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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Welcome to Grade School Civics!

It's been all the rage the past few days to blog about the newest bit of staggering idiocy to emerge from the conservative side of the political fence. I am, specifically, referring to this essay by Mike Thompson, former chairman of the Florida Conservative Union (Which only narrowly missed the highly appropriate abbreviation "F.U."). Mr. Thompson's subject is, believe it or not, the wisdom of expelling the "Blue" states from the Union. Yes, you heard that right: he thinks that the "Red" states should go it alone. Now, others have written on this particular bit of stupidity, but I think I want to take a crack at it myself. Why, you ask? Well, first, because nobody can stop me and, secondly, I just haven't found anyone else's efforts to be quite satisfying.

"Not satisfying?" you ask, "How could their responses not be satisfying?" Well, simply because of this: Mr. Thompson's arguments are so laughably absurd, so chock-full of factual inaccuracy, so jam-packed with fallacious logic, and so devoid of good political philosophy, I just don't think anyone has gone far enough in contradicting them yet. What can I say? I didn't earn my debate nickname "Pitbull" for my subtlety or my restraint. So, without further digression, let's take a look at Mr. Thompson's "modest proposal."

Thompson begins his assault on the United States by questioning the constitutional legitimacy of President Abraham "I won the goddamn Civil War" Lincoln's doctrine that no state can leave the Union without the consent of the other states. He goes on to claim that such a doctrine:

...ignores the Declaration of Independence, which was the vital basis for all 13 American colonies' unilateral secession from the British Union eight decades earlier.


Indeed, this seems like a good point but is, in fact, a false analogy. The original 13 colonies that eventually became the United States (After a brief period under the Articles of Confederation) were not members of a union, but were colonial possessions. They had no right to representation, and diminishing powers of self-government, when they declared their independence. In short, they were not equal members in a political body, as the term Union would seem to imply, but political subjects of a mighty nation. To claim otherwise, is to ignore political fact as well as to misrepresent American history.

Mr. Thompson does not stop there, however; he continues by asserting that:

For many decades, conservative citizens and like-minded political leaders (starting with President Calvin Coolidge) have been denigrated by the vilest of lies and characterizations from hordes of liberals who now won't even admit that they are liberals--because the word connotes such moral stink and political silliness. As a class, liberals no longer are merely the vigorous opponents of the Right; they are spiteful enemies of civilization's core decency and traditions.


To this I have several responses. First, it seems a tad absurd to complain that one has been unfairly vilified, and then vilify someone else. Second, speaking as a left-leaning moderate, I stridently disagree with some liberal positions, and have little respect for certain liberal groups, (I'm looking at YOU "Earth First") but I've never found liberals to be "...spiteful enemies of civilization's core... traditions." Unless, of course, you're referring to traditions like the three-fifths compromise, which is infamous for declaring that African-Americans counted as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. Liberals have, regardless of their party affiliation, been opposed to that particular "tradition." The simple truth is that both the liberals and the conservatives have their extremist whackos, and the problem is not liberalism or conservatism, but extremism. Third, I think we're both only too aware that as many people are proud to claim the title "liberal," as are proud to claim the title, "conservative." Mr. Thompson: Let us not confuse exaggeration, a rhetorical tactic I make use of myself, with bullshit.

Once we get clear of the liberal-bashing and general vitriol, however, our intrepid conservative scholar leads us into the meat of his argument:

That is why the unthinkable must become thinkable. If the so-called "Red States" (those that voted for George W. Bush) cannot be respected or at least tolerated by the "Blue States" (those that voted for Al Gore and John Kerry), then the most disparate of them must live apart--not by secession of the former (a majority), but by expulsion of the latter.


So, what is being argued is that the good and noble "Red States" must expel the vile, deceitful "Blue States" in order to save themselves. This is an interesting argument. Is liberalism contagious? Is it catching like some sort of deadly virus? Has there been a sudden shortage of vaccine to protect against our political views that now imperils "Red America?" What of this "respect" and "toleration" we are accused of lacking? Have liberal groups launched armed rebellion against the United States? Have left-wingers seized power and begun pogroms against conservatives in outlying states? I am, I will admit, intrigued. As best I can tell, the only manner in which we have been disrespectful is in persisting in the terrible crime of not liking President George W. Bush. Yet, since we have accepted the outcome of the election, what does that matter? I'm sorry, Mr. Thompson, did us bad old liberals hurt your feelings? And here I thought Republicans were supposed to be the rugged, gruff individualists and Democrats were the touchy-feely type. My mistake.

Sadly, Thompson does not explain his reasoning for suggesting that a significant portion of the U.S. be jettisoned. He, instead, moves into a discussion of the manner in which this might be accomplished. The first suggestion is a constitutional amendment which would force the hated "Blue" states from the Union. This, of course, would be very difficult to accomplish given that a substantial majority of the states must ratify such amendments. So, bowing to this difficulty, he then suggests that since Congress must vote to admit states, Congress must then have the power to expel states as well. Certainly a plausible argument. There is, however, a catch:

The catch, which Mr. Thompson does not mention, is that when a partnership is dissolved, the partners each take a share of their joint assets. Presumably, then, the expelled states would be entitled to a share of the assets owned collectively by the nation. Now, Mr. Thompson identifies the despicable "Blue" states as: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. (My hypothetical-roommate also adds, with pride, that his home state of Pennsylvania would also be on the hit list) However, as has been discussed previously elsewhere many of these states contribute more to the federal government in taxes than they receive back in spending. Therefore, the Red states might expel the Blues, but in doing so they would automatically create a tremendous national debt. We may be liberals, we may be in favor of social spending, but let's not mince words: we want our money back. Not that we don't think your cattle subsidies weren't money well spent, but we're entitled to a return on our investment. I should think free-marketeers like yourselves could get behind that sort of logic.

I think even leaving aside this contractual issue, however, the Red states have their work cut out for them. Let's take a look at the demographics quoted in Thompson's article:

More dramatic is the huge disparity among counties. Of 3,112 counties nationwide, Bush in 2000, for example, won 2,434, a crushing 78% majority. (In the counties composing "Bush USA" live approximately 150 million persons; in the 678 of "Gore/Kerry USA," 140 million.)


So, if I'm interpreting this right, 78% of the LAND "favors" Bush, but only 52% of the PEOPLE favor Bush. (Sorry, I know some of my fellow graduates of Red state public schools didn't catch that, so I'll explain. 140 million "Blue voters" represent 48% of the population of voters. This is because 140 million "blues" divided by the total population of voters, which equals 140 million "blues" plus the 150 million "reds" giving a total of 290 million, yields a proportion representing the amount of the whole that the part accounts for, or .48. Put more simply: 140/290=.48, or 48%. Since percentages total to 100, and 48% supported the liberal candidate then, necessarily, the remainder did not. If we assume they all supported the conservative candidate, then he had 100-48= 52% of the vote. If I think of it, I'll include practice problems at the end of the post so you can test yourself!) Since, last time I checked, land doesn't get votes, only people do, I don't think Bush's "crushing" 78% majority among counties is all that crushing. It's a little like saying that Bush supporters own more SUVs than Kerry supporters, and SUVs have on average twice as many seats as non-SUVs, so Bush won a crushing 66% of the seats in America. In other words: who gives a shit? People have votes, counties do not. So, that being said, I think expelling even one Blue state might be somewhat challenging.

However, the crowning achievement of Mr. Thompson's lunacy can be found in the quotations he draws from our own great political history:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .


Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes . . . but when a long train of abuses . . . evinces a design to reduce them [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


Indeed, when a government becomes destructive to the people it is their right, and solemn duty, to abolish it. It is equally the right of men and women the world over to cast off the chains of despotism and struggle for freedom. Yet, in the present circumstances, I can respond only with this:

It must be a tremendously despotic government, Mr. Thompson, that has allowed your political cohorts to capture and hold the reigns of power. It is a crushingly unfair system that has allowed the Republican party to take control of two branches of government. You have clearly been suffering under the booted heel of a system that gracefully allowed the peaceful transition of power to your grasp, and has maintained that power despite instense and acrimonious debate.

So that there is no confusion let me ask this: Mr. Thompson, are you so amazingly brazen or appallingly stupid as to claim that the machinery of governance is depriving you of your rights while your own party dominates all three branches of the federal government?

No decision has gone against you, Mr. Thompson, and no despotism has crushed you. This union has served your interests and it has protected your position in society. The electoral college has granted more weight to thinly-populated states than they would have had otherwise. We have fewer controls on business, and a less-developed system of social welfare than virtually any other industrial democracy. Your voice, and the voices of your fellow conservatives, are being heard and your desires have been in the past, and are now being, embodied into national policy.

If I seem sarcastic, it is because you, Mr. Thompson, are a fool. You claim to be advancing a "Modest Proposal," and seem to think that your appeal to "...Swift's satiric story of the same name," will shield you from scorn. You will doubtless claim that your writing is not meant to be taken seriously, since it is satire. Such a claim is, in this case, little more than the flimsy refuge of a lazy pundit. As an often sarcastic, often caustic blogger allow me to assure you of something: making a point through satire and humor is no license to play fast and loose with the truth. "Bush USA" as you call it is a land that is full of good men and women, and it has much to recommend it, but it is not the magical land of rugged individualism you describe, it is not as homogeneous as you imply, and it is not as financially independent as you might like to believe. Your twisted statistics do not tell the full story, Mr. Thompson. Perhaps crime rates are lower in "Bush USA" but, using the figures you cite in your own article, the population density in "Blue" America is more than three times greater than in "Red" America. Population density does not cause crime, but is related to it in the same way that ice cream production is related to rates of forcible rape. When the intermingling of potential offenders and potential victims increases, as it does in summer when people are outside more and also happen to eat more ice cream, crime rates increase. Similarly, when you have three times as many people in the same area, all other factors being equal, there are simply more opportunities to commit crimes. But this looseness with fact is not what really disgusts me about your arguments, Mr. Thompson.

What disgusts me most is that you completely miss the point of Abraham Lincoln's doctrine of indivisibility. Lincoln, a Republican might I remind you, understood that in a democratic union the members have agreed to abide by collective decisions. When one enters into the group, one agrees to be bound by those decisions, like them or lump them. If one does not like the outcome, one cannot simply pick up and leave. If one can easily back out of a union that acts occasionally against one's wishes, then any such union so constituted cannot long endure. Surely you conservatives with your lamentation about the divorce rate, and your rhetoric in favor of the "Defense of Marriage" (As if marriage were in danger of disappearing), can comprehend such a simple point about the dynamics of association. Certainly President Lincoln did, as his own long marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln (Who, it must be said, was a few residuals short of a regression line) demonstrates. If we simply withdraw from collectivities when their decisions are counter to our own, we will soon dissolve into a squabbling mob who cannot compromise and cannot realize the benefits of unity. We would be like the child who, when the game goes against him, leaves with home plate.

You may revile the liberals, Mr. Thompson, but they have accepted the will of the people. They disagree with it, they are campaigning to change peoples' minds, but they are not resisting the decision that went against them. In accepting their electoral defeat the liberals are displaying more honor, and more awareness of the costs and responsibilities of a democratic society, than you are in victory. It would be unbecoming of us to struggle to leave this Union when we are losing, but it is even more unbecoming of you to suggest throwing us out while you are winning.

Like the child I mentioned earlier, we have come to the field, we have donated our home base for the use of all, and we are losing the game. Yet, unlike that child, we are staying on the field and playing anyway. You, on the other hand, who are winning this particular game, are not only telling us that we should like losing, and that we should go home, but that we should let you keep our base when we do. To this, Mr. Thompson, I have only one response, and it is a response that I think President Abraham Lincoln would have agreed with in spirit, if not in wording:

Just shut up and play the goddamn game!

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