The Federation of the Big Apple (and Florida)

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Over the weekend, the people elected to pass the 2011 federal budget six months ago finally got around to earning their paychecks. And the Cherry Blossom Festival parade was saved!

One of the main sticking points was an ideological battle over Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health organization whose main clientele are poor and female. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and low-income women who need cancer screening and family planning counseling will continue to receive it.

Ultimately, the budget impasse dragged on for two reasons: One, we the people continue to elect representatives who got us into this mess in the first place. As Albert Einstein famously said, you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.

Two, we have become totally divorced from the notion of America, land of the free.

We are increasingly less free. Maybe you’ve noticed. There is a law, rule, policy, and regulation about everything these days. (Not to mention a hidden camera lurking at every turn.) You need a lawyer just to figure out where to park your car.

We are less free because we are less tolerant and more selfish. Not surprisingly, it shows in our politics.

America is a big, diverse place filled with people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, races, sexual orientation, gender, values, and political ideologies. It’s only natural that in a country of 300 million individuals we’re going to have different lifestyles and ways of looking at things. We’re going to disagree about a lot.

That’s the promise of America: that although we look, act, and think differently, one thing we all share is a belief that we are entitled to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as we each see fit. Like my dad always says, that’s why they make vanilla and chocolate ice cream—different people have different tastes.

Which is why the fight over Planned Parenthood was such a farce. Some might say, “Well I don’t believe in abortion and I don’t want my tax money supporting an organization that performs them.” (Federal law already prohibits funding abortions; Planned Parenthood uses private donations for the 3 percent of its work related to the procedure.)

Well, I don’t have children, so what if I said I don’t want the government to pay for public education, they’re your kids, you figure it out? Should a pacifist be allowed to claim a tax deduction for his anti-war views so that his tax dollars are not used to support combat operations?

My point is that America is a big tent and we all have to accept that the government is going to pay for things you may not personally support. It’s called tolerance. Without it there is no such thing as freedom.

The alternative is for the United States to split apart into smaller, more like-minded countries, such as the Federation of the Big Apple (and Florida), the Bible Belt Kingdom, and the Republic of Texas. All in favor?

No, I didn’t think so.

I had the great fortune to serve on the 9/11 Commission. Because of the extraordinary leadership displayed by the Commission’s co-chairs, Tom Kaine and Lee Hamilton, a Republican and a Democrat respectively, ours was a truly non-partisan effort. Despite what divides us, at the end of the day we are all Americans. That was the mindset that guided our work.

It needs to be the mindset that guides our choice of representatives, words, laws, and policies. Or we forfeit the right to complain if next year’s Cherry Blossom Festival parade is cancelled.  


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