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Remember that classic Beatles riff of the 1960s: You say you want a revolution? Imagine this instead: a devolution. Picture an America that is run not, as now, by a top-heavy Washington autocracy but, in freewheeling style, by an assemblage of largely autonomous regional republics reflecting the eclectic economic and cultural character of the society.
There might be an austere Republic of New England, with a natural strength in higher education and technology; a Caribbean-flavored city-state Republic of Greater Miami, with an anchor in the Latin American economy; and maybe even a Republic of Las Vegas with unfettered license to pursue its ambitions as a global gambling, entertainment and conventioneer destination. California? Americas broke, ill-governed and way-too-big nation-like state might be saved, truly saved, not by an emergency federal bailout, but by a merciful carve-up into a trio of republics that would rely on their own ingenuity in making their connections to the wider world. And while were at it, lets make this project bi-national economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexicos Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed Cascadia by economic cartographers.
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Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of Americas early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.
This perspective may seem especially fanciful at a time when the political tides all seem to be running in the opposite direction. In the midst of economic troubles, an aggrandizing Washington is gathering even more power in its hands. The Obama Administration, while considering replacing top executives at Citigroup, is newly appointing a compensation czar with powers to determine the retirement packages of executives at firms accepting federal financial bailout funds. President Obama has deemed it wise for the U.S. Treasury to take a majority ownership stake in General Motors in a last-ditch effort to revive this Industrial Age brontosaurus. Even the Supreme Court is getting in on the act: A ruling this past week awarded federal judges powers to set the standards by which judges for state courts may recuse themselves from cases.
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All of this adds up to a federal power grab that might make even FDRs New Dealers blush. But thats just the point: Not surprisingly, a lot of folks in the land of Jefferson are taking a stand against an approach that stands to make an indebted citizenry yet more dependent on an already immense federal power. The backlash, already under way, is a prime stimulus for a neo-secessionist movement, the most extreme manifestation of a broader push for some form of devolution. In April, at an anti-tax tea party held in Austin, Governor Rick Perry of Texas had his speech interrupted by cries of secede. The Governor did not sound inclined to disagree. Texas is a unique place, he later told reporters attending the rally. When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.
Such sentiments resonate beyond the libertarian fringe. The Daily Kos, a liberal Web site, recently asked Perrys fellow Texas Republicans, Do you think Texas would be better off as an independent nation or as part of the United States of America? It was an even split: 48% for the U.S., 48% for a sovereign Texas, 4% not sure. Amongst all Texans, more than a third 35% said an independent Texas would be better. The Texas Nationalist Movement claims that over 250,000 Texans have signed a form affirming the organizations goal of a Texas nation.
Secessionist feelings also percolate in Alaska, where Todd Palin, husband of Governor Sarah Palin, was once a registered member of the Alaska Independence Party. But it is not as if the Right has a lock on this issue: Vermont, the seat of one of the most vibrant secessionist movements, is among the country's most politically-liberal places. Vermonters are especially upset about imperial America's foreign excursions in hazardous places like Iraq. The philosophical tie that binds these otherwise odd bedfellows is belief in the birthright of Americans to run their own affairs, free from centralized control. Their hallowed parchment is Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, on behalf of the original 13 British colonies, penned in 1776, 11 years before the framers of the Constitution gathered for their convention in Philadelphia. u201CThe right of secession precedes the Constitutionu2014the United States was born out of secession,u201D Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, put it to me. Take that, King Obama.
June 20, 2009