Friday, February 03, 2006

Bad Argumentation Makes Me :(

If you look at the very top of this site, you'll note that it's titled "The Debate Link." Many of you also probably know this is a homage to my debate background--I come from an environment where good arguments and analysis are actually valued and respected (what a difference from modern politics). In any event, this gives me a reduced tolerance for poor argumentation. And a response from Kip Esquire to my D.C. Olympics post is emblematic of just really shoddy reasoning.

Basically, I used the prospect of a D.C. Olympic curling team to note my support for D.C. statehood and/or voting rights. In response, I get trackbacked by this oh-so-clever rejoinder [UPDATE: Kip wants me to know that he wrote his post first, and then linked to mine later. Okay, fair enough--but his post remains really, really, really wrong--and it shouldn't have taken a college Sophomore to point it out]:
Okay, humor aside - the subject of (voting) congressional representation for residents of the District of Columbia?

It's quite simple really: too bad, so sad. You don't like it? Then either move or amend the Constitution.

The question of "one person, one vote" came up during the Alito confirmation hearings. It's an important constitutional principle. But so is the concept that the District of Columbia is not a state and therefore is simply not entitled to (voting) congressional representation.
So okay, fine, disenfranchisement of D.C. residents stinks. Point conceded.

But it's what the Constitution calls for. Don't like it? Amend it. It wouldn't be the first time.

My immediate first thought was "wait a minute--where in the constitution does it mandate that D.C. residents not be allowed to vote?" The closest thing on point is Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, which reads as follows:
[Congress has the power] To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States....

This in no way precludes D.C. voting rights. For one, it's a grant of power, not a mandate. Congress can choose to exercise it in anyway it wishes. It doesn't have to exercise it in a manner which deprives U.S. citizens of representation. Hell, it doesn't even have to exercise it at all if it doesn't want to. Moreover, there is no plausible way to interpret said clause to prevent many of the forwarded plans to restore D.C. voting rights--retro-ceding of most or all of the territory to Maryland, or simply declaring it another state (as Congress is empowered to do under Article IV Section 3). Kip tries to argue in comments that this would violate "the constitutional provision for the 'seat of government,'" but as I pointed out above, there is no such provision in terms of it being an inviolable mandate (only an option that Congress can decide to or not to exercise). But even if there needs to be some minimum territory given to the federal government for their use alone, I don't think most D.C. residents would object if the bare "core" of the federal government (White House, Capitol Building, maybe the Mall) were considered federal territory as long as Georgetown and Mt. Pleasant and Anacostia were granted full representation. The constitutional argument is wildly off the mark.

My next thought was that it's a bit cruel to tell DCers that they should just "amend the constitution." Amending the constitution is a democratic process that (almost always) begins with a congressional vote. The problem we're trying to rectify here is that...Washingtonians don't have congressional votes. So in effect, you're telling D.C. residents that they should resort to a process that they don't have access to. Ouch. Sure, it's not an insurmountable hurdle (see Amendment 23), but even still: doesn't it sound more like something Catbert would do than a real, breathing, ensouled human being? Even in normal cases, the "just amend the constitution" argument doesn't do much for me, as (like in this case) it's usually a shield for absurdly narrow readings of the constitutional text, but in this case, it's especially ridiculous. It's like telling a black slave in 1820 that if doesn't like slavery, he should just amend the constitution. To amend the constitution, you got to stop being a slave, to stop being a slave, you got to amend the constitution--oh the pain!

But the final thing, and the part that really got to me, was this: why not amend the constitution? This is what really makes his argument non-sensical, because distilled down it makes his post into this:
(1) A group of Washingtonians are trying to form an Olympic squad to draw attention to their lack of representation

(2) Giving them representation would require a constitutional amendment, therefore

(3) The Washingtonians are stupid

Nothing in my post, or the D.C. statehood movement, or using an Olympic team to draw attention to said movement, would preclude the constitutional option. It is completely and utterly irrelevant to our advocacy at this level. So why all the snark? Given that Kip concedes that Washington disenfranchisement "stinks," it would seem plausible that he would support such an amendment. And in building up political capital to get said amendment passed, the D.C. team could be invaluable--or at least, as likely to be valuable as any other stunt pulled by citizens deprived of their right to vote (maybe they could initiate a bus boycott? Worked for Dr. King). Now, Kip and I disagree about whether an amendment is constitutionally necessary to achieve this (and by "disagree" I mean he's inarguably wrong about it). But at the end of the day, all that should result in is a post from Kip that supports D.C. enfranchisement, but caveating that he thinks a constitutional amendment is required to do it. And perhaps he could argue that the Olympic stunt is likely to backfire, or won't work, or otherwise would harm the movement (I don't know). But ultimately, his post as stands is the most naked straw-man argument I've seen in ages.

Too bad, too sad.


KipEsquire said...

You realize that I wrote my post long before you wrote yours, and was linking back, post facto, as a friendly gesture to you, right?


The allocation of seats in both houses of Congress is by state only. Try re-reading the rest of Article I.

A slave did not have the option of moving to Maryland or Virginia. Your reasoning is just plain silly.

And where do you glean from my post that I "favor" disenfranchisement of D.C. residents? I couldn't care less. What I care about is correctly reading the Constitution.

Sorry if I tripped over your sandcastle, but the tide would have washed it away anyway.

David Schraub said...

Actually, I didn't realize you wrote your post later--but it shouldn't have taken my post to show your's to be wrong.

Article I may prohibit D.C. from getting votes while it remains solely a "District"--but clearly doesn't prevent it from being ceded to Maryland or being granted statehood itself, both of which would provide voting rights and/or statehood to residents of the now-district. Both options have now been pointed out now...twice (3x if you count this comment). Neither was responded to at all.

Slaves can't move of course (well, in theory they could run away and gain rights that way pre-Dred Scott)--but I'm not of the opinion that one should have to move around within the US to vindicate ones rights. The point is that, in their current statuses, both slaves and DC residents were systematically prevented from challenging the very institutions that facilitated their impression--and I think that's wrong, both ethically and (in both cases) legally as well. In fact, the universalization of constitutional rights was, to me, one of the most important aspects of the 14th amendment (and just darn good sense). If I have a federal right to X in Georgia, I should have that same right in Florida as Maine as Arizona. And you yourself imply that D.C. residents should vote to amend the constitution while in DC ("either move or amend the constitution."), not that they should move and then vote (and then move back?).

As for you "favoring" disenfranchisement, I believed you thought quite the opposite when you said that it "stinks" (and noted that in-post). But then you run into that massive problem that I spent the bottom half of my post explicating--that nothing in anybody's post in anyway conflicts with passing an amendment to achieve our goals. I don't think we have to, but I'm cool with an amendment too to be on the safe side. The entire post, as I said, a strawman even under the best possible light. Now you say you "couldn't care less", which is a shame, because I think democracy is rather important. But if all we're disagreeing about is proper means, what on earth was the purpose of an assault on a post simply proclaiming support for the ends?

Darayvus said...

Well I don't think democracy for D.C. residents is important. From my perspective it's more important to ensure they never get the vote.

I'd further argue that D.C.'s franchise-free zone isn't large enough. I'd revoke the statehood of all Maryland and give its eastmost and westmost counties the option to join WV and Delaware, respectively.

My reason is because I value liberty more than I value democracy. The closer to the heart of central power, the more the constituents of the region rely upon that central power. Eventually we are all paying taxes for the bread and circuses of Rome.

Shawn said...

D.C. is treated as if it was a state all the time, for intra-state commerce, and other federal laws. Giving D.C. a vote in Congress would use the same premise: treat D.C. as if it were a state for the purpose of granting voting representation in Congress.

Even Kenneth Starr (of Monica-gate fame) recognizes that fact.

Check out for more on that.