Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The(se) United States of America

Recently, I read a book that asked the question is it 'THE' United States of America or "THESE" United States of America? On a lark, I asked the quetion on my Facebook page, with absolutely no introduction or explanation. An overwhelming majority of responders to my unscientific poll said "THE". One person picked up on the true meaning of the difference, while a couple debated semantics or grammar. (One person did question where the question was leading and guessed correctly in follow-up emails). One person waffled by saying it depends on who is saying it and one person simply said "these".

The statement hit me because I have been reading a lot about states' rights. Are we, as Americans, part of a larger nation - joined together over two centuries, or are we a collection of independent states, a loose confederation of individual geographies, brought together when it fits the current conversation? I've listened at Tea Parties as I tried to understand the movement (or group of movements). The movement reminds me of a feeling I had several years ago, a feeling that individual people count when it comes to the government, that we can make a difference.

As I mulled over this question, I looked at the Constitution. That document written by "We the people" is the foundation of our government and we should always refer to it when we have questions. That document clearly lays out what we should be doing. I discussed this with one person and reminded her that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and the Constitution wasn't written until 1786, ten years later. Now from my memory during the 10 year interim, Americans were governed by the Articles of Confederation. While it provided some unity, "each state retain(ed) its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right."

After ten years, a group of people decided that the loose confederacy of states wasn't working. A new constitution was written to "provide for the common defence, (sic)  promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." The goal was simply to form a more perfect Union.

In a discussion with a self-proclaimed Liberal yesterday, she mentioned the 10th amendment in the same discussion as the tea parties. This amendment basically says that anything not covered in the Constitution is left up to the states. So what is a federal issue and what is a states' issue?

Well, it's clear that national defense is a federal issue. Supposed that after the attacks on the twin towers on 911, SC had decided not to send troops. After all, our state wasn't attacked. (I'm ignoring the issue that some people think we shouldn't have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq - if that bothers you think of Pearl Harbor and 12/7/1941). The problem comes in the general Welfare. Does that mean that some of us in SC have to prop up those on the left coast who may have made some silly laws?

I have to say that I come down on the side of states' rights and that the best thing the federal government can do is to stay out of the way. The current healthcare debate is one example. But I also believe that there are times where the federal government HAS to step in to help all of us.

What is most reassuring to me, is the knowledge that our generation is not the first to face this debate. Over 200 years ago, a group of very smart men gathered together and realized that they could not answer all of the questions in a way that would satisfy all people for all times. Maybe the smartest thing they did was to NOT try to solve all of the problems, to admit they didn't know it all.

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