With the Democrats just barely controlling the House, they passed a bill aimed at granting D.C. statehood. This bill now goes to the Senate where it will, one assumes, be filibustered. This matter raises the question of whether D.C. should become a state.
From a pragmatic standpoint, Republicans generally oppose D.C. statehood because making D.C. a state would almost certainly result in two Democratic senators and some Democratic House members. Democrats generally support statehood for these same reasons. Whatever objections the Republicans raise against D.C. statehood must be considered in the context of 1889 and 1890. During this time, the Republican party adopted a pro big business stance that cost them the popular majority. In response, they used their control of Congress to add six new states—a strategy that has paid off to this day. Modern Republicans can, of course, say that they were not involved in that process—they merely continue to benefit from it. They could even condemn the political strategy used back then, since doing so comes at no risk and no cost to them today. To use an analogy, it would be like a family that made its fortune using questionable methods while condemning the same methods today—while keeping a tight grip on their fortune. It would, of course, be a fallacy to conclude that their condemnation must be wrong because they benefited from the same behavior in the past—but one can certainly question the sincerity of the condemnation. But should D.C. become a state?
One of the main tactics used by Republicans to argue against D.C. statehood is to claim that the Democrats have bad motives: they want to use the political advantages they would gain to bring about their “socialist utopia.” On the one hand, this can be seen as a Wicked Motivation fallacy. This is a type of ad hominem (or genetic fallacy) in which a claim is rejected because the person or group making the claim is alleged to have a wicked motive. The form looks like this:
Premise 1: Person or Group A makes claim C.
Premise 2: A has wicked motives.
Conclusion: C is false.
This is a fallacy because motivations do not prove or disprove a claim. It is reasonable to consider motives when assessing credibility or morality, but that is distinct from determining whether a claim is true. For example this is clearly bad logic:
Premise 1: Bill says that police should not murder citizens.
Premise 2: But Bill hates the police and just wants to signal his virtues to the other libs.
Conclusion: Police should murder citizens.
In the case of D.C. statehood, the wicked motives fallacy would look like this:
Premise 1: The Democrats claim D.C. should be a state.
Premise 2: The Democrats just want power so they can jam their socialist utopia down the throat of America.
Conclusion: D.C. should not be a state.
To be fair to the Republicans, they can also present their argument as a utilitarian moral argument. The gist of the argument would be that D.C. should not be a state because if it were a state, then the Democrats would be able to advance their polices and (Republicans claim) these policies would do more harm than good for those who matter. The Democrats’ obvious counter would be that their policies would do more good than harm for those who matter. Interestingly, both parties can be right about this. The Democrats’ policies would be less beneficial to those who matter to the Republicans (themselves and the wealthy) while being more beneficial to those who matter to the Democrats (themselves and those who are not wealthy). Morally, I generally side with the Democrats over the Republicans. And also pragmatically, since I am not wealthy. But those who side with the Republicans will obviously find their moral case appealing: the Democrats plan to help the less well-off (and themselves) more than the Republicans would (a very low bar) and this would be wrong (from the Republican perspective). Laying aside the utilitarian arguments, there is the question of whether D.C. qualifies as a state. The easy answer is it does. The traditional requirements of statehood (established in 1953) are:
- The inhabitants of the proposed new state are imbued with and are sympathetic toward the principles of democracy as exemplified in the American Constitution.
- A majority of the electorate wish statehood.
- The proposed new state has sufficient population and resources to support state government and carry its share of the cost of Federal Government
These conditions have all been met. While some claim that D.C.’s population is too low to be a state, it has a population of 692,683 while Wyoming only has a population of 578,759. As such, if Wyoming has enough people to be a state, then so does D.C. Republicans could advance the argument that the people of D.C. fail to meet the first condition, but that would seem to require making untrue claims. So, I would not be surprised to see this argument made.
As noted above, the House has already passed the relevant bill. While the requirement for statehood is a simple majority, McConnel can (and surely will) use the filibuster to kill the bill. But should he?
From a selfish and pragmatic standpoint, the Republicans should oppose D.C. statehood: they are a (numerical) minority party and hold office disproportionately to the number of people they represent. This is enabled by a range of political strategies ranging from gerrymandering to voter suppression. This approach explicitly rejects the notion of majority rule and the idea that political legitimacy rests on the consent of the governed. That is, this rejects democracy. But what if you accept majority rule and the idea that legitimacy depends on consent?
As it now stands, the people of D.C. are not represented in Congress and thus are not able to provide their consent (via representative). D.C. does get electoral college votes, despite not being a state—but this system has its own anti-democratic and anti-majority rule issues. Since I consistently hold to the foundational principles of representative democracy, I believe that D.C. should be a state: it meets the requirements and to deny its citizens representation is undemocratic. Or perhaps “unrepresentative” is a better term.
It could be countered that the citizens of D.C. choose to live there and thus voluntarily forgo representation; but one could have made that argument for any state before it became a state: people elected to live in parts of the country that were not (yet) states. So, if this argument were good, then it would apply to all the (non-original) states—which is absurd.
At this point, the obvious attack on me is to point out that I have admitted that I favor the Democrats over the Republicans and hence I am operating based on wicked motives. That is, I just want the Democrats to win and I would be singing another tune if the Republicans wanted to make, for example, part of Florida or Texas into a new state.
My easy and obvious reply is that my motives are irrelevant to the truth of my claims and the quality of my logic. Also, as long as the Republican proposed states met the conditions that qualify D.C. for statehood, then I would be required to be consistent: they should also become states. This could, of course, lead to an absurd situation in which the political parties start carving up existing states in order to gain more senate seats and electoral college votes—this could be a relevant difference between creating a state out of a non-state and carving up existing states. That said, a solid case could be made for splitting up large population states to give the people slightly more proportional representation. For example, the tiny population of Wyoming gets the same number of senators as the hugely populated states of California, Texas and Florida. But that is a matter for another time.
In closing, D.C. does meet the requirements for statehood and its citizens are morally entitled to due representation in congress. As such, D.C. should be a state. The same reasoning applies to Puerto Rico, provided the citizens want it to become a state. And yes, I would have to accept North and South Texas, East and West Florida and so on if the Republicans wanted to start breaking up states in accord with the requirements of statehood.