Monday, April 23, 2012

Into the Great Divide

They got a divorce as a matter of course,
and they parted the closest of friends.
Then the King and the Queen went back to the Green,
but you can never go back there again.
—Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

As a general rule I don’t believe in divorce.

But, my Liberal Honeys, we need to talk.

If you’re honest with yourself, deep down you want me to shut up, not be seen, and certainly not vote—in short, you would really just as soon I weren’t here.  If I’m honest with myself, I feel the same way about you.

The chasm goes way beyond a superficial disagreement on policy or program.  We have fundamentally different worldviews about how things operate, the appropriate direction for this country, and quite often even over right and wrong.  And no matter how much you keep hoping I’ll cave in, or how much I keep praying you will overcome your illness, it’s got to be clear to us both by now that neither is gonna happen.  This isn’t something that can be worked out or negotiated into an agreement.  This is a true case of what we call “irreconcilable differences.” 

There’s plenty of blame to go around.  But the simple fact is you can’t live with me anymore, and I can’t live with you.  A divorce is not only the best thing for us, but it’s inevitable.  And at this point one wonders whether there remains any reason to continue to resist it.

The first dozen or so essays in the Federalist Papers laid out the reasons it was a good idea to get together in the first place.  They can be boiled down to four basic points:

       1.      Protecting against dangers from foreign force (Nos. 2-5);
       2.      Preventing internal dissention, infighting, and factions (Nos. 6-10);
       3.      Regulating commercial relations and providing a navy (No. 11); and
    4.    Leveraging the revenue-collecting ability and other efficiencies of centralized government (Nos. 12 & 13).

But do the concerns that made getting together a good idea in the 18th Century still hold for us in 2012?

The first and primary argument for Union was guarding against foreign force—i.e., national defense.  The idea was that the 13 States would be better able to raise an army and defend themselves as a collective unit than each defending itself alone.  True enough, but consider the situation in 1787.  European powers Great Britain, France, and Spain all had territorial footholds in North America bordering on one or more States.  Not only was the prospect of a foreign invasion real, but control of commercial traffic on the Mississippi River, then the closest thing to a railroad or highway system at that time, was at risk.

Today the threat of armed foreign invasion is nonexistent.  The European powers are gone; the U.S. stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and controls the Mississippi from its headwaters to its mouth.  Does anyone seriously think there’s any risk the Canadians are going to invade?  And the federal government is already not stopping the invasion from Mexico.  The Chinese may buy us out, but they’re not going to launch a flotilla across the Pacific to try a Normandy-style landing outside L.A.  Total Union is no longer necessary for self-defense (and in any event, you on the Left don’t even think self-defense in itself is necessary anymore).

The second major collection of arguments for entering the Union was the prevention of internal strife.  In this regard I submit that the Union has utterly failed.  But more importantly, the safeguard here wasn’t really the creation of a Union as such, but its structure as a republic versus a true democracy.  The idea was that by adhering to a representative form of government, it was less likely that a tyrannical majority would dominate the minority (see No. 10).  Nothing about maintaining a total and permanent Union consisting of all its members is necessary to achieve that end.

The third group of arguments stemmed from the promotion of commercial relations and maintenance of a navy.  Again the issue was the ability to control the Mississippi and defend merchant traffic in the Atlantic, valid concerns in 1787 that just don’t exist anymore.  To the extent these things remain desirable, there is no reason subgroups of States could not do this on their own.  Texas alone had her own navy for a time.

The final group of reasons for total Union consisted of a central government’s ability to collect taxes and supposed inherent efficiencies in that regard.  Suffice to say, to the extent you want to argue that these remain (or ever really were) valid arguments, or that the collection of taxes is a good thing that should be encouraged, I submit them as exhibits A and B demonstrating the fundamental philosophical gulf between us.

The reasons for creating the Union in the 1780s are at best severely diluted in our present time, which begs the question:  Why keep dragging it on?  The only real motivation to resist dissolution is that one party has something to offer that the other wants.  Well, let me be clear that I don’t want anything from you, my Liberal friend.  And if you want something from me—presumably my income to fund your version of Utopia—that’s all the more reason I want a divorce.

Consider this modest proposal.  We could let individual States vote, and I’m happy to do that.  But I suggest moving directly to the following division (and with apologies to my friends in California, Ohio, and New Jersey—this is just kind of how the cookie split to keep it more or less even and contiguous—y’all can come stay with me in Texas)  might be more efficient:

I’ll take Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming.

You take California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

I’ll even let you have D.C. and Puerto Rico, and you can make them States if you want (and even institute Spanish as an official alternative language).  You keep Hollywood, and I’ll keep the military.  Set up your Constitution with gay marriage, free universal healthcare, legalized pot, central economic planning, an end to private property, and whatever else you like.  I’ll set mine up as the Founders originally intended, deleting the racially-charged provisions in Articles I and V, and also deleting the 16th and 17th Amendments, and adding a balanced budget and a strict construction provision.  We give everyone five years to move to one side or the other if they choose, and then at that point we shake hands, and part ways.

We can continue to go on making each other miserable, or we can be adults and admit that this isn’t working.  Hell, I’m even happy to keep having you over for Thanksgiving if you’ll otherwise leave me alone.

Just don’t come begging me for gasoline when your Volt runs out of algae-generated electricity.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This marks the 100th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  Thanks so much to those of you who have not only kept reading, but have been so encouraging.

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