When Republicans Get Their Way

As the House Republicans demand ransom for not exploding the full faith and credit of the United States, it is important to remember what happens when they actually succeed.  For Republicans have of course held the reins of power many times.  When we've had a Republican President, the budget deficit and national debt have ballooned.  Whether from reckless spending decisions, a lack of investment in infrastructure and tax-paying jobs, unnecessary war-making, or from reducing revenues through favored tax cuts, the federal budget is less in balance when a Republican walks away from Washington.

But it's not that clear-cut that Presidents are fully responsible for bad spending decisions and inadequate revenue.  After all, there is a Congress too as well as many economic forces out of the hands of either.  This morning though, I came across an interesting set of statistics at the PCTC Blog by Milt Shook.  Mr. Shook lays out a rather compelling case for not jumping too soon at the remedies offered by the GOP.

He does this by comparing the relative health of red and blue states.  For this discussion, "red states" are those that have voted at least three of the last four elections for a Republican President.  "Blue states" are those that have voted at least three of the last four elections for a Democrat.  Given their heavy bent in either direction, you can bet that their state officials -- governors and legislators -- are predominantly the same party.

I took Mr. Shook's statistics and put them into colored graphs to make the comparisons more vivid.  Let's begin with the economy.


For as long as I can remember, Republicans have claimed to be the party of fiscal responsibility.  Most people I know claim to be social liberals but fiscal conservatives.  Conservativism belongs to the GOP by rights, doesn't it?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  When they have full control of state governments, what are the results? Are citizens better off because of their economic austerity and choices?

If you look at the unemployment rates across the country, red and blue states fare about the same. The top row shows the 10 states with the least unemployment.  The bottom row shows the 10 with the most unemployment.

But when you start looking deeper at those jobs -- pay, poverty and benefits -- the differences become more stark.

Red states predominate the low income, high poverty stratas. Wyoming among the red states fares well on all three measures and North Dakota looks pretty good. But the rest are pretty abysmal, except for Alaska which augments citizens' income with generous oil industry checks every year.  Republicans also pursue anti-union policies, including right-to-work laws.  Without unions, workers fare worse, as we can see by comparing union membership and per capita income here.

Notice that the red/blue divide is sharpest in terms of union membership. Low union membership in South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Idaho correlates directly with the poverty and low income charts above.  On the economically healthy side, there is also much overlap between states with high union membership and high per capita income.

If Republican economic initiatives are good things, wouldn't the states they govern be more prosperous than blue states?

If there is a theme that runs through GOP talking points, it is personal responsibility, small government and being "makers not takers".  Each year, the federal government publishes total taxes paid by each state's residents and the amount the federal government spends in those states -- whether for entitlement benefits, poverty programs, infrastructure or businesses contracting with the government.  Here are the most recent results:

It's pretty clear that the blue states, those following Democratic policies for the most part, are paying more and receiving less.  Who are Paul Ryan's famous "takers"? The 47% candidate Romney slammed to his big donors? It appears they are the red states themselves.

So what do Democrats do that leads to prosperity?  Nothing in the short run.  The big difference is in vision, investing in people and infrastructure that provides the foundation for a healthy business economy.  If you scrimp on education and let your roads, bridges, telecommunications and power systems deteriorate, you set in motion an economic death spiral.


Traditionally, the GOP has presented itself as the law and order party.  Take no prisoners; capital punishment; minimum sentences and no clemency.  During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush Sr. made a big deal out of Governor Dukakis' release of felon Willie Horton.  It was the image people most remember from that campaign; the one that said the Massachusetts governor was soft on crime. Take a look at the states that still use the death penalty and the divide between red and blue is just as clear. Even clearer if you look at recent executions.  Ohio and Washington are the only blue states that have executed prisoners in the past few years.

It's no surprise that gun ownership is lowest in blue states and highest in red ones.  In fact, all 10 of the states with the highest rates of gun ownership vote red. If the gun advocates were correct, we would expect those same states to be the lowest in violent crime.  Yet that's not at all what we see.  Maryland is the outlier here, with few guns but lots of murders and violent crimes.  But states that have both high gun ownership and high violent crime and murders include Mississippi, Alaska, Arkansas, and Alabama. And that's just looking at the top 10.

If GOP policies around crime worked, red states would be safer.  The data tells us otherwise.


The "Values Voter" convention just ended with Senator Ted Cruz voted a big favorite of "values voters".  Republican candidates talk a lot about family values. They oppose gay rights, abortion, even contraception often.  All this to protect families, they tell us.  Republicans tend to be more Protestant and more church-going.  When compared to Democrats, they talk much more about their values.  The 112th Congress voted 69 times in fact to restrict abortion rights. And the 112th is best known for getting very little done.  But abortion they did spend time on.

At the state level, laws making abortion nearly impossible have proliferated in states with Republican governors and legislatures.  Minors are increasingly restricted from accessing contraception and abstinence education is required in the schools.  For a complete listing of state-by-state restrictions, see the Guttmacher Institute.

So how well is all that working?

Not so well.  In spite of all their efforts to hide sex and sexuality from their citizens, especially their young ones, the red states sport the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the highest divorce rates.  In fact, of the 10 states with the lowest divorce rates, 9 are blue states.


There are similar patterns in Education and Health Care.  Red states spend less on education and have lower graduation rates.  Refusing to invest in the next generation is key to their continuing downward spiral economically.

In health care, more people in red states are uninsured and health indicators like cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes are also worse. Sadly, 26 red and purple states have chosen to deny their citizens access to health care through the Medicaid expansion.


In several of our states, the Republicans control the governor's office and both houses of the legislature. They are fully capable of implementing all of their best ideas throughout their states.  They have held this power for many years, enough for us to take a hard look at results.

And when we look at their results, it does not bode well. I for one don't want the United States to look more like Alabama than Connecticut.