WASHINGTON — Montgomery County, Md., on the District of Columbia's northern border, is a dormitory for the nation's government, where federal workers' sleep is disturbed only by dreams of new ways to improve us. The county's population of almost 1 million includes many political staffers and consultants, lawyers, lobbyists and others whose common profession is to cause political power to flow to Washington. Montgomery County also is — this could be just a coincidence — a laboratory of liberalism.
Washington and its environs are doing well by doing good for — or at any rate to — the rest of America. Four of America's five wealthiest counties, and nine of the richest 15, are in the D.C. area. Joel Kotkin, the demographer, notes that median household income in the nine is more than $100,000, twice the national average. Washington, Kotkin notes, is not a center of real commerce, “where people make things or risk their livelihoods on ideas,” but it thrives on rent-seeking transactions between economic factions and “the collusional capitalist state.” This area is notable not only for its opulence but also — this could be just a coincidence — for industrious regulating to bring everyone into compliance with the right rules.
Which brings us to the reign of virtue at Bethesda Elementary School. There, campaign-finance reform reached an apogee in recent student elections to pick officers for the next school year. The Washington Post reported this with overflowing approval under the headline “These elections stayed classy”:
“Candidates at the affluent, 500-student school, where many parents have political connections of one sort or another, can't give out buttons. They can't wear T-shirts bearing their names. They can't talk about their competition. And they can't make promises. Not even about school lunches.”
A 9-year-old candidate for vice president told the Post, “We can't say certain things because the kids would get too excited.” Of course politics should be purged of excitement. But lest you get the wrong idea, the school authorities do permit candidates to post signs. Just six per candidate, however, and only as long as the signs say nothing about promises or rivals — or perhaps anything else.