The Laboratories of Democracy

One key ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats is the size and scope of the federal government. One of the underpinning arguments put forth by Tea Partiers, as well as libertarians, is that the federal government is far too invasive in the daily lives of its citizens. That much of what the government does is beyond the mandate of what is required by the Constitution.

During the Presidential debates last week, Mitt Romney announced that he would eliminate funding for Big Bird and debate moderator Jim Lehrer. Mr. Romney has taken quite a bit of criticism for his comment, but the basis for the statement is sound.

Romney is clearly stating that he is unwilling to borrow money to fund programs currently run by the Federal government that do not contribute directly to the security of the country. Romney also reiterated a position held by most Republicans that the states are the laboratories of democracy and that state governments should be empowered to decide what is best for their constituents.

This is an interesting premise and one that needs in depth examination. Imagine for a moment that the size and scope of the federal government was vastly reduced, refocused solely on the duties clearly defined by the Constitution. The tax revenues needed to fund these inherently governmental functions would cut the operating budget of the nation by at least half. That said, monies required to fund programs such as social security, Medicaid/Medicare, unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. (the social safety net) would then need the turned over to states to operate and administer.

I could be wrong, but chances are the so-called red states (i.e., most of the south) would be less than generous with these types of benefits, while blue states would continue funding social programs. This is based on practice and philosophy of the governing practices of these states. Such a governing philosophy, in my opinion, would return state sovereignty to a pre-civil war position – where states rights are of far more importance than the federal government.

I’m not saying this is good or bad, right or wrong – but one thing is certain, it would lead to a radical imbalance of opportunity and success in this country. Moreover, the country would cease to be the country we now know. We would witness the evolution of 50 separate state governments, operating independently whose sole commonality is providing for the national defense.

As disparities increase among the states: in education, health care, employment opportunities, it should be expected that prospering states, be them red or blue, would need to enact immigration policies, in order to control the number of immigrants, foreign or domestic, seeking opportunity. It’s not far fetched.

One simply has to look to the disparities in educational outcomes that currently exist among the states. Compare the insurance coverage the citizens of Massachusetts enjoy compared to those in Texas. With states left to decide their own futures, independent of federal law and regulation, it is undoubtable that southern and mid-western states will have anti-abortion laws while western coastal states and the Northeast will continue to support a woman’s right to choose.

Bible Belt states will outlaw the teaching of evolution as science in favor of creationism and Prayer will be back in schools. Marriage equality will be a right recognized by blue states, while red states will be emboldened to outlaw homosexuality as a sin against god. All the social issues currently being played out nationally will codified by our laboratories of democracy. This can only lead, over time, to a cultural gulf that will separate opposing states even greater than national boundaries.

This isn’t meant to be doom and gloom, just an acknowledgment of the trajectory such an approach would lead to. Essentially, two Americas uneasily coexisting next to one another. It would resemble the state of the nation in the 1850’s. To be honest, part of me thinks this would be fascinating to watch play out – enough that I might consider casting a vote for Mr. Romney to watch the process begin! Of course, I live in a state that will treat Big Bird as an endangered species, but maybe not Jim Lehrer…

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One Response to The Laboratories of Democracy

  1. David Pan says:

    Sean,

    You have the luxury of being a Maryland resident to vote for Romney. That alone would not change the overall outcome in that state. OTOH, here in Virginia, that potentially could have tremendous implications.

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