordering them to
pass a particular law -- laws being a form of speech, reflecting community
thought -- violates the First Amendment.

The court said in Clarke that under the Constitution, Congress didn't have
to create a city council in the District, but once it did, it had to let it
operate like one, which means leaving it free to speak legislatively or not.

It is the same here and now. The city's Home Rule Charter gives citizens
the right to vote on initiatives. To disembowel that right is to deny their
right to speak. And on Dec. 18, that is precisely what the city will argue
to a federal judge.

"It is our job as legislators to diagnose threats to our democracy and
eliminate them," Barr said in his Judiciary statement.

What if the legislators are the threat?

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Checked-by: Richard Lake