We begin not with Eliot Spitzer, but with a small history lesson. From the Civil War, two otherwise unremarkable Union Generals (militarily, both are known for their spectacular defeats) who obviously detested each other: Ambrose Burnside and Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. Here is Burnside on Hooker, who served under him: "unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present." Here is Hooker, on Burnside: "[a] wretch... of blundering sacrifice."
But even though these two gentlemen didn't care much for each other, their names have come down through history to now be common words in our language. Burnside's name somehow got inverted, but anyone who remembers the 1970s knows what sideburns are. A quick look at a photo of Burnsides will convince you the etymology is correct.
Hooker's name is a little trickier, as the term actually predates him in print (circa 1845 in North Carolina). But his public behavior certainly cemented the term into the American consciousness from that point on -- his headquarters near Washington, D.C. were reportedly a bar/brothel, and the camp followers which trailed behind him were known as "General Hooker's Army" or "Hooker's Brigade." How much of this is myth, and how much reality is a debate that still rages (among people who care about such things), but it's indisputable that at some point Americans as a whole began calling prostitutes "hookers," which continues to this day.
It is in defense of hookers that I speak today. Because America would be a whole lot better if we legalized prostitution in Washington, D.C. After all, what did we really get for that $40 million we gave Ken Starr? How does anybody really benefit if the public knows details of how Larry Craig or Eliot Spitzer has sex? Wouldn't it be better to facilitate such dalliances with clean and reputable brothels for our politicians?
The first step would be to fund a junket for everyone in Congress over to Amsterdam, to see how it works. Women (and men) checked regularly by their health department, licensed to operate by the government. Oh, wait, they have national health care in the Netherlands, so maybe that's not a fair comparison. OK, make it Nevada. You know, one of the states of the Union? Send Congress to Nevada. Right here in America. Fact-find their little hearts out.
Then return them to Congress where they can immediately legalize prostitution for the District of Columbia. After all, Washington is a federal district -- meaning Congress can pass any law they want, without even having to deal with a state government or anything.
Erect one of those pseudo-Greek marble buildings in the Federal Triangle district and name it the Fighting Joe Hooker Memorial Federal Brothel (they've already named the FBI building after J. Edgar Hoover, so this shouldn't be a problem). Stock it with healthy men and women who volunteer to earn their money this way (if you don't think they'd arrive in droves to have sex with the powerful and famous in our nation's capital, you are delusional). Cater to every taste and whim.
For those who call this impractical, I offer that the federal government (astonishingly enough) actually has some fairly recent experience running a brothel. In 1990, after winning a tax fraud case against the owner (who fled), the Internal Revenue Service seized the "world famous" Mustang Ranch, on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. Because it was a valuable asset, they had to keep it in business. So for a time there, the federal government of the United States of America, in the person of Mrs. Jeri Coppa, a U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, was running a legal brothel. Your tax dollars at work!
So it's not like it's unprecedented or anything. Get some bean-counter in there to work out a budget, get it up and running, and let's all agree as a nation to just stop caring who our politicians sleep with. We get in these moralistic tizzies, but we also can evolve beyond them. It wasn't so long ago a candidate for the Supreme Court was bounced out for admitting he had smoked a little marijuana at one point in his life. Then we had Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale" -- to make it sound more acceptible. But now, pretty much any politician who grew up in the 1960s can admit they smoked joints in college like they were going out of style, and it's no big deal anymore. It certainly isn't the bar to higher office it once was.
So maybe we can get beyond our Puritanical roots when it comes to sex scandals as well. Maybe the next time around, John McCain will be on the front page of the New York Times for a lobbyist scandal, without having to throw sex into it. Maybe we'll all realize that it is simply impossible to describe the relationship between Washington politicians, lobbyists, corporations, and campaign cash -- and still have it come out sounding somehow different than what a prostitute does for a living. Or somehow more moral.
So I say, in defense of hookers everywhere, let's legalize prostitution in the nation's capital. The kind that involves sex, I mean. Because the other kind is not only legal, it is actually how we create our laws. And if we as a nation are fine with that, I don't see why we should have a problem with bringing Hooker's Army back to the banks of the Potomac.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
-- Chris Weigant