Tuesday October 16, 2012

It is instructive to look at that now famous swing state map posted everywhere online and think about where we are as a nation and where we might be headed.

We've always had stark divisions, of course, from day one of the republic. New England, the middle Atlantic states and the Southern states were bitterly divided on such issues as slavery and whether the young United States should ally with to Britain or France.

The idea of seceding from the Union came up more than once in our history, New England being first to talk of leaving during the early 1800s. Two, three or more nations joining Canada on the North American continent probably would have resulted in more warfare, although considering the historically bloody Civil War we did have, we all might have fared better with a large blue and red state or two both east and west of the Mississippi.

A European-style social safety and smaller military in the Northeast and West Coast and market-genuflecting governments in the Old South and a large region of the current Midwest and Mountain states. Or something like that. But we do know what we have now -- the beautiful, good, bad and ugly.

Today, the West Coast and Northeast are solid Blue, meaning Democratic and more comfortable with a strong role for government and moderate to liberal in outlook. The South and states straight north from Texas to North Dakota and over into the upper Mountain region are solid Republican, meaning tending toward anti-government thinking and conservative on social issues.

States like Florida with its transient population, and border states like Virginia, along with lower Mountain States like Nevada and Arizona, are often the only real toss-up states on national issues and in elections.

Since it doesn't appear that this deadlock will end soon, maybe it's time for both sides to find new ways to allow each state to pursue its own course, at least on domestic issues. That may sound impossible, but the health care reform act, for instance, allows leeway in insurance exchanges tailored to each state -- along with other options -- and that format could serve as a model for most federal legislation.

Republicans say they love competition and the marketplace and hate the federal government making blanket decisions for all. Democrats want to ensure all are treated equally nationwide and have the same opportunities. But neither side is getting what it wants today and likely won't for many years.

Regularly allowing states more latitude on most programs, while abandoning attempts to cut taxes to the point no state receives adequate funding, might be a better approach than what we have today. Presumably, allowing greater freedom to choose a unique path except in a few, agreed-upon instances, would prompt Republicans toward approving an adequate level of taxation to maintain a great nation with great requirements.

Of course, that would take that forgotten element, compromise, and a willingness to share with all fellow citizens. It might be difficult but it sure beats a civil war.