Next time, let them secede?

Friday March 26, 2010

The reaction among Europeans to passage of President Obama’s modest health care reform bill (with no public option) won backhanded praise that the United States had finally entered the 20th century — not quite the 21st — in terms of providing a social security network for its citizens.

But in reality, there are a number of states in this country, including most of the Old South, the former Confederate states, that remain closer to the 19th century and a laissez-faire model of society.

With that image in mind, it makes us wonder what it would be like if the North had simply let the South walk away in 1860, rather than fight a bloody four-year war to bring them back, kicking and screaming, into the Union.

All throughout our history, the South has created problems for the rest of the nation. Those states have advocated a decidedly more conservative, less progressive outlook than the northern states, and many of our most vicious political struggles have divided us along familiar lines in the sand. It sometimes seems the Civil War never really ended.

Even after the slavery question was violently resolved, there were divisions over worker and consumer rights versus business interests; rights for all versus the social and economic supremacy of the first White Anglo-Saxon Protestant immigrants; whether the government should provide help for the jobless, the impoverished, seniors and others; whether the financial sector should be regulated, whether the environment should be protected, how much should be provided for public education, and many other issues.

In almost every case, the Old South states, which philosophically would include today some Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, and probably Sarah Palin’s Alaska, take positions — and run their state governments — far differently than do the original Blue states of the Union. Those today also would include the West Coast and some Midwest states — and certainly Hawaii.

States like Virginia and Florida, Nebraska and Iowa would have to be considered toss-ups if all 50 current states were asked to join one new "country" or the other.

Considering the never-ending political rancor in our barely united states today, maybe we should simply give the Red states their freedom. Give them the all clear to practice what their politicians preach without interference from the big bad federal government — you know, the ones who forced them to end segregation and much more, and now wants health care for all.

They could shut down their retirement system, ax unemployment insurance and welfare, and any other benefits they wanted. They could do away with funding for public education, for instance, and maybe teach creationism instead of evolution.

They could ban or burn books, create a state religion for white born again Christians only; cancel all government regulation, let big business run wild, turn everything public over to the private markets.

This would be an ultra-conservative/uber-libertarian paradise. Just think about it.

It also just might become a failed state. We wonder which nation, for instance, North or South, would be closely allied with the European nations. Not to mention Canada, Mexico and just about every other country in this hemisphere. None of them would likely cozy up to a haven for redneck philosophies.

It is easy to imagine how each of these "nations" would fare in the 21st century world. Our guess is that states that spend next to nothing on public education (like Mississippi) would fall behind in every conceivable way — especially when they could no longer count on our federal government to provide a minimum of support to deadbeat states.

The same is true of federal spending in any sector, such as, you guessed it, health care. We can imagine the Northern U.S. quickly passing a single-payer system and fully funded jobless and retirement benefits, and the Southern U.S. having to reconsider all its stated beliefs in the face of competition from the north. And in the face of the reality of modern life.

Would the South revert to its original super rich and abysmally poor model of society, or would it be forced to change? How would that antebellum philosophy stand up if not propped up by all the 50 states — many of which suffer on health care and other issues because of the intransigence of the South and the politicians who represent it. Originally, by the way, that was the Democrats, today the Republicans.

Would their pols be able to appeal to the same ungenerous, xenophobic, homophobic, racist attitudes as today if they had to run their own country without the North pulling them along toward modernity?

That would be very interesting indeed. In that case, echoing Mr. Lincoln, a house divided might mean that one stands and the other either falls or finally tosses its archaic attitudes overboard.

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