John Edwards infamously referred to “two Americas” in his much-parodied address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
While the speech was largely lauded as a disaster, recent events reveal that it was perhaps more prophetic than pertinent. Specifically, Indiana’s recent passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act has provoked boycotts from more progressive parts of the country, highlighting the rapidly expanding cultural divide engulfing these United States.
While no law is exempt from criticism, the boycotts represent a particularly dangerous, and absurd, attempt at activism.
Connecticut became the first state to boycott Indiana over what it deemed “discrimination.” Soon after, both the city of Seattle and the state of Washington followed suit, anxious to be recognized in the avalanche of rebuke resulting from a law embraced by 19 other states.
But the avalanche didn’t stop there. Companies threatened to stop expanding and, in typical fashion, the media repeatedly threw gas on the manufactured fire. Even rock band Wilco joined in the act, refusing to play the Hoosier State in solidarity with its homosexual population.
For some reason, Indiana’s attempt to respect the First Amendment struck a serious nerve. While Connecticut and Seattle are perfectly within their rights to ban government-financed travel to the state of Indiana, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For the sake of fun, let’s take these boycotts to their logical, and devastating, conclusion.
Let’s suppose, for instance, that Utah chose to boycott Colorado over its legalization of marijuana, and Mississippi boycotted Vermont over its extremely liberal abortion laws.
Next California boycotts Tennessee over its loose gun laws, and Tennessee California due to its liberal immigration policy.
Before long, peevish principles have destroyed what was once the greatest political experiment in the history of the modern world, dissolving the United States into a thorny patchwork of fiefdoms separated not by mountains or oceans, but social issues. Commerce grinds to a halt, national defense is likely compromised, and before long John Edwards’ two Americas are a reality. Not in the way that he meant it, of course, but two Americas nonetheless. Or three. Or four. Or five. Or fifty.
No matter the number, the federalism so central to American achievement is toppled one by one, like dominoes tapped by the heavy finger of knee-jerk activism. After all, the beauty of states’ rights lies in the fact that united they are stronger than the sum of their parts. In order to remain united, however, they must often agree to disagree.
Hence the history of states largely deciding the extent to which they enforce federal rulings on social issues. From gay marriage to the legalization of marijuana to restrictions on abortion, there is great elasticity when it comes to matters of morality among the 50 individual states.
Yet for some reason, Indiana’s right to protect religious freedom has ruffled a disproportionate amount of feathers. “United States” is quickly becoming a misnomer. Federalism is no longer a value so much as an obstacle to an agenda.
The Founding Fathers would no doubt be dumbfounded — after all, the text of the First Amendment is pretty damn clear. Yet somehow two governors and a mayor can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s a good thing the statesmen of yesteryear were far nobler than present-day political grandstanders.
Consider, if you will, the ramifications of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention acting as catty and juvenile as the politicians, musicians, and executives currently plaguing Indiana Rights (while Rhode Island did in fact boycott the convention, it was over concerns of federal power, a valid excuse in the wake of its recent freedom from the grips of a tyrannical king). What would have happened had Connecticut’s Roger Sherman refused cooperation with Virginia’s George Mason over the popular vote, or if the entire affair had dissolved over the singular issue of the Bill of Rights? There would have been no Great Compromise, and America may well have gone the way of other, less fortunate post-colonial experiments.
Actually, there’s no reason it can’t still happen. If America is to truly live up to her reputation as a “melting pot,” the coastal states will have to learn to tolerate their cultural differences with the Heartland, and vice versa. If our strength lies in our diversity, as the left is so fond of proclaiming, then state versus state boycotts over singular issues will almost certainly make us weaker.
So hit the stage Wilco, whether it’s your America or not, and if you want to extend an olive branch, play “Free Bird.”