Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse has a proposal: move the Capitol from Washington D.C. to Nebraska.Frankly, I think Ben Sasse is on to something here. But as much as I like Sasse's Nebraska-based New DC idea, I'm not quite sure I agree with him that the best argument to be made is that Nebraska's family and conservative values (which are hard things to quantify or qualify) and fiscal responsibility should be the national model, so, ergo, the whole darn federal government should be moved there. That argument doesn't make much sense. So let me give it a shot beneath the flying orange magic carpet.
"That’s it, the way to cure the incredible ineffectiveness and dysfunction of both parties in Washington — we move the Capitol to Nebraska where they can experience family, conservative values, living within a budget, and pulling together, not pulling apart," Sasse said in a new campaign ad.
First, DC is becoming too much like a Catholic Church -- way too many statues of dead people, outsized architecture, and showy exhibitions of wealth while poor homeless people huddle outside on heating grates. This sort of Catholization of DC is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they visualized a city designed specifically to house the workings of our central federal government. Indeed, most of those Founding Fathers (all of them?) were Protestants devoted to a spare and bare type of church, uh, government. Generally speaking, over the years we went overboard with the monuments and statues and the grandiose architecture, thinking every little thing and person needed to be memorialized somehow, almost like we're a country of hoarders who have now outgrown our increasingly limited living space. So it wouldn't be a horrible idea to start over and refocus our attention on the spare democratic principles that have made this country great rather than, say, all the dead saints, uh, presidents. And while Nebraska is not unique or special in this regard, there is a kind of Norman-Rockwellian Americanism that pervades Nebraska, and truth be told, Nebraska has a lot of open space to start over in.
So moving DC to Nebraska would return America to its spare and bare Puritan/Protestant/democratic roots -- a government working among sweeping wheat fields where nothing's taller than a corn silo, where there's miles of blue sky stretching in every direction, and where good people rise with the sun to put in a day of backbreaking work to feed America. Turn the mighty Mississippi, the lifeblood of the American heartland, into the new Potomac, and Chimney Rock into the new Washington Monument. And if people still want to see what famous presidents looked like, well, Mount Rushmore is just a day's drive across the South Dakota border.
Let's look at this idea from another angle. The geographic center of the contiguous United States is Lebanon, Kansas, directly across the state border from Nebraska, and the mean population center of the United States is currently Texas County, Missouri, which is in south-central Missouri. That population center has been crawling westward since 1790 and soon enough that too will cross over into Kansas and probably settle someplace just south of Lebanon. So in a hundred years or so, about the time that New DC has settled comfortably into its new home in Nebraska, both the geographic and population centers of the United States will be so near to each other you can probably load up the kids and dogs and drive a pickup between those two spots within an hour or so, and those two spots will be just due south from New DC. Now, doesn't it make perfectly good sense that the nation's capital be smack dab in the middle of the country, accessible to everyone, rather than so far to the East that most of us never get to see it. Good Lord people, the capital of China is a shorter trip for Alaskans and Hawaiians.
Now, I recognize there's history in DC, and in Virginia and Maryland, and on the Potomac, and I'm awful sensitive to disturbing or attic-izing that history by moving all those government nuts and bolts westward into Nebraska, but at the same time I think it's about time we all recognize that there's history in the West too. Good Lord, without expansion and the taming of the Wild West, and the Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush, and the transcontinental railroad, where would this great country be? Answer: certainly not the greatest country in human civilization! And frankly, it's time to give a shout-out to the American Plains Indians who rode their ponies across the Nebraska Plains when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were still in diapers, and that area now known as the District of Columbia was an uninhabitable swamp infested with mosquitoes. And Nebraska is right in the middle of where those proud and noble and gentle Plains Indians made their tepee-home.
Something else Ben Sasse said that's worth repeating -- "we move the Capitol to Nebraska where they can experience (Americans) pulling together, not pulling apart." He's absolutely right about that, and it's just not in everyday folk pulling together to get a pickup out of a ditch or find a lost dog or to put together a darn good church potluck, or even to put aside neighborly differences when a tornado sweeps into town and rips a fence out by its posts and throws it clear across the county -- good people pull together to rebuild that fence because Nebraskans know good fences make good neighbors, even if there's a dispute where exactly that fence should be. (While Robert Frost was born in California, lived in New Hampshire, and died in Massachusetts, there's something inherently Nebraskan about him -- besides that Nebraska-like shock of white hair, here's a guy who knew about the value of a fence and diverging roads, two things that's a-plenty in Nebraska.)
In addition to the good folk of Nebraskans pulling together, I think it's important to acknowledge that the Nebraska state legislature is the only legislature in the entire country that's unicameral and nonpartisan so even those making public policy in Nebraska set aside their differences and political labels to pull together in order to do the business that benefits Nebraskans. And isn't it time to cast off the Nancy Pelosis and John Boehners, and the Harry Reids and Mitch McConnells, and the entrenched divisiveness and biting animosity of today's Congress and instead form a new federal government modeled on the lean and efficient and Lord-knows functional Nebraska legislature where, goshdarnit, the people's representatives gather together to pull together, not pull apart.
Of course, there's something else to consider before we sign the deal -- the sticky details.
(1) What in tarnation will we be doing with the Old D.C. Museumize the entire place? Create one big Smithsonian? In any event, the place itself, with its 630,000 residents, need to be incorporated into Maryland or Virginia, or perhaps made into the 51st state (with its own senators and representative). But let's be honest, without the federal government working there, how many of those 630,000 DCers are going to stay? In fact, most of Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland will probably have to move to Nebraska along with whoever the president is, and the population of Nebraska is going to swell significantly from it's current, relatively modest 1.8 million population to 2.5 million or more when considering just how many people directly or indirectly work in the nation's capital doing government business, or serving those who do. And will the Pentagon stay where it is, or move to Nebraska along with the rest of the government? The Supreme Court? Not to mention that Nebraska will suddenly find itself becoming a major media center. Having lived in Nebraska for ten years, I'm concerned about how well that influx of iPhone-carrying media types is going to be accepted among those good Nebraska folk who still mostly rely on landlines. Futhermore, I'm afraid the Old DC, without the federal government in it, will become less a teeming museum of granite memorials and more of an abandoned cemetery of granite tombstones.
(2) Where, exactly, in Nebraska will the New DC be? Nebraska is a big place. I think it's important that it NOT be in Lincoln where the state capitol is, so let's look at alternatives. If the mighty Mississippi is the new Potomac, then perhaps it should be somewhere in the eastern side of the state, maybe around Omaha. But if Chimney Rock is going to be the new Washington Monument, then it has to be located somewhere near the Nebraska panhandle way over in the West. And if reverence to dead presidents are important, then it has to be in the north near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. And if we're going to prioritize the symbolic importance of having the nation's capitol near the country's geographic and population centers, then it has to be in the south near the Kansas border. Perhaps it should be smack dab in the middle of the state, equidistant to all those various symbolic points -- the geographic center of Nebraska is 10 miles northwest of Broken Bow, Nebraska. While the name of the town, Broken Bow, would surely be a nod of acknowledgement to our noble Native American roots, the town itself only has about 3,500 people in it and probably incapable logistically to handle such an influx of government and media types. I mean, there's not even a Starbucks in Broken Bow (there are 50 in Washington DC) although you CAN get a delicious espresso drink at Prairie Grounds Cafe & Gifts.
But maybe what Ben Sasse REALLY wants is to not have to live and work all the way "over there", and be able to walk to work from where he lives, not far from where his kids go to school every day, and he lives in Fremont (population 26,000) in the eastern part of the state not far from Omaha.
Not that this has anything to do with anything, but Fremont, Nebraska is also the birthplace of the beautiful and sexy actress Marg Helgenberger who made her name playing "Catherine Willows" on the hit TV show, CSI. And honestly, if I were to cast an actress to play a First Lady, I'd cast Marg Helgenberger. She absolutely exudes the kind of family and conservative values that has convinced Ben Sasse that the federal government (with its 50 supporting Starbucks) belongs in Fremont, Nebraska.