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In the Land of the Regressives

Get the Hell Out of My Country!

by DAVID MICHAEL GREEN

America is, in fact, exceptionally bad when it comes to any of a whole host of measures, such as health, longevity, economic equality, crime, pollution, etc.  Over there in Sweden, on the other hand, the application of socialist ideas has turned out slightly differently than what those nice conservatives in America would have you believe.  The ‘disaster’ of European socialism has led Europeans, especially Swedes, to kick America’s ass on basically any measure of quality of life one can imagine.

Uh-oh.

That whole fact thing that we in “the reality-based community” rely upon for intelligent analysis and policy prescription is almost always a disaster for regressives.  You know, sorta like, “Iraq has WMD, therefore we should invade, and it will be a great war, fast, easy, cheap, and it will bring democracy to the Middle East (even though all our other policies there are about preventing it at all costs, but pay no attention to that)”.  That kinda thing.  When that little riff smacked up against the ugly reality-based community known as the real world, it, uh – how shall we say it? – didn’t fare so very well.  Nor did the insistence that radical tax cuts for the rich would boom the economy and simultaneously actually increase revenues to the federal treasury.  Oops.  Now the very same people who made that promise are screaming about how we have to slash spending on health and education to make up for the massive debt that was produced when their fantasies met reality.  Then there’s global warming…

I could go on and on here.  There is a very real pattern, which twenty minutes of watching Glenn Beck would immediately reveal to anyone who didn’t already know better.  Regressives hide from reality.  It’s that simple.  Nor is it a mystery why.  Facts don’t support the policies they’ve already ferociously embraced before – not after – they’ve done their ‘analysis’, policies they cling to so strongly because they either benefit them personally or assuage their rampant fears.  That’s how it works, and that’s why this country is in the disastrous state that it’s in.  We’ve been following so-called conservative policies for thirty years now (yes, very much including those periods in which Democrats were in the White House and ruled Congress).  These policies are astonishingly destructive, which is why regressives have to pretend when it comes to reality, and which is why they almost always do, more so in this current era of Bachmann-Palin overdrive than ever.
I mention all this because a couple of folks reacted to the blizzard of comparative facts in my last piece in the usual regressive way:  through obfuscation, distortion and deceit.  No surprise there.  One particular response caught my eye, however, and nearly knocked me off my chair.  A couple of folks noted that, yes, America does poorly on all these statistics compared to other countries, but only if you count minorities.  If you compare American whites only, they argue, then the US does much better.

Excuse me?!?!  What’s that?!?!  Did you really just say that?!?!

It’s hard to imagine all the ways in which this is nonsensical.  More to the point, it’s difficult to determine whether at the end of the day it is characterized more by its unmitigated stupidity or its sheer offensiveness.

Why?  Let’s start with the most benign criticism we might imagine, which is that – Hello! – other countries have minorities too.  There are lots of folks who could be dropped from Sweden’s or France’s or Germany’s population if we are in the business of cherry-picking statistics.  Of course, if on the other hand you’re just desperately trying to win a debate that otherwise makes you look stupid, then you would only cherry-pick on one side of the comparison.

Second, where in the world do nice, shiny white folks get off making a point like this, anyhow?  Have they forgotten that there’s the small matter of how American minorities wound up in the condition they’re in to consider?  You don’t suppose that, say, four centuries of white-imposed slavery and Jim Crow might have had anything to do with that, do you?  I mean, I’m just thinking out loud here, and I know it might just be a really big coincidence and all, but just the same…

Third, what does race have to do with statistics that compare the health care systems, or the degree of government corruption, or the percentage of women in parliament, or the propensity to go to war, or carbon emissions, or the number of hours worked per week, or worker safety, or any number of other measures?  The answer, of course, is nothing.  At all.  None of those factors would be changed by omitting one portion of American society from the comparison, and all of them reveal how exceptional the US is – exceptionally backward, that is.

But, finally, and most egregiously, what the hell is up with this concept of comparing only part of a country, anyhow?  Are blacks and Hispanics somehow less American in the eyes of regressives?  Do they somehow not count for as much?  I think we all pretty much know the real answers to those questions, right-wing protestations that conservatives aren’t racist notwithstanding.

But let’s just go with their concept, shall we?  Just for fun.  What if there was one part of America that was dragging down the rest of us?  Shouldn’t we exclude them from the country, or at the very least treat them with the contempt they so fully deserve for polluting the otherwise unblemished exceptionalism of our nation?  Aren’t regressives really right about this?  Shouldn’t we ditch these losers, so the rest of us can shine like we deserve to?

For example, let’s talk about health.  What if I told you that a 21-factor health index statistic revealed that the following states are the ten most healthy in America, in order:  Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maine, Iowa, Utah, Hawaii, Nebraska and Connecticut?  Now what if I told you that the following states are the ten least healthy on that same ranked list:  Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico, Mississippi, and worst of all, Louisiana?

Might you notice anything interesting in that pattern?  For instance, that almost all of the most healthy states are blue states – including Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Connecticut, four of the bluest states in the union?  Or that Vermont and Massachusetts, the healthiest and third healthiest states in America, respectively, have the most socialized health care systems in the country?  Or perhaps you’d find it remarkable that among the ten least healthy states in the country there are no blue states and just two purple ones.  Indeed, with the exception of Utah, that list includes all our most conservative states, places like Texas and Mississippi and South Carolina.  They’re as red as they come.

So, how about it, my regressive friends?  Are you still on board for the idea of dropping the national detritus off the list in order to boost America’s statistics and restore its rightful comparative place?  Think how much better we’d look compared to the Europeans if we just ditched the Terrible Ten listed above!  What do you say?

Sorry, could you speak a bit louder?  I’m not quite hearing your response…

Oh well, no worries.  You’ll have plenty of other opportunities.  We’re just getting started.

Let’s look at some other measures of heath, for example.  How about obesity?  Here are the ten fattest states, in order:  Mississippi, West Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Missouri.  Not exactly paragons of liberalism, are they?  No, for that you’d have to look to the list of the least obese states, which are:  Hawaii, Utah, Florida, Montana, Arizona, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and best of all, Colorado.  Most of these are, of course, blue states.

Well, maybe we should look at infant mortality rates, that key indicator in measuring the quality of health in any given polity.  Those American states with the worst scores are:  Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, Delaware, Missouri and Arkansas.  On the other hand, those states who do best on this measure are:  Utah, Alaska, California, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New York.  Louisiana’s infant mortality rate is 10.3 per 1000 live births.  New York’s is less than half that, at 4.0.

Is anyone beginning to see a pattern here?

How about crime?  These ten states had the highest per capita incidence of violent crime in 2006:  South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico and Michigan.  On the other hand, the safest states were:  Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Utah, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, North Dakota, and best of all, Maine.  These lists are a bit more mixed than others we’ve seen, but there is still a clear tendency for the red states to be more violent.  Should we drop them from America?

But surely the conservative parts of America do better economically, right?  No doubt fiscal conservatism has raised the standard of living in red states, while the blue states are dragging down the US average, eh?  Here are the ten states in America with the highest median family income:  New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, Virginia and Illinois.  With the exception of purple Maryland and Virginia and red Alaska, they are all blue states.  And, since Alaska gets such a huge chunk of its income from federal government and oil giveaways, it shouldn’t even be on the list.  On the other hand, here are the ten poorest states in America:  North Carolina, Idaho, Alabama, Montana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia, Arkansas and bottom-feeder Mississippi.  See a pattern, anyone?  There’s not a single liberal state on that list.  Mississippi, with a median family income of $39,319, is only slightly better than half as rich as New Jersey, at $73,973.

Same is true of bankruptcies.  Those states with the highest per capita number of filings include:  Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio.  Those with the lowest are:  Wyoming, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Maine, Alaska and best of all Hawaii.  Once again, it is mainly Regressiveland that is dragging down the United States.

These figures are even clearer if we look at poverty.  If you want to go somewhere in America where the poverty rate is really high, here are your choices:  Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma.  On the other hand, those states sporting the lowest poverty rates are:  Delaware, Iowa, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota, Alaska, Connecticut, and best of all, New Hampshire.  It’s an extremely clear pattern.  The conservative states are the poorest.  In Mississippi, 21.6 percent of people are living below the poverty line (no wonder Governor Haley Barbour is running for president with that proud record), while in New Hampshire it’s about a third of that amount, at 7.6 percent.

Education is no different.  Here are the ten states in America with lowest percentage of folks having a high school diploma or better:  Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, California, Rhode Island, North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and least educated of all, Texas.  On the other hand, these states do best on that same measure:  Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska, Iowa and Washington.

How about per capita occupational fatalities?  Wyoming has the worst record, followed by Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Dakota, Mississippi, New Mexico and Alabama.  The safest ten states for workers are:  Maryland, Arizona, New York, California, Michigan, Maine, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and on top, Rhode Island.

Or divorce rates?  They are highest in Nevada, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi.  On the other hand, those states with the lowest rates are:  Connecticut, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Illinois, Massachusetts and Georgia.

The pattern repeats itself over and over, with respect to almost any indicator of social welfare or standard of living one cares to examine.  The upshot is simple:  You do not want to live in red states.  You will be poorer, fatter, less safe, less healthy, less married and less educated if you do.

In fact, about the only thing red states are better at is going to church.  The ten states with the highest percentage of children attending religious services each week are:  Mississippi, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Nebraska.  On the other hand, these states have the lowest rates on that same measure:  Connecticut, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Washington, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and lowest of all, Vermont.

Hmmm.  That’s interesting.  It would almost appear that god doesn’t love conservatives very much.  And imagine how badly she’d treat them if they weren’t so busy praying to her every week!

Oh well, that’s a subject for another essay.

But what we can say to our conservative friends right now is that, for once, they were correct (in addition to being right) about something.  Well, sorta, anyhow.  Yes, they were spot on in noting that there is a segment of America dragging the country down, and ruining its otherwise exemplary exceptionalism.

So, okay, fair enough.  Credit where credit is due.  Perhaps we can all agree with the folks on the right that America would be better off without these deadbeats diluting our national greatness, even though some of us used to think we’re all one country in it together and we should support each other.

Okay, okay, I concur.  Let’s get rid of them.  Let’s cut bait.  Let’s restore America’s greatness by ditching he precise group of people dragging the rest of us down.

Regressives, get the hell out of my country!

DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.  More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.