Commentary

Politicians’ Time Is Not Much More Important Than Ours

“It’s good to be the king!” That’s Mel Brooks’ signature line in 1981’s History of the World: Part I, in which he hammed it up as corrupt autocrat Louis XVI, using peasants for target practice and eagerly groping ladies of the court.

In America, we’re supposedly king-free, and our Constitution bans titles of nobility. Still, our ruling class seems to do pretty well, privilege-wise.

Asked last week whether she would submit to a Transportation Security Administration pat-down, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton snorted: “Not if I could avoid it, ha, ha, ha! … Who would?”

As a Cabinet secretary, she can avoid it, as can top congressional leaders. Membership has its privileges.

In a jab at his predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who preferred military aircraft to traveling with commoners, rising Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised to keep flying commercial. That’s about as impressive a measure of populism as ex-Sen. Joe Biden’s legendary Acela commutes to Wilmington (apparently, for over $100 an hour, you can meet a lot of regular Joes).

After all, Boehner gets to skip the security line, unlike us ordinary schmucks. At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport last week, the speaker-to-be “smiled pleasantly at the passengers” as he bypassed the nude machine and the freedom fondle.

Some are more equal than others, and in late imperial America, there’s none more equal than the president. Remember President Clinton’s $200 haircut? In 1993, while Hollywood stylist Cristophe sculpted the executive locks aboard Air Force One, Clinton kept hundreds of Americans waiting on the tarmac — because, of course, AF1 gets to go first.

You may think your time is valuable, but the presidential palace guard disagrees. In 2006, the Secret Service insisted that the Virginia Department of Transportation shut down all HOV lanes on Interstate 395 for six hours so President Bush could get to a fundraiser for then-Sen. George Allen, R-Va. Make way, peasant! (If not for VDOT’s defiance, tens of thousands of local commuters would have endured traffic hell, arriving home in the wee hours.)

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the nomenklatura get exclusive highway lanes. In D.C., it’s not nearly so formal.

You just have to wait patiently in downtown traffic while motorcycle-cordoned fleets of black sedans blast by you. Where do you have to go that’s so important, anyway?

Last April’s nuclear-security summit heightened D.C.’s post-9/11, armed-camp atmosphere with street closures and massive jersey barriers. A 68-year-old bicyclist who got too close got crushed to death by a five-ton National Guard vehicle.

That’s how it works — we live in the garrison town they’ve built, while they skate past the barricades.

The Republican “revolutionaries” of 1994 never lived up to their hype, but they got off to a good start. The first plank of their “Contract with America” promised to “require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress.”

Prior to the GOP takeover, Congress had exempted itself from most federal labor and employment laws (lawsuits are for the little people). The new majority corrected that with the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

When he introduced the act, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, quoted from Federalist 57: Congress “can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves.” That principle “connects the rulers and the people together,” and without it, the Federalist warns, “every government degenerates into tyranny.”

That’s something to think about next time you’re stuck watching the black SUV processional or waiting for a TSA pat-down while your betters skip the line. Their time and dignity aren’t any more important than yours.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.