Dan Balz of the Washington Post strikes me as one of the least biased reporters in the mainstream media. So his lengthy, page-one article at the end of 2013 attracted my attention. It addressed the growing division between the red, mostly conservative, GOP-controlled states, and their blue, mostly liberal, Democrat-controlled counterparts. We are beginning to see not so much a United States as what Balz called “competing Americas”:
One is grounded in principles of lean and limited government and on traditional values; the other is built on a belief in the essential role of government and on tenets of cultural liberalism.
He found that thirty-seven states today are under unified party control. Republicans hold the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the legislature in twenty-three states; Democrats have full control in fourteen states. In twelve states power is divided between Republicans and Democrats. That leaves Nebraska, with a unicameral legislature and a Republican governor.
As a result, elected officials in the unified states “are moving unencumbered to enact their party’s agenda,” Balz added. A political scientist at Columbia University said that the degree of unified party control in the various states “is greater than at any time in more than half a century.”
Here are some of the differences. Red states clash with labor unions, seek lower taxes, real spending cuts, and fewer regulations. On social issues, they have moved to restrict abortion rights (to the extent that courts will let them) and to enact voter-identification laws. Blue states raise taxes, or aim to, so they can spend more money, mainly on education. (Public school teachers overwhelmingly vote Democratic.) The blues view abortion as a sacred right. They support Obamacare and love same-sex marriage. They see an expanded voter franchise as a winning strategy. As for gun control, it is a blue-state ambition everywhere.
Over the years the Democratic Party has moved left and keeps on doing so. Recall that the Old South, now a GOP stronghold, was once entirely Democratic (admittedly at a time when few blacks could vote). A friend of mine who grew up in Mississippi tells me that most of her college classmates had never seen a Republican. Today, Mississippi—along with Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee—is part of the solid-red South. The transformation of the Democratic Party advanced with George McGovern’s presidential nomination, and continues with the embrace of the sexual revolution in all its guises, most recently transgenderism.
The GOP, once epitomized by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Senator George Aiken of Vermont, has also changed. Vermont is integral to the blue northeast. Even New Hampshire (formerly red) is strongly trending blue. Recently, however, the GOP has cast aside its old strategy, once defined for me by Howard Phillips of the Conservative Caucus as an ambition to “lose slowly.” Ronald Reagan and now the Tea Party have changed that, much to the annoyance of the mainstream media, who prefer a GOP that quietly tags along in the Democrats’ wake.
The division of the parties in Washington has produced “gridlock and dysfunction” in Congress, according to Balz. I was sorry to see him put it that way, for the Constitution was in part designed for gridlock. But the media mindset decrees that Congress should pass a flood of new laws every year. One that doesn’t is called “unproductive.”
Anyway, there really are red and blue states. Ticket-splitting voters are disappearing. Most voters understand that if they want lower taxes, for example, they will vote Republican. Union members, if they are to preserve their privileges—chief among them: legally shutting out at the factory gate those who would be happy to work for less—know which party is their friend. College professors—the tenured variety is the most privileged class in America—understand that the professoriate depends on ever-higher government spending. So they vote Democratic.
Finally the people who bring us the news, and therefore are in a position to shape it, are overwhelmingly liberal. But usually they try to disguise their prejudice. (Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is a notable exception. He proclaims his leftism, even in the news columns.)
The present arrangement is unstable. The liberal mind, preferring an ideal world to the real one, is satisfied with good intentions and waves off unintended consequences. So it supports minimum wage increases, thereby increasing unemployment, and driving some people out—maybe to red states.
An emerging rule seems to be that whenever blue-state politicians have the power to do what they really want to do—and to hell with unintended consequences—they proceed at their peril. In contrast, red-state politicians, if left to their own devices, will expand free markets, thereby enhancing their own states’ prosperity.
Another rule: The simpler the issue, the more perilous it is likely to be for Democrats. Take abortion, for example, or gun control. Encouraged by the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, at the beginning of his second term, Obama decided that cracking down on guns would be popular. But the issue and drawbacks to such policies are easy to discuss and understand, and the NRA soon gained the upper hand. As to abortion, the constitutional rigidities imposed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade eventually worked to the advantage of the GOP, creating a permanent activist core in red states.
The most obvious issue that is both unpopular and hard to disguise is the insatiable blue-state hunger for tax increases. The New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, is the latest test case. His goal is to punish the rich by raising their taxes. So let him do it, I say. George Will saw how instructive an envy-driven politics could be. Drive the rich out of Manhattan and see how the New York Times likes that! “Three years and people will be begging to return to something else,” Will said.
De Blasio will need New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve those tax increases, however, and that would be unwise for a presidential aspirant. So de Blasio may not prevail. Then again, it’s to his advantage that income tax rates are already high in New Jersey, blocking an obvious escape route for high-rolling NYC residents. In Connecticut, former Governor Lowell Weicker initiated the state’s income tax in 1991, showing just how dumb Republicans can be. Connecticut is the only state to have done this in the last thirty-four years.
Complex issues help the Democrats—at least initially. Budgets qualify. For years, GOP politicians were fooled into thinking that “deficit reduction” meant spending cuts, when it always means tax increases. Thanks goodness John Boehner knows that. Health care is another complex issue, which is one reason Democrats (exclusively) enacted Obamacare. But we now know that Obamacare is hurting the Democrats. Rarely can they see beyond their own wishful thinking.
Given the unpopularity of liberal policies, the blue-state solution is to bring in the Mexicans and put them on the voter rolls. An estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, more than three quarters of them Hispanic, now call the U.S. home—potentially an electoral bonanza for Democrats. Red-turned-blue California has shown that. A 2012 Pew survey found that among non-naturalized Latino immigrants, 31 percent identify as Democrats, 4 percent as Republicans. Most won’t answer the question, or call themselves “independents.”
Increasing the size of government works in the same way. Government employee unions support Democratic interests. Maryland and D.C. are choc-a-bloc with government workers; so is northern Virginia. Virginia is the only southern state to lean blue, having once been solidly red. Maybe West Virginia will go in the opposite direction. Residents know which party wants to shut down coal mining, and it isn’t the GOP.
Foreign policy is not an important red-blue issue. Voters pay little attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s peregrinations in the Middle East. The media love these things, but last September voters let it be known that they are not interested in a new (Syrian) foreign entanglement. I have long thought that the U.S. involvement in two unwinnable wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—hurt both President George Bush and John McCain, and helped Obama. Bush’s popularity tumbled well before the economic crisis in the fall of 2008.
One final issue: Why does the intelligentsia support modern liberalism—best thought of as the maximum level of socialism that democracy will bear? The question is rarely asked. A key blue-state pursuit seems to be policies that are implicitly anti-Christian. How come feminists all over the West are so pro-abortion, and how come they say nothing about the need for marriage to precede childbearing if “inequality” is their real concern? For some reason, appeals to Christian doctrine as our missing public-policy ingredient are unacceptable. That would bring back the abhorred “Christian right,” which disappeared along with Jerry Falwell.
The intelligentsia also despise market forces, which deprive them of what they see as their rightful role—deciding what shall be bought and sold and at what price. That’s also what Russian communism tried to do. Planning would solve all problems and the intellectuals would assume their rightful role as the ruling class.
It didn’t work. Today, our best hope against our own red revolutionaries lies with the red states.