A Cato Intern Reports from D.C.
by John Thrasher, July 3, 2003
When in Rome, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the State: Reflections of a D.C. Intern, Part I
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect upon my arrival in Washington D.C. This was not my first time here. I had lived here as a child, but that was before I was infected with the ideas of Rand, Rothbard, and Mises. I traveled into the new Rome unaware of what I would find. Excited for sure, but tinged with not a little apprehension of the city that beckoned from the demonic glow of the Washington monument at night.
I must admit that I am somewhat taken with the city. It is worlds apart from my environs in Boulder and not a day goes by where I don't long to be in Colorado, but Colorado might as well be on Mars. The concerns of the people in Colorado are not the concerns of the people here. Sure, everyone still needs food here, they pine for love in the same way, and we all watch the same movies and news shows, but there is something else, something different: all the money is here. The economy is never bad in D.C. It used to be said that all roads led to Rome. It would be more accurate now to say that all the money leads to D.C. Here they don't need to give you something that you want (though sometimes they do, which is a nice benefit) to get your money. You are required by law to send your money to a specific place on a specific street in this city. There is another specific place on a specific street that decides how your money will be spent, and still more places on numerous streets that carry these demands out.
This is the main thing that has been so overwhelming about coming to D.C.: the final and complete realization that government is huge. Everyone should be required (a very un-libertarian suggestion) to come to D.C. once in their life to really see not only the immensity of government, but also its particularity. There really is a building where the I.R.S. is located, or the F.T.C., or the State Department. Government is not some abstraction when you are here, it's down the street. It is that particular bureaucrat in that particular building who is deciding how to spend that particular dollar of yours or mine.
I am fortunate in that I don't work for some congress critter or alphabet agency, but the only (so far as I can tell) defender of individual rights anywhere in this town: the Cato institute. This may sound weird, but I have a lot more respect for Cato now then I did before I arrived. These guys come in every day and fight the good fight against overwhelming odds and a very real pressure to sell out. Look at AEI or Heritage, other local think tanks, and tell me what their principles are. These groups are only interested in winning favor. Don't get me wrong, Cato wants to gain favor too, but only if it is on their terms. This is not a fund raising letter for Cato, and you or I may disagree with this issue or that one, but who else is in the belly of the Washington beast day in and day out arguing for drug legalization, school choice, low to no income tax, and a libertarian foreign policy?
In Washington, even more so than other place, the presumption is on the state. To have a group opposing the state at every turn is pretty amazing. I've met young people from all over the country who are trying to do what Brian and Molly and I are trying to do in Boulder: turn people's eyes to the freedom that is their birthright and that has been denied to them. Every day that I get on the Metro I think about my fellow commuters and realize the struggle it will be to convert them to freedom; but really, do we have any choice? I am reminded of the scene in Casablanca where someone says that we fight for freedom for the same reason that we breathe; if we stop breathing we die, if we stop fighting the world will die.