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A nation divided

By Robert S. Sargent, Jr.
web posted May 3, 2004

"Most of the laws of our land – at least, the most important ones – are made not by elected representatives of the people, but by unelected, unaccountable ‘legislators' in black robes…" Senator Zell Miller, D. Ga.

Last week (April 25, 26, 27), the Washington Post ran a three part series called, "America in Red and Blue: a Nation Divided." The first part described the split and analyzed the reasons for the split. The second part described a conservative family living in Texas, one of the red states, and the third part described a liberal family living in San Francisco.

The second and third parts give one a taste for just how deep and vitriolic the split has become. Our conservative in Texas is quoted as saying that Al Gore is "a ranting and raving little whiny baby," and it would take "a frontal lobotomy" to vote for Senator Kerry. "I would need to have my brain cleansed of all reason and thought." And our liberal San Franciscan is quoted as saying that George Bush is "frightening," a "total imbecile" and a "monkey boy." Of course, we know what they say to each other out of hearing of a reporter.

What has brought us to where "American politics appears to be hardening into uncompromising camps," and why "many experts anticipate a particularly bitter and divisive election?" Here are the reasons given by the article: 1: Ronald Reagan, who, unlike his predecessors, "framed his presidency in ideological terms." 2: Peace. The Cold War united us in, at least, foreign policy. 3: Bill Clinton's "highly divisive" administration. 4: Technology: People can more efficiently get information that reinforces their personal agenda. I have a different take on why public discourse is so harsh: the evolution of a centralized government that makes decisions that apply to everyone.

The Supreme Court has transformed our form of government, first by allowing Congress to pass any laws it wanted and apply them to the states, then by determining whatever "rights" it felt everybody should conform to. Now, laws that used to be determined state-by-state are determined for the whole country which means that the stakes are so much higher.

With the stakes so high, we have scenes like this unhappy one described by Kathleen Parker in her column about April 25th's "pro-choice" march in Washington D.C.: the "defining demeanor if the crowd was ugly and uglier…Profanity and obscene gesturing…were commonplace." Let's imagine if there had been no Roe v. Wade. In 1972, 19 states were liberalizing their abortion laws. People, through the democratic process, were influencing their legislators to change the law. There were few obscene gestures, little yelling, and no hatred; after all, you were trying to sweet-talk your legislator with reasonable arguments. Under these circumstances, people have to admit that there are honorable differences that are worked out in compromising legislatures. And, the losers in these battles generally accepted defeat. They were allowed to participate in the process, and there was always the chance that the legislator would be voted out in two years. Also, one could vote with his feet: if the laws in one state were so unacceptable to someone, he or she could move to another state where they were acceptable.

Today, of course, there is no relief for the losers. With abortion, they were excluded from the democratic process (a committee of nine men made the decision), and the law applies to every state. In the future, if abortion is ever determined to be a crime at the federal level, the same feeling of helplessness, anger, and the charges of tyranny will be made by the pro-choice people just as the pro-lifers do today.

I have argued on these pages that the federal system is good for liberals and conservatives alike, because it protects minority viewpoints. If Massachusetts wants gay weddings, and Texas wants guns on the back of their trucks, the Federal government can't mess with it. I'll also argue that a federal system is a happier system. I believe that people are more content when they feel they are part of the process.

I have liberal friends today who tell me how outraged they are with federal crimes against doctor assisted suicide, against the medical use of marijuana, against a federal law defining marriage. They should be outraged, but as long as this country insists on one federal code located in Washington D.C., then we're going to have "A Nation Divided."

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

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