The secession option.
Lincoln ranks as one of the great American presidents, for holding the Union together.
But what if he hadn't? What if he'd failed, or opted to lead a new republic shorn of the Confederate states?
This thought has crossed my mind rarely, but never quite disappears. Folks like Richard Shelby can be relied upon to reawaken it.
The U.S. senator from Alabama delivered himself of the opinion yesterday that Obama's quest to deliver high-speed broadband access to rural and small-town America, in a nation with a lower Internet penetration rate than many of its global economic rivals, is a waste of money. A gimmick his state can do without.
I think the last time I contemplated the U.S. without the South was last year when Rick Perry, governor of Texas and also a Republican, spurned the Obama stimulus funds. Just so it was clear how strongly he felt about this, Perry suggested that this kind of federal largesse intrusion might be cause for the Texas Republic to someday secede. To which I expect I wasn't quite alone in responding, "So go, already."
The U.S. South, let's be honest, has been Ground Zero of resistance to progress ever since the "Southern Strategy" that Nixon used in 1968 to win the South back from the locally segregationalist Democrats who had controlled it since Reconstruction. The successful scheme, cooked up by a young GOP policy wonk named Kevin Phillips and chronicled in Garry Wills' Nixon Agonistes (1969), found Nixon playing to the basest racial fears still widespread south of the Mason-Dixon line. The same ones George Wallace also tapped that year, splitting the Dem vote and enabling Nixon to win a close race against Hubert Humphrey. (Phillips turned apostate, and in a string of books has excoriated the modern GOP.)
This state of affairs is not the least unusual. The 1990s "Velvet Revolution" saw a reluctant Czech Republic part ways peacefully with a Slovak Republic. The two should never had been yoked, the northern Czechs being innovators in industry and culture, fiercely resistant to Nazism and the evils it represented; and the Slovaks an agrarian economy highly sympathetic to Hitlerian ideals. On independence, India immediately split three ways, flanked by the new republics of Pakistan and Bangladesh There are sizeable, restive enclaves everywhere you look, from the Basques to Northern Italy's Lombardy League to the ever squabbling Belgians held together by little more than inertia. The entente between Canada and Quebec remains an uneasy alliance, Quebec defending its maitre chez nous with a ferocity outsiders would regard as needlessly antgonoistic, given Quebec's by now entrenched cultural and commercial autonomy and the status of "nation" conferred on it by Stephen Harper.
What is unnatural is that such places as Tennessee and Maine should find themselves dwelling under the same roof, the appeal of Nascar being something of a mystery to Mainers and the L.L. Bean catalogue an effete affrontery to the coarse sensibilities of the Volunteer State. This is why Americans began in the late 19th century to invent national markers and elevate them to iconic status, from the Pledge of Allegiance to ordinances against flag burning. A modern-day de Tocqueville would regard these as signs of an identity crisis were it not for the geographic sprawl and economic and military might of a republic otherwise very much at odds with itself.
The Republicans were born in the late 1850s as a messy congeries of former Whigs and breakaway Dems held together by abolitionism. Post-Nixon, the GOP, repudiating its noble origins, became the party opposed to racial equality. Let's be honest about that, too. In its then-primitive form, political correctness forbade Republicans from speaking openly about the hatred they were exploiting. But under Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes, equal-opportunity laws simply weren't enforced and the decades long march to civil-rights progress - and equal rights and pay for women, for good measure - stopped dead in its tracks.
Now consider, if the current-day U.S., about the same geographic size as Canada and China and boasting the world's third-largest population, was two countries today, Texas, with its affection for the death penalty and high per-capita reliance on federal subsidies in agriculture and oil that it accepts while priding itself on its rugged individualism, and Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, with their top of the charts rankings in high-school dropout rates, illiteracy and meagre per capita income, could be their own backwater nation that ceased to hold the states north of the Mason-Dixon line hostage to their retrograde worldview.
The blue-dog Dems hail mostly from the South, of course, which makes one wonder now about the wisdom of Howard Dean, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, Northerners all, in recruiting good old boys from the South for Democratic contests. We now see that these "Dems" are scarcely more progressive than their Southern GOP counterparts. (Hi there, Blanche Lincoln!)
This notion of two Americas, notwithstanding Obama's hopeful 2004 coda of there being "no red states, no blue states, only the United States of America," seems fanciful, of course. But a U.S. Senate in which members representing just 10% of the population, many calling the South home, can and do consistently stymie the more progressive instincts of the North is evidence enough that America, as Canada was famously described in the 19th century on the French-English question, is also "two nations warring in the bosom of one state."
To date, Americans of varying philosophical outlooks have opted to take refuge in those regions most aligned with their values, be they the Mountain States or Vermont, as the case may be. ("The socialist republic of Vermont," as the late and lamentable pundit Richard Novak had it.) But a Vermonter cannot escape the will of a federal government unduly influenced by rednecks. For that matter, Texans are obliged to accept the federal subsidies shoved down their throats. Given the current fiscal train wreck that is America today, it might be for the best if Texas were given the freedom to truly experience rugged individualism.
Secession 2.0. It'll never happen, you say, But it's becoming tougher by the year to argue against it.