Nixon’s regionalization idea useful today to the Tea Party
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 2/16/11
Rand Paul was interviewed last night on The News Hour, a sign that the Tea Party has arrived on America’s comfy sofa. Now the Pauls have a problem. They don’t have a plan. There are plans out there and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s book, “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington” provides an excellent manual. The difficulty comes in thinking regionally in a country that has been thinking globally since Alexander Hamilton. But when Richard Nixon was President he had an idea that may be suited to our times: regionalization.
If you look at federal government as a business model it is a vast chain, but one without regional managers. In 1969, President Richard Nixon briefly divided the United States into 10 regions. The regions were random and inappropriate and did not take into consideration Jefferson’s vision of unique regions and distinct cultures. But the idea may be right for today. If Tea Party is to make progress it must begin to think regionally.
Most in the new Tea Party Congress were caught up in the fever of the moment. The movement itself was commandeered by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and former governor George Allen of Virginia who claim to be “small government” types. They are simply Bush-era anti-government types who want to shift revenues to military.
We already have small governments. They are called “states.” The Tea Party, for the first time in more than a century, calls for the return of power to the states. The timing is right for this movement. The different states and regions have different needs, different ethics and different cultures. New Hampshire is not Mississippi and never will be. New England is not Texas. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s health care plan was not a bad plan for Massachusetts. It would not be a bad plan for New England. It would be a terribly ill fit and unfair plan for Texas or the Dakotas.
Government must fit the contours of regional cultures, otherwise one wealthy region (New York) rises to dominance. The states and regions must start to think for themselves. Texas and Alaska already do but most of the rest of the country including New England have become dependencies to federalist dominance since 1865.
In one of his last books before he died (“Around the Craggy Hill”) the great ambassador George Kennan brought forth his own vision of regionalization and it may be one suited to our day. He writes:
“I have often diverted myself, and puzzled my friends, by wondering how it would be if our country, while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government, were to be 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. I could conceive of something like nine of these republics—let us say, New England; the Middle Atlantic states; the Middle West; the Northwest (from Wisconsin to the Northwest, and down the Pacific coast to central California); the Southwest (including southern California and Hawaii); Texas (by itself); the Old South; Florida (perhaps including Puerto Rico); and Alaska; plus three great self-governing urban regions, those of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—a total of twelve constituent entities. To these entities I would accord a larger part of the present federal powers than one might suspect—large enough, in fact, to make most people gasp.”