Government At War With Itself –Local Rules

One of the three great literary plots is Man Against Himself. It is perhaps the most sublime and interesting plot and we are seeing a version of it played out in our national political life. Our government is at war with itself. It’s a dramatic psychological conflict that promises to be as revelatory as Hamlet or Jeckyl and Hyde. Also fun and just made for cable TV.

The main combatants in this war are State governments and the Federal government and the causes are the same as for most wars: money and territory and ideology. Certainly State’s Righters and Federalists have been adversaries since the very beginning of our Republic, but I’m saying that now the incipient tensions between these two camps are about to break into open warfare. Will the Union prevail or will we be divided by regionalism or the cotton culture or the xenophobes and Teabaggers on the rabid right?

The Ft. Sumpter of this very civil civil war will be fought on the battleground of healthcare, specifically medicaid and medicare funding, but the real disagreement will be over the more general issue of the Federal government mandating programs for which the States must bear the financial load. Oh, I know that you will say that we have just gotten done with the healthcare battle, but I’m telling you that it has only begun. Attorneys General in several states are already shaking papers in preparation to sue the Feds over the new healthcare law. Don’t start talking about the Hereafter yet when it comes to healthcare because the insurance gangsters are still muttering that they haven’t got what they came here after yet and they are trying to decide if it will be easier to get it from the States or the Feds.

Immigration policy is a second front in the war. This is the battle where actual shots have already been fired. If you think that the violence along our borders is only about illegal drugs, then I have some mile-deep condominiums to sell you in the Gulf of Mexico. The skirmish in Arizona over immigration policy is an indication that the battle lines are being drawn on this issue and we can see that the public is sufficiently agitated to amplify the matter into a national issue complete with resolutions and boycotts and Facebook petitions. The Poet’s Eye can see no great or meaningful changes in people’s lives that are likely to come from the new policy in Arizona. People of color will continue to be persons of particular interest in any stop-and-search situation just like they always have been. But the hoopla over this symbolic law brings to fore the deeper and more pressing question of how we will deal with the immigrants who are going to come to this country from the South and even if the Great Wall of China was built along the Rio Grande, we couldn’t keep them out. Who is going to make policy about this? and who will be charged with the enforcement of that policy? These are grounds on which the Feds and the Locals are already doing battle.

The statement, ‘All politics are local’ takes on a special new meaning in our hooked-up, connected, linked-in world. All politics is local AND everywhere is local. What does that mean, Everywhere is Local? It means that with the flip of a cell phone the whole world can see events on the ground in any neighborhood. C-Span can come to every city council meeting and CNN and YouTube put a news network in everybody’s back pocket. Since the advent of radio, electronic media and communications have served to homogenize our culture. The television age added richness and access and expanded our participation in a national community with a culture whose values were uniformly described to us in sit-coms and talk-shows and sports events and conveyed to us by means of large media. Now, in the age of digital telecommunications where media is being de-centralized and is turning from a one-way street into a two-way street, we see an even closer sense of national community developing, fostered by the internet. So, the war between the Staters and the Feds may amount to a ratings battle and in the end be decided by who most effectively uses the new media. Local rules always prevail. The one who defines what ‘local’ means will get to make the local rules. Which brings us back to the subject of borders and boundaries and to the government wars. Is it the duty and responsibility of the Feds or the States to make immigration policy and enforce the borders? The answer to this question may lie in where we draw the boundaries, what we call ‘local.’

In these battles and in this war between governments, my money is on the Feds because the technology is on their side, a technology that structurally favors a centralization of ideology even while maintaining a sense of local community. Local may soon refer to all the English speaking world. (either English or whatever Spanglish computer patois digital esperanto becomes the new lingua franka.) The real suspense and excitement and drama of this war, the transformation and treaty of this war, will be in how government adapts or re-invents itself to be useful in a brave new connected world where the larger things get the smaller they become, where intimacy and isolation sing an eerie harmony tuned by machines, where every citizen feels like she knows Oprah.

    “All along the watchtower
    Princes kept the view.
    While all the women came and went
    Barefoot servants, too.”–Bob Dylan
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