The last seven days are making my blogging hobby a lot easier, since between the election and the ensuing nuttiness, I am getting to throw out stuff that I routinely use when teaching political science classes. Today’s post is prompted by the news that a growing number of citizens are seeking to secede from the United States following President Obama’s reelection. Leading the charge is Texas, which is not surprising given Governor Rick Perry’s previous threats to secede. The White House has a policy of issuing an official response to any petition on its website garnering over 25,000 signatures, and the secession petition from Texas is at 35,000 and counting, meaning that the Obama administration is actually going to have waste its time and respond to this ludicrous request.
The would-be secessionists claim that because Texas “maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union,” which is an interesting statement to make. It represents a peculiar strain of thought arguing that there is very little use for the federal government and that the states making up the U.S. somehow operate in a vacuum, as if Texas’s balanced budget and large economy are self-sustaining enterprises that are not enhanced by having a centralized national government. When I read this petition, I couldn’t help but think of an exercise that I do with students when lecturing about the role of the state, which is to ask them how many times a day they interact with the government. Most students get the obvious ones, like taxes that get taken out of paychecks or seeing police patrolling the streets, but when it comes to the federal government, it goes much deeper than that. This will be obvious to many people, but it bears thinking about since an alarming number of Americans seem to think that their individual states have the capacity to be completely autonomous entities.
Everyone in this country enjoys benefits conferred from the federal government literally hundreds of times each day. I’ll take my morning as an illustrative example. I wake up every day around 6:15, and the reason I know this to be a fact rather than a random guess is because the federal government sets and maintains the official time in this country according to an atomic clock run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. When I brush my teeth and shower with clean water rather than sludge, it is because the federal government has taken upon itself to ensure that Americans have clean water. I once spent a summer in rural Ukraine, and I assure you that clean water coming out of faucets is not something that just happens. When I get breakfast for my kids and they don’t get violently ill, it’s because the federal government is in charge of food safety regulations and inspections. If I lived in China I might not be so lucky, particularly given that my daughter and I both put milk into our morning cereal and my son occasionally drinks infant formula during the day. You know what the best part of my morning is though? The fact that I don’t have foreign soldiers parachuting down from the sky Red Dawn-style and that I don’t have to worry about a missile taking out my house, because the federal government has kindly assumed the task of national defense, which is a public good that would be prohibitively costly for individual states to provide. I could go on, but you get the point.
The secessionist malcontents bragging about Texas’s balanced budget and large economy would instantly be bankrupted if they had to raise their own army, patrol their own border, maintain their own fleet of tanks and fighter jets and naval vessels, and conduct their own diplomacy with foreign countries. Keeping time isn’t such a big deal, but clean water, food safety, and hundreds of other similar things would quickly bury Texas under the weight of its commitments. There is a reason that the federal government assumes responsibility for this stuff, and it’s not because it has a desire to snuff out liberty or enslaves its citizens. I get it – a lot of people thought Mitt Romney was going to win, and now that he didn’t they are kind of bummed. But guess what? In a democracy, when the candidate you supported loses an election, you go home and hope that the next election goes your way rather than trying to secede from the country.
This also gives me the opportunity to publicize one of my favorite crackpot theories of all time (h/t to Professor Charles King for this one). There is a prominent and well-respected Russian political scientist named Igor Panarin who has been predicting since 1998 that the U.S. is going to break up into six different parts following a civil war – which, by the way, was supposed to start in 2010 – that is provoked by a secessionist movement led by certain wealthy states. According to Panarin’s map, while the East Coast is going to join the European Union and the West Coast will be controlled by China, Texas and much of the American South is going to end up part of Mexico. Somehow, I don’t think the secessionists in Texas would be too pleased with that outcome.