Ben Sasse, who's running for Senate in Nebraska, has an idea: Move the nation's capital to his home state. And you know what? I agree.
Sasse offered the idea in a brief ad that ran in the state over the weekend, as reported by the Washington Times. "That’s it, the way to cure the incredible ineffectiveness and dysfunction of both parties in Washington," Sasse suggests in the spot, part of the longer video at right, "we move the Capitol to Nebraska."
Yes. We should do this. While Sasse's depiction of a semi lugging an outsized Capitol dome through a cornfield is fanciful, the point is a good one: there is no reason that the capital of the United States should still be in a humid carve-out on the East Coast. Let's build a new capital, in Nebraska. Like, immediately. Here's why:
Nebraska is the center of the United States. Well, almost. The actual geographic center of the U.S. is about five miles south of the Nebraska-Kansas border, northwest of the town of Lebanon, Kansas. But it's close enough for government work.
And besides, we might as well keep the District of Columbia as a distinct legal entity, albeit it in a new place. So we carve out a bit of the farmland on the border, maybe make the geographic center the southern boundary of it, and voila. We have our new nation's capitol.
It would be a massive stimulus project. When Malaysia decided it wanted to build a new capital city in the 1980s, it invested $8.1 billion in doing so. That's about 8.7 percent of the country's GDP when the city became a federal territory. If the U.S. spent an equivalent amount, we'd be investing $1.3 trillion in our new Washington. That's about 50 percent more than the federal government spent in the 2009 stimulus, and could benefit areas far beyond Nebraska alone. Raw materials from the Pacific Northwest, technology from California, a labor force from all 50 states.
Not to mention the ancillary economic boost. All of the lobbying firms and contractors that now operate from Northern Virginia would move, headed to the plains of Nebraska. That would offer an additional economic spike in the region — and could, as happened to Virginia, make the state's politics more moderate overall.
It would offer the chance to build the best city possible. A city focused on mass transit and walking. A city run on solar and wind. A city with offerings from the world's best architects. Imagine what you could create if you were building a new city that was meant to demonstrate the best America had to offer, one that would help the country transition into this still-young century. Washington, D.C., as it stands, is a testament to strength and history. We could build city that incorporates both of those things, but adds innovation, environmental stewardship, and a modern aesthetic.
We can better protect the capital from climate change. With the advent of climate change and the sea level-rise that accompanies it, the Potomac River-adjacent capital is at some risk. (Last year, The Washington Post shared images of what the city's monuments would look like at the now-inevtiable higher sea levels.) We can't afford for the governance of the country to be disrupted over the long-term by flooding. In Nebraska, the risk of high seas overwhelming the place are slim.
The existing D.C. would probably be better off. As it stands, Washington, D.C. is a city beholden to the federal government. It has one of the widest income gaps in the country, thanks to the investment and salaries of lobbyists and others that cling to the periphery of power. But it also has rampant poverty, at rates higher than the rest of the country. Since D.C. is controlled by the federal government, it's often the needs of the government that get addressed first when civic spending and investment are considered.
If the capital were moved to Nebraska, the existing city would just become part of Maryland, with representation in Congress — which D.C. lacks — and all of the other benefits of being part of a state. The common conservative argument that states should be empowered to make their own decisions would finally come to fruition for the district, which too long has been subject to the whims of 535 people who came there from somewhere else.
Over the short term, the effect would be damaging — a huge contraction in the real estate market, massive buildings left largely empty. But the history of the city itself wouldn't be diminished at all, allowing for perhaps enhanced tourism opportunities. Sit in the original Oval Office for a picture! Speak from the very desk where Daniel Webster once orated! Disneyland for politics and history junkies. After the initial retreat, the city would be reborn.
It would make Dulles Airport a relatively minor airport, which it should be. Dulles Airport is terrible, and if none of the other positive benefits listed above came to fruition, the relegation of that nightmare of a facility to third-tier status would be worth it.
None of this will ever happen, of course, and Sasse — whose election to the Senate will probably also not happen* — only meant the proposition sarcastically. That's too bad. Nebraska, D.C., has a lot to offer as an idea, even if it wouldn't result in Sasse's dream of elected representation that avoids "the incredible ineffectiveness and dysfunction of both parties." For that, we'd need to move Congress off-planet.