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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.