I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve been everywhere, man. Crossed the desert’s bare, man. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. I always wonder how Johnny Cash could remember all of the cities and places that the hero of this song went to. Actually, the song is a lot older than the Cash version, having been written by Geoff Mack in 1959 about towns in Australia.
Over the last few weeks it seems like I’ve been everywhere, having traveled to meetings and conferences across the country. In fact, over my lifetime I have been almost everywhere – 4 continents, dozens of countries and every state of the Union. One of the things that I have learned by traveling a lot (and living in a lot of different places) is that people, places and states are unique and often very different; and what works in one place may not make much sense in another.
There is a “fact” trundling around the web that 50 percent of Americans have never lived more than 50 miles from their home town. There is no citation for this anywhere so I am apt to believe that it is little more than a tall tale; however, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of people have lived their whole life in one town or in one state. (See http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2008/12/17/who-moves-who-stays-put-wheres-home/).
The amazing lack of mobility in a continental nation is something that the Founding Fathers recognized to a great extent. This is why they created a Constitution and a system of government that pushed most decisions that impacted peoples’ lives down to the more local levels of government. It’s also why they put states in control of much of the Federal apparatus (remember Senators were appointed by the States and the President is elected not by the public but by the state-controlled Electoral College).
This wise decision by the Founders has been whittled away over time by successive Federal regimes both on the left and on the right. The current Administration is no different as it tries to impose regulations on more and more aspects of our lives. No wonder American’s are upset with Washington and no wonder compromise is so difficult in Congress.
Consider this. Over the years, the Federal government has presumed to know more that states about:
- How fast people should be able to drive – and for that matter the definition of what should be considered to be “drunk” driving (is not Montana a bit different than say Rhode Island);
- At what age people should be able to drink or smoke (I bet it’s not long off when the Feds will be determining when one should be able to have a soft drink);
- Who should be allowed to marry (again, people in New York City just think about this in a different way that those in more conservative areas of the country);
The big debate going on now is over how much the Federal government is going to control firearms policy across the states. As I sit in my house in Pennsylvania listening to the gun range down the street, I know people here are simply different than those who live in say San Francisco.
All of these examples are reasons why the congenial nature of the debate in Washington has broken down. When politicians are discussing truly Federal issues like those that surround foreign policy or say national parks or even whether or not we should be forced to strip and bend over when flying, there is little disagreement and somewhat reasonable policy decisions can be made. But when Washington wants to get into our bedrooms, our cars, and our pantries the differences between people who have grown up and lived in totally different environments come to bear.
Maybe politicians should spend less time in Washington and spend more time – like Johnny Cash – in Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocapillo, Baranquilla, and Perdilla….