Blue State: Life is Good. Red State: Life Sucks. Why?

I’ve wondered about this before, but’s post pointed out some recent studies that were collected about the huge disparity in health care, income, education, and plain old quality of life between “Blue” states and “Red” states, and offers an interesting analysis.

First, some examples, none of which are going to be all that surprising, really.

PERRspectives Blog: Health Care the Latest Red State Failure

The same dismal pattern applies to a wide array of measures of social dysfunction and pathology. 8 of the top 10 states with the highest murder rates are squarely in Red America. 7 of the 10 states with the lowest murder rates were in the Kerry column. (Interestingly, six of those states have no death penalty statute.) The 10 states with the highest divorce rates in 1998 all went for Bush in 2004. Red states constituted 9 on the top 10 in terms of out-of-wedlock births. And the Bible Belt has the greatest percentage of births to women under age 20, with the worst 15 states nationwide all among in the GOP ranks. By almost any measure of societal breakdown that so-called Republican “values voters” decry, it is Red State America where moral failure is greatest.

There are, of course, many explanations for the abysmal lifestyles and living conditions in the Republican strongholds. Poverty, age and homogeneity clearly matter. But when it comes to living standards, culture, politics and public policy are at least as important.

If the Republican electoral map closely correlates with social dysfunction, it is frequent church attendance which strongly predicts Republican party preference. Which is probably a good thing. Because if you live in a state that voted for George W. Bush, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

A long time ago in the Reagan years, one of the catchphrases going around when things started to go South was “the fairness issue.” Voters, especially female voters, were unhappy with Republican lawmakers because they were perceived to be uncaring and only interested in passing laws to benefit big business, their corporate fundraisers. Women were believed to lean Democratic because Democrats were perceived as the more sympathetic to families, the needy, and the middle class. But then that perception got turned on its head when Republicans allied with the religious conservatives and assumed the benefits (but not the responsibilities) of being the so-called “family values” or “family-friendly” party. And many female voters, getting caught up in a spiritual fervor, went along with the “strong father” model of family, spiritual, and community life. But if they lived in a “red” state, those women have seen in their own families what happens when health care, wages, social services, and a whole host of other quality issues have been undermined or held back by conservative lawmakers. And if they lived in a “blue” state, they might not have noticed that they were significantly better off than their “red” state sisters, even though they felt like the isolated minority keeping the godless secularist culture at bay.‘s Glenden Brown wonders “what’s the matter here?” He notes that by any measure of social pathology, “biggest problems are among the strongly Republican and culturally conservative states.”

Utah stands out in contrast to other Republican strongholds. We rank better in both health care and education than the Southern states, but our ranking in health care is due to a extremely high rating on a single variable – otherwise we’d be in lower 3rd or upper 4rth quartile.

As I reflect on almost 8 years of being a citizen advocate at the state legislature, I realize that by its nature conservative politics and governing philosophy disempower and discourage involvement by ordinary citizens, which results in social policies that exacerbate rather than alleviate social pathology. Elected conservatives tend to ignore any evidence not presented by conservative groups – thus research from universities, mainstream advocacy groups and progressive or liberal groups is flat out ignored. Polling done by media outlets is automatically discounted as having a liberal bias. As a result, many people find dealing with these elected official so frustrating, they simply stop being involved in government. Conservative activists are the only group that remain engaged – so elected officials hear only one perspective, they pass even more legislation that alienates the majority and the cycle deepens.

Conservative PR about liberal media bias, and liberal colleges and liberal groups “immunizes” conservative officials – they believe any information other than that produced by conservative groups is inherently biased and untrustworthy. The collision between conservative ideology and reality is painful to watch – as conservative public policy produces almost exactly the opposite of the stated goals. (I.e. – tax cuts for the wealthy have led to growing income disparity, increased pressure on the middle class and curtailed options for economic advancement among the overwhelming majority of Americans – trickle on not trickle down.)

That “single variable” is the low rate of certain kinds of cancer, mostly traceable to the healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking, uncaffeinated lifestyle of the typical religiously observant Utah resident (and we’re not talking Seventh-Day Adventists here).  However, it’s more than made up for by the higher rate in other kinds of cancers and health problems that also reflect Utah norms and mores. For example, Utah tends to lead the nation in the consumption of prescription anti-depressants.


So the gist is — conservatives, when in power, tend not to believe information provided by non-conservative sources. To the detriment of all.

We know that, we’ve seen that. And progressives tend to try to persuade the other side through… persuasion, facts, data, and statistics, which won’t work because conservatives automatically discount anything that’s not either Bible-based or out of the approved neocon talking points playbook. It’s either spiritually bankrupt (we see that in the struggles within the Anglican Communion) or weak – on terror, on crime, on whatever the current bugaboo of the decade is. Remember when there used to be Commies under the bed? It’s not so different now that it’s terrorists. The scarves seem to be a different color, that’s all.

Conservatives ignore information that could help them make decisions to improve things for their constituents if that information doesn’t come with a bright red, preferably Religious Right  pedigree with the Big Business seal of approval. Things like global warming, worsening public health when comparing the US to other countries, and anti-AIDS initiatives get the big “pooh-pooh, nothing new” treatment, and of course this country will never be sexually healthy as long as conservatives are running the show. And other countries won’t have a chance to overcome AIDS or overpopulation as long as a bunch of political appointee prudes control the pursetrings for international aid programs.

We seem to be exporting our prudery with some sort of silver ring thing dingus, which is rather a shame.  Also, it sounds distressingly like a CTR ring, which brings us back full circle (in a way). This post started because I read a progressive group blog based in Utah (the poor bastards).

Anyway, conservative politicians in “red” states apparently don’t care about poor people, tending to blame the poor for their poverty, the hungry for their hunger, and the needy for their need, because all these problems are just due to laziness and the lack of sufficiently provident forebears who could provide them with white skin, a trust fund, and an inheritable marina slip in the local yacht club.

Now that I think of it – this tendency not to believe in anything that wasn’t received from On High (whether from the Bible, or the equally inerrant Talking Points) operates in a lot of other areas besides health care, education, social services, and the like. There’s a lot more out there to be screwed up royally, which won’t be easily fixed once the conservatives are bounced out of office some more.

Like the Department of Justice. So many scandals. So little time.
Like the onslaught and aftermath of Katrina and her sister Rita.

Like vast stretches of the military, where a number of religious conservative nutbars with rather disturbingly intolerant views won’t be nearing retirement age anytime soon (enough).

Like Iraq, which keeps going and going and going, but ju-u-u-ust long enough so the worst part of the endgame will fall on the shoulders of the next President, and not that idiot that slithered into office on a wing and a prayer (and a chad and a conservative Supreme Court).

Like Abu Ghraib, which seems to not be going away after all (You rock, Sy Hersh!).

Like fair and equitable and humane immigration reform, which will probably result in keeping a lot of people out of this country who might otherwise grow up to be patriots and soldiers and seekers-out of the truth (You rock, Maj. General Antonio Teguba, US Army (Ret.). And so does your dad!).

It seems like religious conservatives need a new moniker – one that reflects how they  operate and how that might affect people that vote for them. They’re not the “Know-Nothing” party… but maybe they’re the “Refuse to Know Anything (That Ain’t  in the Bible) Party.” And their erstwhile brethren, the hardline Republicans that specialize in lipservice in front, and dismissive snark in back, should be the “Truthiness” wing of that party.

And as long as the neocons control the Red States, the people there will remain alienated from their own government, putting up with bad public health care, underfunded social services, worsening crime, rising housing costs and gasoline prices, and shrinking purchasing power. They’ll go on refusing to question authority or even to listen to another point of view that isn’t somehow “godly” or “good ole boy Southern” enough. Their leaders will cynically continue to exploit them because they can be depended on not to bother even showing up at the polls.  And well-meaning religious people who threw their lots in with the “big tent” conservatives have been getting more and more disillusioned – David Kuo is the example I have in mind, but there are plenty of others. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives has mostly failed… to initiate much of anything.

And the governors of those Red States will continue to exercise a little too much control over the electoral process, if you know what I mean (and I know you do, say no more, say no more).

Remember when “the Moral Majority” was neither? “Compassionate Conservativism” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing -and almost forgotten now, 6 years post 9/11. One more big lie added to the pile of big lies, one more broken promise.  The “Amoral Hypocrity” is more like it.  Who cares, as long as everybody buys in to the War on Terror catchphrase? And the one after that?

With Republicans, it’s all about property, power, control – Strict Father, remember? and Democrats are all about people, consensus, and cooperation – the Nurturing Mother model. When Democrats go bad, they’re caught with their own hands in the till (or with cold cash in the freezer). When Republicans go bad, IF they’re caught… they’ve lined their own pockets, their friends’ pockets, their friends’ friends’ pockets, and their corporate contributors’ pockets, and they’ve hidden their tracks very, very well.

Politicians of both parties get caught with their pants down, but at least the Democrats stick to the traditional outlets for excess libido – willing adult females, who are either skilled amateurs, or paid professionals when it comes to illicit sex. The Republicans and religious conservatives (that get caught) tend to be a little more twistedly cryptosexual in their tastes (a la Mark Foley and  The Rev. Ted Haggard).
Who would you rather vote for – somebody that might actually care about what you and your family might need, or someone that pays lip service about “family values” while simultaneously cutting social benefits and backslapping a high-rolling contributor? Do you want your family to be reduced to a statistic in a high-scoring Blue state, or a low-scoring Red state? Go Blue, if you know what’s good for you.

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3 thoughts on “Blue State: Life is Good. Red State: Life Sucks. Why?

  1. Sorry for commenting late (vacation, I’m sure you can understand).

    I agree with about 90% of what you say (not surprisingly), but …

    1. I don’t think progressives/liberals are always as selflessly and objectively open-minded, arguing with statistics and facts, as you paint them too be. Too many (even the sincere ones) are demogogues, as willing to dismiss arguments made by conservative thinktanks and “the Man’s” corporate media when they don’t support their own presuppositions.

    2. Nor are Democratic congresscritters and other government officials the beacons of good government and vox populi you generalize them to be. The sudden slowdown in lobbying reform once the Dems were actually in power in Congress can’t be solely placed in the laps of the recalcitrant GOP minority there. Give ’em a dozen years in power, and they’ll demonstrate themselves quite capable of malfeasance and corruption and pandering to the powerful.

    3. Is the comparative misery of the red states (vs blue states) a *result* of their being red? Or are they red because they’re miserable and looking for more authoratative (if not authoritarian) leadership? Are they seeking solace from the Bible for their earthly woes, or ignorant ninnies who, symptomatic of their being duped by the GOP, believe in fairy tales?

    Don’t get me wrong — I wish my own state were a lot more red, I say it’s time to throw the current GOP bums waaaaaay out, and I believe in a progressive/liberal philosophy a lot more strongly than a conservative one. But blaming the ills of the world, or of the nation, or even of the poorest and least fortunate in our nation, on the GOP and conservatism is the sort of demonizing I expect from Rove and his cronies. We can, and should, do better.

  2. Don’t get me wrong – Democrats are no angels, progressives aren’t the electorate’s answer to its prayers (I live in Illinois, after all). And I think the term “policy wonk” was invented for guys like Al Franken (who at least tempers his wonkiness with humor, although he’s not everyone’s cuppa java).

    And now that you mention it, the “Red” states were always at the bottom of the barrel, statistics-wise, back when they were “Blue.” But even so, they were conservative, no matter the political appelation, as well as historically rural, poor, and non-industrialized.

  3. I’m contrarian enough to resist the (very attractive) conclusion that poor, under-educated, deluded sorts are that way because the are mostly Republican. That said, I’d much rather be Red than Blue (actually, I’m probably more Magenta, all told).

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