Monday, January 6, 2014

States first, country second

America's crazy quilt

Posted on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 12:43 PM

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"The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and establishment of the new constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism."

John C. Calhoun wrote this in 1851, 10 years before the Civil War. Calhoun was from South Carolina. His ardent support of slavery (he called it "a positive good" rather than "a necessary evil") helped make Calhoun one of the country's greatest advocates of states' rights.

There is a lot about our current politics that would have rung Calhoun's states' rights bell.

On New Year's Day, Colorado's recreational marijuana dispensaries opened for business. Citizens in that state can now buy pot the way we buy craft beer in Indiana. There's just one catch: the United States government still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Pot smokers are breaking federal law; it's just that the feds are choosing to look the other way. This, as was pointed out in The Guardian, represents the greatest (or weirdest) disjunction between state and federal drug laws since New York turned its back on alcohol prohibition in 1923.

Meanwhile, if you're gay, there are 18 states where you can be legally married to a person of the same sex (provided a judge's ruling in Utah stands). So if you live in New Hampshire or New Mexico, Maryland or Maine, your relationship with a same-sex partner will be recognized.

Not, however, in states like Indiana, where not only is same-sex marriage illegal, but state legislators are trying to write marriage only between a man and a woman into the state constitution. Making matters odder still is the fact that our neighboring state Illinois will be honoring gay marriages in June, meaning that couples in Chicago, IL can be married, but couples in East Chicago, IN cannot.

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And lest we forget: there is the crazy quilt of Obamacare, (aka the Affordable Care Act) to contend with. Twenty-five states have agreed to accept the ACA's deal for Medicaid expansion. Hundreds of thousands of people who have been unable to afford health insurance in states like Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan will now be covered.

These states, you may notice, surround Indiana. But guess what? Since Gov. Mike Pence is a longtime foe of Obamacare, people in Indiana who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid won't get it for any other reason than because of where they live.

All these issues point to one, overriding theme: relationships between states and the federal government are in greater flux now than at any time since before the Great Depression, and maybe even since the Civil War. Living in Indiana is on the verge of meaning more in terms of your rights and benefits than it does to live in the supposedly United States of America. It's what John Calhoun called a period of transition and, like he said, we've got all the "uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism" that comes with it.

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