Eric Alterman in his Nation column this week sighs over the stupidity rampant among high-power journalists–he names Meet the Press‘s David Gregory, for one–that makes them bend over backwards to be “balanced” in their coverage of left and right. It’s a “balance” that actually lends undue gravity to right-wing idiocy. Recently, Alterman says, Gregory equated the left’s alarm over Rick Perry’s secessionist noises with the right’s over “socialist” health care reform as examples of what Gregory implied was understandable outrage over the other side’s extremism. As Alterman puts it, “To treat the potential destruction of the United States via the secession of its second most populous state and the provision of affordable healthcare to its citizens with privately provided health insurance as somehow morally and intellectually equivalent—well, ‘stupidity’ is actually too kind a word.” I couldn’t agree more.
And yet, I was reminded while reading Alterman’s essay of an idea that began to make tremendous sense to me a few weeks ago when the president delivered his jobs speech to the joint session–or actually just after, when the pundits immediately agreed that, no matter how powerful Obama’s words were, they were almost certainly all wasted, if action and not just reelection really was what was motivating him.
As should be clear to every American with ears, eyes, a brain, and a clue (including, one hopes, even Obama at this point), Republicans won’t let anything emanating from the president or Democrats through their tollgate. Why? As we all should know by now, it’s because the Republicans want to take full control of the discourse over the limits of government, not only what we can expect from it but what they believe we should expect from it (i.e., a lot less than Democrats typically believe we should expect). The Republicans are taking full advantage of the opportunity they have as majority party in the House (and near majority in the Senate) to drive the Grover-Norquistization (or Milton-Friedmanization, if you will) of the government, which they have been pursuing since the 1980s, all the way home before the Democrats can get it together (ha!) to push back toward some lesser version of FDR-topia.
So what was this idea that made sense to me at that moment? I began to think how liberating it would be for the progressive point of view in America if all those Republicans simply shut up and went away. Democrats in Congress might not know what to do with themselves without Republicans to lay down the law for them, but perhaps a majority would suddenly find the courage to actually enact the kind of socially conscious, pro-labor, pro-environment, egalitarian and progressive program they’re elected to promote.
Of course it is not at all likely that the Republicans will shut up, let alone go away. Anyone with a brain can see that the Republicans are winning the debate, not through force of reason, but through force alone when necessary. They’re not going to listen to people they consider heathen weaklings. They’re not going to give a single inch as long as they have a pinky’s grip on power. They’re all infected with the mind virus now and they’re beyond help for a cure. They can only pass it on to the next brain primed to receive it.
The situation for progressives in America, then, is looking not only like it can and probably will get worse; it’s also looking like it can’t and probably won’t ever get better. So what do we blue-state lefties who do our part and elect Democrats (and sometimes even actual progressives!) do with this horrible state of affairs? Do we have to put up with those mind-dead robots of the right? With those crass, ignorant, loudmouth, know-nothings who who want to eat the poor and free the rich, who want to put Jesus in every classroom and courthouse, who want to let God loose to boil the oceans and blacken the skies if he so chooses because maybe now is the end time and only the godly and far-right will be saved? Are we condemned to eternally vote for fairness, equality, justice, progress, peace, reason, tolerance only to see it fold in the face of faith, fear, yokelry, resentment, and ignorance? How long do we have to accept this untenable situation? Isn’t there a way out?
When I was reading Alterman today, I was thinking, as I have sometimes thought in the past, so let Texas secede. Who cares! Who would miss it? If nothing else, Texas’s secession would elevate the aggregate intelligence of the House of Representatives. (Just losing Louie Gohmert’s district would help.) Mind you, I’ve felt a lot of fondness for certain Texans over the years: Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Richard Linklater, etc., etc., etc., only to name some of the most famous ones. I’ve never been to the alt-cultural festival SXSW, but, if Texas were to secede, I’ve got a passport. I would consider traveling to that foreign land to experience it. It’s nothing against Texas or Texans per se. But if the far-right leaders of that state can manage to fulfill their wish and secede… Adios, Texas! (And maybe adios, Congressional deadlock.)
But lately I’ve been thinking, why wait for Texas to break up the tired party the United States of America has become? What if we here in the Northeast left that dysfunctional union to create a more perfect one among ourselves. We Northeasterners elect Democrats. We still have some moderate Republicans up here, even. Even when we elect those Republicans, we don’t lose hope that Democrats will ever be elected again. We believe in culture here. We believe in education. We still have unions. We believe in small-d democracy. We’re tolerant. Our citizens have the right to marry whom they want to marry in several of our states. Our women mostly still have the right to choose their reproductive futures. We’re as good a place as any progressive could hope for. One of our states even has single-payer health care!
It’s amazing how liberating that fantasy is for me. I begin to love my country again. I begin to believe in the people again. I begin to think there’s hope for the nation–the revised nation, that is. The public discourse suddenly seems quieter, smarter, more relevant, more on target. In my fantasy, I begin to want to include states on the West Coast, including Hawaii (and excluding Alaska). States that can work with us, not against us. Let the part of the country that can’t kick the right-wing Republican habits of intolerance, resentment, small-mindedness–constipation of body, mind and spirit–let them do “government” as they see fit in their own country.
What a relief! I’m sure the red-staters would feel similar to be rid of us. (By the looks of it, some of them are thinking along similar lines.) Le’s hope we could be better neighbors than we are compatriots.
PS: Here is a very reasonable argument against secession. The most salient point for me comes toward the end: when income of voters is taken into consideration–that is, when the wealthiest are excluded from the results–red states turn blue. In good conscience, one wouldn’t want to abandon the most vulnerable to an uncertain fate in a land of other-hating know-nothings.