Sunday, June 14, 2009

Does Rick Perry’s Dog Hunt?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 6/15/09

The Republic of New England? California broken in three? 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.

These are not the broody and misanthropic wanderings of the few too long in winter up here in the snowy hinterlands. It is front page of The Wall Street Journal this past Saturday in an essay accompanied by a map of the United States divided in parts, titled Divided We Stand.

“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,” writes Paul Starobin, author of the recently published After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age. Starobin is a staff correspondent for the National Journal and a contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly.

California? America’s 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 we’re at it, let’s make this project bi-national—economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexico’s Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed “Cascadia” by economic cartographers.

Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition, writes Starobin, —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, he asks: 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 America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.

Not surprisingly, he says, 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.

Starobin considers the federalist apparatus of Obama a kind of “brontosaurus” like the “industrial age General Motors” it hopes to revive. “All of this adds up to a federal power grab that might make even FDR’s New Dealers blush.” He cites a number of ad hoc secessionist groups from Vermont, to Texas and up to Alaska, which have sprung up in very recent times in opposition to federal overreach.

A notable prophet for a coming age of smallness was the diplomat and historian George Kennan, a steward of the American Century with an uncanny ability to see past the seemingly-frozen geopolitical arrangements of the day, says Starobin.

Kennan always believed that Soviet power would “run its course,” as he predicted back in 1951, just as the Cold War was getting under way, and again shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, he suggested that a similar fate might await the United States. America has become a “monster country,” afflicted by a swollen bureaucracy and “the hubris of inordinate size,” he wrote in his 1993 book, “Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy.” Things might work better, he suggested, if the nation was “decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment.”

England, Europe also drift toward devolution, he writes. “Even China, held together by an aging autocracy, may not be able to resist the drift towards the smaller.”

So why not America as the global leader of a devolution? America’s return to its origins—to its type—could turn out to be an act of creative political destruction, with “we the people” the better for it.

As Starobin points out, Texas Governor Rick Perry has almost by accident found himself in the center of this. It has come to him so fast that he has had to backtrack. This week we’ve been treated to pictures of him with his doggies. Twice with the dogs. But youth wants to know: Does Rick Perry’s dog hunt?

This week Perry had lunch with Leo Berman, a more conservative Republican from Tyler, who plans to run against him. But he reasonably said he would pull out if Perry supports four issues, one of which is this: Join forces with other states whose legislatures have approved resolutions stressing state sovereignty in accord with the U.S. Constitution in committing to go to federal court against any federal laws in violation of states’ sovereignty as soon as such laws win congressional approval.

Perry already supports state sovereignty in his own state and it wouldn’t make sense to support it in his own state and oppose it in other states. But a consortium – or a confederation – of states could mean a variety of things, depending on the tone and management.

This issue was originally awakened up here in New England’s snowy north country woods only six years ago by a clever and committed old woman who wears Sorel snow pacs and has a husband with a beard down to his knees, angry at George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq. It is now in the realm of the men in think tanks with quiet voices and well-groomed beards and little tassels on their shoes that you see in passing on TV talk shows. It is moving faster than a California fire storm.

If Colonel Berman ran against Perry it is unlikely that he would get elected. But this is the question that should be asked: If you don’t take charge of this, who will, Rick? They’ve already got it nailed down in Oklahoma, Tennessee and South Carolina. Georgia could very well have a “10th Amendment” governor next. This could very quickly leave its sturdy beginnings with George Kennan and the enlightened spirit-realm of Jefferson and land instead on the horse back of the fast-riding Nathan Bedford Forest.

And what would happen to us then, Rick? What would happen to Texas?


Robert Kelly said...

I'm reminded by your post of the book, Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau, which I read while on a three-month motor home excursion through 35 of the 50, in 1984.

We missed only Quebec on that trip, though we had visited there much earlier on our honeymoon.

In your own state of NH, my home for more than 20 years, you have the Free Staters who espouse sovereignty through in-migration. It seemed a good idea once but I gather it isn't having much an effect.

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