Thursday, October 18, 2012
Is America Too Divided to Continue?
Being American these days is becoming something akin to sharing bathwater - it's no fun if you know the previous occupant is too damned dumb to wipe his butt. A good many Americans today find themselves wondering if they're wallowing in a human gravy boat.
It was the South, today's Red States, that fought for their independence a century and a half ago. It's taken a good long while but now there are some Yankees coming out and saying maybe it's best for Red and Blue to part company. The internal contradictions and tensions may leave no other choice.
A huge gap is emerging between the Red States (a.k.a. the Slave States, Republican states) and the Blue States (the north and the coasts). The New Republic posits that in today's America, Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala.
We’ve come to think of “blue” and “red” states as political and cultural categories. The rift, though, goes much deeper than partisan differences of opinion. The borders of the United States contain two different forms of government, based on two different visions of the social contract. In blue America, state government costs more—and it spends more to ensure that everybody can pay for basic necessities such as food, housing, and health care. It invests more heavily in the long-term welfare of its population, with better-funded public schools, subsidized day care, and support for people with disabilities. In some cases, in fact, state lawmakers have decided that the social contract provided by the federal government is not generous enough. It was a blue state that first established universal health insurance and, today, it is a handful of blue states that offer paid family and medical leave.
In the red states, government is cheaper, which means the people who live there pay lower taxes. But they also get a lot less in return. The unemployment checks run out more quickly and the schools generally aren’t as good. Assistance with health care, child care, and housing is skimpier, if it exists at all. The result of this divergence is that one half of the country looks more and more like Scandinavia, while the other increasingly resembles a social Darwinist’s paradise.
...By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states. It’s impossible to prove that this is the direct result of government spending. But the correlation is hard to dismiss. The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. (The fifth is New Mexico, which has turned blue.) And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways. A recent study by researchers at the American Institute for Physics evaluated how well-prepared high schoolers were for careers in math and science. Massachusetts was best, followed closely by Minnesota and New Jersey. Mississippi was worst, along with Louisiana and West Virginia. In fact, it is difficult to find any indicator of well-being in which red states consistently do better than blue states.
...Since red states have more poor people, and since their state governments spend less money on the safety net, they receive a larger share of federal funds. Among states that voted Republican in the last three elections, all but one gets more money back from the federal government than it pays in taxes. For most Democratic states, it’s the opposite. Looked at this way, the red states are the moochers and the blue states are the makers.
...Restricting access to public assistance and programs obviously isn’t on the same moral plane as denying people the right to vote or holding them as slaves. But these things should weigh on our consciences all the same. Food stamps keep people from going hungry. Unemployment checks prevent people from losing their homes. Health insurance keeps people from suffering and dying. Food, shelter, medicine—these are basic needs to which all people, and certainly all Americans, should be entitled. Over the course of the last century, from the Progressive era through the New Deal and Great Society, the United States slowly but surely moved toward guaranteeing those things. Giving the red states the power to deviate from this course means giving them the right to undo that progress.
Advocates for the red-state approach to government invoke lofty principles: By resisting federal programs and defying federal laws, they say, they are standing up for liberty. These were the same arguments that the original red-staters made in the 1800s, before the Civil War, and in the 1900s, before the Civil Rights movement. Now, as then, the liberty the red states seek is the liberty to let a whole class of citizens suffer. That’s not something the rest of us should tolerate. This country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.
But the divide may be unbridgeable. The South remains invested in bizarre and fanciful notions, some long obsolete others simply unhinged, such as Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism and the Bush Doctrine. As the article reveals, a lot of the South's disdain for "big government" is anchored in a perception that the social safety net is a vehicle for the transfer of wealth to the poor, i.e. blacks. And the election of Barack Obama has demonstrated, sickeningly, that racism and bigotry remain close to the bosom of the South.
The United States, from the Rio Grande up to the 49th Parallel, is a pretty big territory. Maybe it is time that Red and Blue-America faced up to their irreconcilable differences and parted company. Here's one point the article overlooks. With the onset of climate change; particularly severe storm events, severe floods and sustained droughts, the viability of the South will be the most heavily impacted. That will only exacerbate strains between North and South, fiscal and political. Maybe the North is indeed, "Better Off Without'Em."