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Politics & Policy

A Blue State ‘Secession’ Model I Can Get Behind

As my colleagues Jim Geraghty and John Fund have amply documented, liberal secession talk is in the air. The “Calexit” movement claims that it’s deployed up to 8,000 volunteers in California to try to put the question of secession on the 2018 ballot. Jim also reports on secession talk in Vermont, Oregon, and Washington. But there’s one bit of commentary that he pointed to that I liked. Well, at least a little. It’s this multi-thousand word blast of overheated rhetoric in The New Republic. The writer, essayist and novelist Kevin Baker is basically over the red states. Paraphrasing his piece, I’d say he thinks of places like Mississippi and Tennessee as backwards, mooching, intolerant hives of scum and villainy. 

So he wants out. Well, not really “out.” What he’d like to see is an America where blue states are free to be as just and free and prosperous as they can be, while the red states wallow in their poverty and bigotry. Here’s Baker:

So here’s my modest proposal:

You go your way, we go ours.

We give up. You win. From now on, we’ll treat the animating ideal on which the United States was founded—out of many, one—as dead and buried. Federalism, true federalism, which you have vilified for the past century, is officially over, at least in spirit. You want to organize the nation around your cherished principle of states’ rights—the idea that pretty much everything except the U.S. military and paper currency and the national anthem should be decided at the local level? Fine. We won’t formally secede, in the Civil War sense of the word. We’ll still be a part of the United States, at least on paper. But we’ll turn our back on the federal government in every way we can, just like you’ve been urging everyone to do for years, and devote our hard-earned resources to building up our own cities and states. We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities. We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while yours falls into disrepair and ruin.

In short, we’ll take our arrogant, cosmopolitan, liberal-elite football—wait, make that soccer ball—and go home.

In other words, he wants to cut federal income taxes “to the bone,” set up state-level social welfare programs to replace Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and then let states tax their citizens as they’d like to create all the Utopian goodies of the social justice paradise — amazing schools, high-speed rail, “state-of-the-art wind farms,” “fiber-optic networks,” and (this is my favorite) “highways that recharge our self-driving cars as we travel.”

Can we get this offer in writing? Now, to be sure, there’s much to negotiate, and Baker’s obviously too angry to be reasonable right now. He wants to cut the federal government so drastically that it can’t even maintain an effective military, for example. Otherwise he’s accidentally (and very, very angrily) sounding something like a true constitutional conservative. After all, did the Founders envision a federal administrative mega-bureaucracy that stripped virtually every major social policy from the states, often leaving them marginal players (compared with the feds) in their own citizens’ welfare? Did the Founders imagine a world where bureaucrats in Washington could conceivably micro-manage even the amount of wheat you grow on your own land for your own use? When will Mr. Baker sign up to support the Convention of States?

Baker may be full of bile, hatred, and bigotry, but the beauty of federalism is the notion that we don’t all have to agree on the best social, tax, and economic policies to live together as one nation. In fact, the refusal to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on diverse states helps preserve national unity. It soothes partisan anger. 

Last summer, I was asked after a speech what the Left would do in the event of a Trump win. I said that some of them would rediscover the merits of federalism. Well some have, and if more do, then perhaps we can exploit some rare (and likely temporary) agreement across ideological lines. Let California be California. Let Tennessee be Tennessee. And let the federal government do less to interfere with both. 



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