Wait! Don't call the Department of Homeland Security just yet. I'm not really advocating the overthrow of the federal government, and certainly not by forceful means. However, I do think some of the following facts, figures, and analyses will trigger brain waves leading to an interesting and possibly even useful discussion.
Consider health care reform -- something most people in this country recognize as necessary in some form or another. In addition to the massive lobbying described in previous posts, the barrier to passage is simply this: too many "nays" in the U.S. Senate, where, for historical (not constitutional) reasons, a two-thirds vote seems to be required to pass almost anything of significance.
Also consider this: the following states are currently represented in the U.S. Senate by two Republicans: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Louisiana and North Carolina have one Republican and one Democratic Senator. (I exclude Florida in this entire analysis because, from a political standpoint, it's already two states; South Florida has the hallmarks of the northern states from which many of its residents migrated, and Northern Florida resembles its neighbors Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.)
Among the most southern states, only Arkansas is currently represented by two Democratic Senators. Since Republicans are generally more conservative and reluctant to support social programs (and to vote for the taxes that support them), it follows mathematically that if the states listed above were not part of the union, health care (and a lot more) would pass the Senate with great ease. Then the rest of us could have the kind of country we really want to live in. (OK, pardon the slight hyperbole, designed not to boil your blood but to stimulate your synapses.)
Arguably, we already have two countries -- we just don't call them that. According to "The Measure of America -- American Human Development Report 2008-2009," the south is by far the poorest performing region of the U.S. on ALL aspects of the Human Development Index (HDI) -- based on hard data measuring health, knowledge, and standard of living.
Here are the ten worst states, in order from the "bottom" -- Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Montana. Texas ranks 35th, and Georgia ranks 32nd -- higher than the others but still firmly ensconced in the bottom half.
Case in point: here are the worst fifteen states to be born in if you want a long life expectancy, from the "bottom" up: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, and Texas.
In homicides per 100,000 residents, in the year reported by this study, the U.S. average was 6. Here are the numbers for selected states: Louisiana, 13; Mississippi, 10; Alabama, 9; Georgia and South Carolina, 8; Texas and Arkansas, 7; Oklahoma, 6; Minnesota and Massachusetts, 3; and Maine, 1.
Is this state of affairs imposed by external factors on an unwilling population? Apparently not. According to the Tax Foundation, which uses data primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau, the states that tax their residents the least (taking into account sales, income, and property taxes) are, in order of increasing tax burden: Alaska (obviously a special case due to oil revenue); South Dakota, Mississippi; Tennessee, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Nevada (another special case due to the gaming industry), Montana, Alabama, South Carolina, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. Putting Alaska aside, please note that 5 of the 12 remaining states listed also rank in the bottom ten of the HDI.
High tax states include New Jersey (rated 3rd from the top on the Human Development Index), New York (rated 7th), Connecticut (rated 1st), Maryland (rated 5th), Ohio (rated 31st), Vermont (rated 14th), Wisconsin (rated 19th), and Minnesota (rated 9th). (By the way, California taxes its residents at 26% above the national average and ranks 11th from the highest in terms of the HDI.)
Have I made my point? With some exceptions, the states that rank low on HDI tend to be low-taxing southern states, and apparently that's what the voters want, because they elect predominantly Republican U.S. Senators and governors. High-taxing states generally rank much higher on the Human Development Index.
So, let's just formalize what we already have and give those states that collectively want to spend money on health care, education, and general quality of life the opportunity to utilize their chosen federal government to enact such provisions legislatively. And the states that more or less don't care about such things and are unwilling to pay for them -- well, since they would probably not revert to slavery, let's send them on their merry way.
I will present some reasons next week, or the week after, why this is truly not only politically impossible but ineffective -- and possibly even counter-productive. However, in the meantime -- as always -- I welcome comments from my perspicacious and insightful readers. Why, or why do you not, feel that segmenting this already splintered and politically polarized country would be a good (or a bad) idea? And don't just say that it would become necessary to rename the National Football League.