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Blue States Press

Professor sees U.S. breaking into 6 parts

By Sean O'Driscoll, Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger boasted about how California stands out from the rest of the country.

"We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state," the governor declared.

"We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city states of Athens and Sparta; California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta."

Schwarzenegger's speech, together with his state's recent efforts to separate itself from the nation with far-reaching global-warming and health initiatives, raises an important question: Is the United States starting to drift apart along geographical lines, with states or regions making policy decisions that usually come from Washington?

University of Maryland politics professor Gar Alperovitz, who sees a Californian "proto-nationalism" in Schwarzenegger's words, says the answer is definitely yes - and he has some serious-minded academics nodding in agreement.


Alperovitz argues that the U.S. population is simply getting too large to be governed effectively from Washington and that some states are powerful enough to break free.

Emboldened by Washington's inaction on global warming and health care, he says, bigger states like California are taking more and more control.

As the U.S. population climbs to 500 million by mid-century and over 1 billion by the 22nd century, some kind of decentralization to a new type of regional government is "absolutely inevitable," Alperovitz argues.

He says that up to six regional governments may emerge, some states relieved that they can set their own rules on economic policy, gay marriage and global warming without looking over their shoulder to see if that's OK with the federal government.

Among those excited about the prospect of a near secession from the union is Burt Cohen, who was a New Hampshire state senator for 16 years.

He believes current state lines do not reflect economic and cultural reality, and he would like to see new regional governments with much more power.

"It's not a left-wing thing - conservatives are coming around to this way of thinking, too," he said.

"If the South wants to go to war with Iraq, they have the capability to do so; if the Northwest states want to take on global warming, they would have much more freedom to go it alone."

The prophet of this separatist movement is George F. Kennan, one of the most prominent U.S. diplomats of the 20th century. Kennan dreamed of handing power to several regional republics with almost complete autonomy, "while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government."

According to longtime acquaintance Thomas Naylor, Kennan was a "closet secessionist" who believed the United States was too large and would inevitably collapse without strong regional power.

Naylor, a retired Duke University economics professor, goes even further than Kennan, believing that his native Vermont should secede from the Union and that it should no longer be controlled by vested interests from other parts of the country.


Talk of secession is poppycock, says Edward L. Gibson, a politics professor at Northwestern University.

He argues that the federal system has had a civilizing effect on the individual states - as when the national government sent in troops to end slavery and segregation.

"There seems to be this general romantic idea about giving power to the local, but it is contradicted by history," he said.

Gibson says Schwarzenegger and others fail to realize that California is great only because it's connected to a large, prosperous country called the United States.

He also laughs off cultural differences between the individual states and believes it's not as simple as gay-loving, liberal, foie-gras-despising California and New York vs. gay-hating, trailer-park-living Alabama and Texas.

"Unless you lobotomized the entire public, you are going to have regional variation," he says. "America enjoys massive loyalty to the flag and to the central power from all sections of society.

"This country is not going to go away any day soon."

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