Legislating for the unthinkable…..
Congress seems unlikely to take any actions to prevent it. In fact at least one publication has some details on this and why it is so.
Not too long ago, it occurred to Nelson Polsby, a notable scholar of Congress, to explore why the institution had become so polarized. The University of California (Berkeley) professor, now deceased, took the long walk back through American political history, and he ended on the doorstep of Willis Haviland Carrier.
In 1902, freshly graduated from Cornell University, Carrier was in a fog-cloaked station, waiting for a train. The gloom spurred him to contemplate the properties of temperature and moisture. By the time his train arrived, the young engineer had invented air conditioning. The physics of cooling had been understood since ancient Romans piped water through their villa walls, but it was Carrier’s 1906 patent for an “Apparatus for Treating Air” that led to today’s near-ubiquitous climate-control systems, earning him the sobriquet, “the Father of Cool.”
Carrier’s invention, Polsby concluded, is the footing for the nation’s current political polarization. By stoking the historic migration of Republican voters from Rust Belt cities to Sun Belt refuges such as Scottsdale, Ariz., and St. Petersburg, Fla., “air conditioning caused the population of the Southern states to change,” he wrote in his 2002 essay, How Congress Evolves. “That change in the population of the South changed the political parties of the South,” he argued, and ultimately transformed Congress “into an arena of sharp partisanship.”
Indeed. And not just the south but the north and central and western states as well. The tech boom changed to composition of California and the northwest. And he goes on to show how congress (and I would add the country as a whole) is becoming more divided.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t always so. In 1982, when National Journal published its first set of voting ratings, 58 senators—a majority of the 100-member chamber—compiled records that fell between the most conservative Democrat (Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska) and the most liberal Republican (Lowell Weicker of Connecticut). Now it’s zero, zip, nada.
The House in 1982 was chock-full of “Boll Weevils” (conservative Democrats) and “Gypsy Moths” (liberal Republicans). That year’s National Journal ratings found 344 House members whose voting records fell between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. Today, the number is 16, up slightly from the seven in that category in 2010 but virtually the same as the 15 “betweeners” in both 2008 and 2009. As recently as 2006, when moderate Republican Jim Leach represented a House district in Iowa, the number was 42. The NJ ratings reflect an ideological sorting of Americans into communities that suit their political tastes: the average scores of members of Congress closely tracked how their districts voted in the 2008 presidential election.
Continued polarization could lead to awful consequences. “The country is in dire straits, and … we are tied down like Gulliver by the Lilliputians .… We can’t do squat,” said Keith Poole, an expert on political polarization from the University of Georgia. “The tea party whack jobs are right: We’re bankrupt.… But we’re just drifting, drifting toward the falls.”
Well at least one State now is working on passing legislation to contend with the very real possibility of having to go it alone. Wyoming is about to pass a bill just for this contingency.
State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.
House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.
The task force would look at the feasibility of
Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.
It wasn’t that long ago when such a thing seemed impossible and insane. I myself wrote a blog on this very subject a few years ago and had it panned. Now to me it not only seems reasonable but maybe even necessary to consider. And I wonder how many other states are taking – or will take in the near future – a serious look at this as well.