Please stop laughing at us.
If you don’t know, Atlanta was virtually shutdown for two and half days due to a whopping two inches of snow.
One of my fellow Atlantans, Rebecca Burns, wrote an excellent piece for Politico Magazine on why exactly that is.
The local line is that point at which Americans say that a problem is best addressed on a small scale. The forces of some larger form of government should butt out and let the locals handle things. After all, they know best, right? A problem addressed at a smaller level is less burdened by bureaucracy or by outsiders unfamiliar with the community.
Any student of American politics can tell you that this is one of our oldest debates. At what point should we allow a larger form of government to take control of an issue? It’s has faced its twists and turns, but it’s an issue still alive and well in U.S. politics.
One only needs to look at the current debate over America’s education standards, Common Core. In short, Common Core is a federal standard that outlines what American students should know in writing and math by the end of each grade. There are many arguments, but one of the biggest is that it takes control of education away from each state and places it in the hands of the national government and, for many, this is a bad thing.
The current debate over Medicaid expansion is also a great example. In the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, each state could decide for itself if Medicaid would expand within its borders. Many governors have refused the expansion. Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama, for example, used a large portion of his 2014 State of the State speech to express in no uncertain terms that allowing the expansion could cost his state billions in the long run should the federal government not live up to its promise to cover the majority of the cost.
Around Atlanta, finding that local line has begun to splinter the regional area. More and more, suburban communities seem to act as though they are at odds with Atlanta city proper or the main county of the metro area (new cities incorporating or even our recent baseball stadium debacle have seen these tensions flare up). Cooperation is breaking down. As the area continues to fragment, issues like solving the traffic problem have become even more difficult. Instead of having one unifying body, the area is forced to seek solutions among 60 different cities and more than 20 separate counties.
I apologize for what might seem like an unnecessary lesson in Atlanta’s local politics. I know for some outside the US, it might seem dizzying to see so many levels of government. It probably all seems unnecessary or like the opposite of all the less government rhetoric that’s been coming from America for the last 30 years.
But Atlanta illustrates a trend that I think we might need to reverse. Localizing things isn’t always the best option. There are times when we need to accept that a larger system with oversight over more than just one group or community might be a better answer than allowing several small groups to draw up numerous different plans. Sometimes, we need to work together.
Now those times are very issue specific. Yes, teachers in Montana might need to create lessons that cater to the needs of those students – lessons that might not work for kids in Maine.
But other times, larger leadership is needed. There are times when pulling from the talents of several communities, cities, counties, or even states will allow us to come up with better, more diverse solutions that improve things for us all, not just the few around us.
It also allows us to understand the needs of those from different walks of life. Often times, the people whom we interact within our community are more or less a reflection of ourselves. This might lead us to forget that others experience life in vastly different ways than we do.
And the more we allow ourselves to fragment, the more we risk having others fall through the cracks. If the best and brightest brick themselves up in places where they only focus on themselves, what then happens to anyone unfortunate enough to live outside those walls?
Now instead of walls, consider borders. This is not just an issue in my city or even my country. This is a global problem. By only focusing on those around us, we run the risk of doing real damage by not looking past those like us to see the needs of those who are less able to help themselves.
Atlanta's experience during the last week shows us the risk of ignoring those around us. Big problems highlight the need for cooperation. If it isn't there, things get stuck. In the coming months, we will be forced to spend some time asking ourselves how we can solve things. I hope that we find ways to work together instead creating further division.
My larger hope is that we can apply this lesson on a global scale. Too many of today's issues go beyond borders and divided against ourselves, we cannot stand.