The authors of America 3.0 apparently didn’t like my assessment of their book–no sir, they didn’t like it, not one little bit.
They probably didn’t like my title: “The New Book, America 3.0: Could a Balkanized America Defend Itself Against China? Iran? Anybody?”–and then things went downhill from there.
The point I made in that July 7 piece for Breitbart News was simple: You can’t advocate that America should radically devolve its national government and its international alliances and still remain a great power. Of course, libertarians don’t much care; all they can think about is wiping out most, if not all, of the government. Yet in their zeal, they forget the first function of government, which is to protect the realm from being humiliated, defeated, or even outright conquered.
My arguments here are not meant to defend the Obama status quo, or the bloated but flabby liberalism that has blobbed into American life over the last half-century. Instead, my point is that America would not have survived as a nation–and will not survive as a nation–if it’s unable to pull itself together for its own defense.
In my piece, I brought up the example of World War Two; it took the United States, as the United States, to defeat the combined might of Germany, Japan, and a half-dozen lesser Axis powers.
To defeat fascist imperialism, we needed to do more than build weapons; we put our boots–and shed our blood–on the ground, from France to Burma to Iwo Jima. In other words, we needed to be all in–taxes, the draft, regulations, deficit spending.
Not surprisingly, the authors chose not to respond directly to my point about the importance of doing what it takes to win wars–and from their point of view, who can blame them? After all, at its peak, the US was spending some 42 percent of its GDP on the war–that is, avenging Pearl Harbor, vanquishing enemies, saving allies, deposing tyranny, liberating peoples, stopping the Holocaust. And most, although by no means all, Americans, then and now, believe that it was the right thing to do.
Yet that Herculean effort would never have happened with the sort of libertarian, balkanized–yes, balkanized, more on that below–political system that the American 3.0 authors advocate. So sure, it’s a touchy spot for them. Big wars don’t happen all the time, but they do happen–and we have to be ready. A nation needs only to screw up once not to be a nation anymore.
To be sure, Americans prefer peace. That’s why the US defense budget was cut by some 90 percent immediately after World War Two. In addition, price controls were repealed, and most of the defense plants we built were sold off to the private sector at a fraction of their cost.
But then came the Cold War, and we had no real choice other than to ramp defense spending back up, albeit to nowhere near the levels of World War Two.
Plenty of isolationists–ancestors of many of today’s libertarians–opposed this Cold War defense spending, as well as the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO, as well as the decision to save South Korea in 1950. Indeed, a pattern starts to emerge: These folks had also opposed US defense preparedness prior to Pearl Harbor.
Yet we can ask: During the Cold War, what were we supposed to do? Give the communists a permanent grip on their bloc? Resign ourselves to passivity–and consign the brave peoples of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other “captive nations” to the red yoke? Moreover, as the Soviets and Red Chinese pressed our allies, were we supposed to stand by and let, say, Europe and Japan go communist? What would our world today look like if we had?
One who wanted to stand up to communism was Ronald Reagan. At the first-ever Conservative Political Action Conference, back in 1974, The Gipper declared, “We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.”
A few years later, as President, Reagan mobilized enormous resources to win the Cold War. He worked with Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher to help the Polish people subvert communism, and he aided anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua, Angola, and Afghanistan. And oh yes: Thirty years ago, he sent US forces to the Caribbean nation of Grenada, where they rescued American medical students and liberated the island.
Some might say that Reagan didn’t need to do all that in the 80s, because communism was decaying and destined to fall. Maybe, but as the survival of the Castro regime in Cuba reminds us, decadence does not guarantee collapse. Instead, Reagan gave the Russian communists a good hard push, and over the falls they went, into extinction. The world–including the US–is better off for it. Most, but not all, Americans conclude: Some investments are worth making, even if Uncle Sam has to make them.
Yes, let’s fix what’s wrong, but let’s not throw out our whole nation with the liberal bathwater. We can survive a corrupt lefty government–for a while, at least–but we can’t survive being defeated by a foreign power. By the way, if we go, it’s safe to say that our allies will have gone first.
So we can return now to the domestic vision of America 3.0, which I believe would cripple America’s ability to act with strength in the future. In particular, let’s take their exact words, from their July 8 response to my piece, in which they endorse a policy of “of allowing large states [to] divide themselves into smaller, more coherent, units.” What would this mean? What would this do to the United States?
The authors cite, as positive precedents, the separation of Maine from Massachusetts in 1820 and the secession of West Virginia from Virginia in 1863. It worked then, they say, and so it can work now.
We can immediately note a few wrinkles: First, Maine and Massachusetts were never geographically contiguous–New Hampshire is in the way. Second, we can observe that the folks in the mountains of western Virginia had never wanted to secede during the Civil War–and so they became West Virginia. And that was a century-and-a-half ago.
To be sure, others have had the same separationist idea, and then some–notably the Confederacy in 1861. And although the 3.0 authors are mad at me for allegedly playing the “race card,” when I brought up the issue of the Confederacy, the reality was, and is, that I am playing the John C. Calhoun card.
Calhoun was, indeed, a slave-holder and white supremacist, but he was most interested in the supremacy of South Carolina. That was his view of how the world should work–states’ rights. Every other sort of political authority, Calhoun believed, could and should be nullified.
Today, the Calhounian vision still pops up. In 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry mused aloud about secession for his state. And here’s a new libertarian-right-ish proposal for splitting the US into nine “republics.”
We can ask: Would an independent Texas, or a couple of Dixie Republics, reimpose slavery? Of course not–but at the same time, a disunited America wouldn’t be America anymore. <
We might also note that the left sometimes amuses itself with the same secessionist idea: The 1975 book Ecotopia, still in print, imagines that the Pacific northwest breaks away from the US to a form a new green nation. Meanwhile, on the east coast, residents of New York City have been known to yearn for the creation of an independent Euro-style social democracy in the five boroughs.
Yet of course, in this Obama era, the right is more stirred up than the left. Just this month, we learned from The Washington Free Beacon that US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has, on his payroll, one Jack Hunter, who from 1999 to 2012 hosted a South Carolina radio show in which he styled himself as “The Southern Avenger,” wore a Confederate-flag face mask–and even praised the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Some forward-looking–not liberal, merely forward-looking–Republicans have suggested that Paul part company with Hunter. But so far Paul hasn’t let Hunter go, from which Hamilton concludes that Paul does not really care about being President.
That’s a point to remember: Any active politician who espoused the America 3.0 balkanization agenda would not be active for long–at least not on the national level. Hamilton didn’t play the race card against 3.0, but the MSM surely would. Meanwhile, the broad middle of America doesn’t want to revisit the divisive issues of Calhoun and the Civil War. They don’t want to see their country pulled apart, not even in slow-motion, not even when the dissolution process is given a zippy name like America 3.0.
The true American patriot reveres the wisdom of Stephen Decatur, the hero of both the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, who delivered this famous toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”
With Decatur’s ringing words in our heads, let’s go back and revisit exactly what the 3.0 authors say they support for the future of the country that Decatur and so many others fought for: The 3.0 authors advocate a policy “of allowing large states [to] divide themselves into smaller, more coherent, units.” Okay, so let’s play this out a little, and see where it might take us.
We can start with the largest US state by population, and the third-largest by area: Isn’t California a natural to break itself up into “smaller, more coherent, units?
But here’s the rub for Republicans: Barack Obama carried the state by 23 points, 60 percent to 37 percent. Indeed, the state was so in the bag for Obama that he never campaigned there, although he did, of course, raise money there.
Moreover, the California delegation to the US House of Representatives is even more lopsided: It’s 38 Democrats, and just 15 Republicans. And of course, both US Senators are Democrats, both re-elected, multiple times, by massive margins.
Yet from a partisan Republican point of view, here’s some good news: There are only two US Senators from California.
So how many more Democratic Senators would emerge if California went from being one big blue state to a multitude of little blue states?
We know this much: California has more people today than the 20 smallest US states combined. So if those 20 states have a total of 40 Senators, why couldn’t post-California strive for 40 Senators, too?
Well, okay, if we play this out, wouldn’t some of those new states, carved out of the old California, vote Republican? Sure, some would. But probably not as many as you might think.
Here’s why: Once we start letting states divide themselves up, there’s no reason to think that the same process of gerrymandering–that has so distorted American politics–will be used in delineating the boundaries of the new states the 3.0 authors want to see.
Indeed, it was the Democrats in California pioneered the new era of gerrymandering, aided by computers, back in 1981. Yes, that ’81 redistricting map is a legend among political hacks. In the wake of the 1980 elections, the state’s delegation to the US House had been 22 Democrats and 21 Republicans; yet after the new map piled Republican incumbents into the same districts, and after 1982 elections, the delegation was 25-18 Democratic. That meant a net pickup of six seats for the Democrats–even as the GOP was winning the Sacramento governorship and a statewide US Senate election that year.
Indeed, the Democrats’ California gerrymander continues to this day. In 2012, the Democrats won 62 percent of the two-party presidential vote, yet won 72 percent of the US House seats.
Okay, that’s California. But what about Texas, the state with the second largest population? Sure, Republicans could do the same thing to Democrats there, as the Lone Star State became the Multi-Starred States. Then we come to two big states that Obama carried last year, New York and Florida–how do they get divvied up?
Some states, of course, might refuse to break themselves up, for reasons of pride–or pork. Locals will ask: Who will get the state capital? Or the oceanfront? Or the oil wells? Or the national parks? Or the Interstate highways? Or the football team?
Yet other states might choose to go all-out in their search for clout. Why couldn’t Massachusetts, for instance–coven of cynical Democrats that it is–divide itself into nine states, one state for each Congressional district? After all, seven states today have only Congressional district, and yet they’ve been sending two senators to DC for decades, even centuries. The Bay State, we might note, has not elected a Republican to the US House since 1994.
Speaking of new states, what about statehood for the District of Columbia? Who could imagine that the massive shuffle of politics and constitutional law advocated by the 3.0 authors wouldn’t be good news, at last, for DC’s senatorial aspirations?
Oh, and what of the “stranded” black districts inside Southern states? Almost all the Southern states have at least one mostly black Congressional district; so why couldn’t, say, Alabama-7 or South Carolina-6 “secede” from their respective states and become a state of their own?
And what about other groups, beyond blacks? Why couldn’t Hispanics, Asians, and maybe even gays demand “their” own state? The art of gerrymandering has, after all, advanced greatly in the last few decades, as a look at Maryland’s Third Congressional district–rightly characterized as “America’s most gerrymandered district”–can tell us. As one local observer quipped, Maryland-3 “looks like blood spatter from a crime scene.”
Is this chaos not what the 3.0 authors had in mind? No, probably not, but it wouldn’t be the first time that naifs started some process, only to see grizzled pros take it to an unforeseen extreme. As Shakespeare put it, “Untune that string, and, hark, what discord follows!”
Oh, and by the way, if the Democrats use this process to create another 50 or 100 Democratic Senators, are those lawmakers going to turn around and fulfill the 3.0 wishlist policy agenda? Starting with abolishing the federal income tax?
Okay, enough on all that. Enough on a core suggestion of the 3.0 book, which would throw the whole of America into tumult for decades to come–and leave the political left far stronger in the end.
So let’s return to the central issue of American strength, because that’s what matters most to a nation. Whose flag is flying over the capitol? Will it be ours, or somebody else’s?
As the authors write in the response to my original critique:
We are guilty of saying that the first task of the US is to lead an alliance to maintain the freedom of the seas and skies – something that we are lax at today — and to rethink the scope of our alliances and interventions.
It’s nice that the authors care about the freedom of the seas and skies. But let’s zero in on that last phrase, “rethink the scope of our alliances and interventions.” That sounds pretty Rand Paul-ish to me. In the code-language that libertarians like to use, “rethink” means “reduce”–and reduce dramatically. Remember, the 3.0 authors, like all good libertarians, want to abolish the income tax. And if you do that, then you don’t have much of a defense, or much in the way of alliances.
Of course, the libertarians have their answer to that: If the US weren’t involved in the world, then we wouldn’t be fighting in the world. That is, if the US had simply minded its own business over the centuries, everything would have been fine.
That sounds good, but it flies in the face of history. Plenty of peace-loving civilizations were simply overwhelmed by marauding foreign invaders. Assyrians. Huns. Mongols. Nazis. Communists. Islamists.
Here in the US, probably no American President was more determined to avoid the danger of militarization than Thomas Jefferson. Yet once he realized that Barbary Pirates were not going to leave American shipping alone, he sent American warships all way to the Mediterranean to snuff out the piracy at the source–on the shores of Tripoli. <
Yet as so often happens, the bad guys were still bad guys; oftentimes it takes more than one defeat to render evil harmless. And so after the Second Barbary War, President James Madison established a Mediterranean Squadron of Navy ships to keep the pirates down. That’s right, James Madison, architect of the Constitution, saw the need permanently to station US armed forces far from home.
The Mediterranean Squadron, we might note, was soon joined by separate Squadrons for the West Indies, Africa, the Pacific, and the East Indies. In other words, even in this supposed golden age of non-intervention–before the World Wars, before NATO, before the Global War on Terror–the US was heavily involved around the world.
The Barbary Pirates were an early indicator to America that the world was a dangerous place, no matter what we did. Since then, we have gotten other indicators, including the sinking of Lusitania in 1915, Pearl Harbor, and, of course, 9-11.
Libertarians of the 3.0 persuasion can pretend that this grim precedent doesn’t matter–and of course they can, because they live in a country safeguarded by the sacrifice of American warriors.
Meanwhile, the rest of us might do well to visit a war memorial, gaze upon the heroic marble and the chiseled names, and think to ourselves: True respect for those who fought for us means keeping and preserving what they gained.
By contrast, cracking up the nation at home, and crippling the nation abroad, all in the name of ivory-tower ideology: those are unforgivable mistakes.
If we forget the lessons of Stephen Decatur–war hero when we needed him, champion of American unity at all times–we risk everything. That is, America never even gets to 3.0, it is simply zeroed out.