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Robach and Rousseau

February 18, 2015

Joe Robach isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Jean Jacques Rousseau, but there’s a thread there.

Remember Rousseau? He said the “general will” of the people is always right and that if government doesn’t listen to it, people have a right to change things.

Our Founding Dads really admired Rousseau. He was behind their belief that American government ought to be completely overhauled every generation or two. Jefferson was hard core about it. He said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

This quote is often misappropriated as a rationale for completely unfettered gun rights and other crazy causes, but the real spirit of it, no kidding, lives in Joe Robach, who has proposed a referendum on splitting the upstate from the down.

In the past, when George Winner and Randy Kuhl were pushing this idea, it was inspired primarily by the belief among upstaters that their taxes were high because of people on welfare in New York City.

This was a case when the “general will” was a bit off. That’s because, even then, the upstate didn’t come close to pulling its own weight in terms of generating wealth for the state. New York City was always the engine of the state economy and far and away the main source of state tax revenue. But nobody upstate would even listen to such an argument.

Today the balance of payments is even more exaggerated. The truth of the matter is that the upstate is a giant suck on the downstate. And if the downstate could rid itself of obligation to support the economically-depressed upstate region, the resulting entity would surpass Maryland and Connecticut as the highest per capital wealth state.  Mayor DeBlasio would have all the money he wants for Pre-K and Long Island school shares would really be generous.

Now this might sound like the definitive way to shoot down the separatist movement upstate – except for one thing. Today’s separatism is less about the fisc than the right of upstaters to live the way they want to live. Right now, right out of Rousseau, upstaters are angry about being told by a downstater-dominated government what they can and cannot do.

The SAFE Act and fracking ban are examples of policies that were imposed on upstaters by downstaters – so upstaters think. Downstaters and government officials dismiss this notion, but that’s part of the problem, too.

This separatist talk, for now, is just talk. But if other issues develop, it could build momentum. If Robach wanted to stir things up and he had a decent political team he could throw in Common Core or maybe the corruption thing using Silver as the poster boy. It would be easy to develop a campaign that would resonate with a significant percentage of upstaters.

It’s interesting to note that in Rochester, Robach’s hometown, there’s already simmering resentment that Buffalo got all the attention from the Governor when Rochester actually has worse economic indicators. Having Lt. Gov. Duffy was supposed to make a difference, but nobody in the community can point to anything that resulted. In their mind, it was all for show.

Silver isn’t the only poster boy here. Cuomo, despite a real effort on his part to promote the upstate, is unpopular in all but a few pockets of the upstate. Again, a smart separatist campaign with a decent amount of funding could catch on – we’re convinced of that.

We’re not advocating it. It’s just that when we take a big step back and think about it, it’s exactly the kind of thing the Founding Dads envisioned. If people are feeling as though their government doesn’t represent them anymore, it’s not only their right to do something about it, it’s their duty and obligation.

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