How out of date are states?

Maybe it’s because I’m from Missouri, a  mishmash state with no clear identity except low self-esteem.

I wouldn’t say the same thing about the United States.  We are the world’s oldest living democracy and have special responsibilities around the globe.  Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were created right out of the pages of The Enlightenment.  We have genuine principals by which we try to live, something that is not particularly true for the state of Missouri or for that matter any other state.

I wondered even more-so when I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Bill Keller entitled States Gone Wild.  Keller writes:

No sooner had Arkansas adopted the country’s most regressive abortion law earlier this month — a ban after about 12 weeks of pregnancy — than North Dakota lowered its limit to as early as six weeks. Both measures are expected to be ruled unconstitutional, but here’s my question: Is North Dakota that much more conservative than, say, South Dakota, where abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks?

Reproductive-rightsAmerican states gone wild is somewhat like Balkanization gone wild.  Consistency is more of an accident than the result of a thought-out plan.  Imagine being a woman in North Dakota who is slightly more than six weeks pregnant and whose choice is to have an abortion.  You might think that you’re in luck because abortions are legal in South Dakota through the 24th week.  However there is only one clinic in South Dakota.  If you live in northwestern North Dakota, you have to drive 646 miles, nine hours and fifty-three minutes, just for an initial examination at that clinic in Sioux Falls, SD.

Keller points out:

Colorado has now decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Is Colorado really more libertarian than neighboring Wyoming, where possession can still get you a year in prison?

Pennsylvania allows same-sex couples to adopt children. Are Pennsylvanians so much more enlightened than the citizens of Ohio, where gay parents have hardly any rights?

And when the issue is life and death, he says:

Maryland has just decided to repeal the death penalty. Good for Maryland. But why not Delaware, next door, where the 17 inmates on death row are still biding time until their lethal injections?

Not everything is so discombobulated from state to state.  Living in Louisville may be very similar to Cincinnati; Portland, ME similar to Portland, OR.  But why should basic human rights such as civil rights, the freedom to marry who one wishes, and the guarantee of free and open access to voting be so different from state to state?  The proponents of states’ rights often call our fifty sub-sections laboratories for experimentation.  That can indeed be true; among the best examples is Massachusetts cobbling together a health care program based on an individual mandate.  Obama liked Mitt Romney’s idea so much that he copied it on the federal level.

While “laboratory for experimentation” sounds uplifting, in reality it might just as justifiably be called “Race to the Bottom.”  Which state can make abortion most restrictive or which state has the lowest regard for a clean environment?  As Keller says, “the state labs may cook up poisons — Arizona’s anti-immigrant statutes, or those new, restrictive abortion laws — and you pray that Congress or the courts will find an antidote.”

The bottom line is that the principles that form the foundation of our democracy and respect for human rights come from the federal government.  A suggested course of action: (1) stop fiddling at the state level with issues that are far too important and far-reaching for them to handle, and (2) encourage all three branches of the federal government to step forward and recognize that the 21st Century (and probably the two preceding centuries) require federal leadership to ensure the viability and the functionality of our system.