President Obama is quietly but gleefully sticking it to red states, which by virtue of less government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and open shops are typically better off than blue states of the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Californian phyla.
There's an element of score-settling to Mr. Obama's big-governmentism. Blue-state liberals and their Washington allies must chafe at the affront red states pose to the blue states' enlightened liberalism. Big-government states should be so much better off than smaller-government states. Yet it's blue states, not red states, which are suffering decades-old decline and an economic descent marked by steady population loss and abandonment by commerce and industry.
In President Obama's left-tilting universe, these blue states are fortresses of liberal governance. For years, states like New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California have all marched lockstep in accord with liberal orthodoxies -- with similar disastrous results. There is no question that the '08 recession has hit every state hard, but the states best positioned to recover -- states like Texas and Florida -- will do so by virtue of not being so government-bound.
Facts may be stubborn things, but facts never get in the way of hardcore ideology. It would never occur to Mr. Obama and blue-state liberals to reform in favor of less government, fewer and lower taxes, and fiscal restraint. And imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but liberals don't intend to tear a page out of red-state playbooks -- not unless they wish to forsake the coalition of unions (public and private sector), minorities (the establishments therein), trial attorneys (money), grievance groups (nanny-staters included) and liberal interest groups that keep Democrats in power.
If blue-state Democrats refuse to smell the coffee and raise their standards by lowering government, what's their recourse? How can they hope to stanch the flow of people and capital to the South and West?
That's where the Great Leveler, Barack Obama, comes to the rescue. Mr. Obama's big-governmentism takes a hammer and sickle to red states. Since the likes of David Paterson (NY), Jennifer Granholm (MI), and Ed Rendell (PA) aren't going to change in favor of smaller government and greater liberty, it's time for liberals to load up red states with new health care mandates (many unfunded) and business- and industry-crippling cap-and-trade laws. It's time for much higher taxes generally. It's time for Card Check, which transforms right-to-work states into lockstep adherence to the prerogative of unions to organize.
An obvious question is: "The big government laws that President Obama and congressional Democrats want to enact -- and in the case of Obamacare, implement -- would affect all states, not just red states. Why won't the burden of bigger government harm blue states as well?"
The short answer is that yes, more government added to the big-government weight that blue states already suffer is bound to hurt them, too. But this common sense falls short with liberals, who don't accept that their ideas and polices are root problems. Wealth-generation takes a backseat to redistributionist schemes and the concentration of power in government, anyway. The other thing is that wealth is assumed -- meaning it's assumed that the productive private sector always will create sufficient wealth to feed big and growing government, regardless.
And if the private sector isn't creating sufficient wealth in, say, California or Michigan, then the remedy is wealth transfers via Washington. Washington also borrows on a scale vaster than any state could, and Washington prints money, which states can't. When push comes to shove, blue states expect that Washington will eventually bail them out. And under Mr. Obama's loving hands, "Too Big to Fail" blue states might be right (so long as the national government is solvent).
For liberals, the success of red states like Texas and Utah is immaterial. Liberals view the inadequacy of welfare-statism, lighter business regulations, open shops, and lower taxes in red states as injustices -- injustices that need to be rectified through national government action.
The difference between red states' successes and blue states' failures is somewhere on left side of a spectrum whose center is the contrast provided during the Cold War between East and West Germany and whose right end is anchored by North and South Korea. There's no difference in the DNA of East and West Germans or North and South Koreans. What's different is capitalism.
Some liberals actually concede that blue states are falling behind red states economically. But what these liberals offer are not confessions of big-government failure, but excuses for big government. "Excuse Liberals" argue that their states have large cities with many immigrants, minorities, and poor. Their citizens expect and demand more government services. Public schools come with hefty price tags, and every child deserves quality public education. Big government, whatever its drawbacks, is flat-out necessary.
But the truth differs from what Excuse Liberals argue. The admonition goes that the poor will always be among us, but today's poor needn't become a permanent underclass, which has happened in big cities, especially those in blue states (think Newark, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit). These poor -- mostly black and Hispanic -- are the prisoners of big-city Democratic machines, which, allied with leaders in minority and poor communities, have stymied the "up and out" dynamic that was once a feature of poverty in America. The poor are always with today's Democrats because in exchange for subsidizing the poor, Democrats get whole blocs of votes in return -- votes that perpetuate their political power.
Someday, historians, unburdened by contemporary ideology and enjoying the advantages of detached perspective, may wonder how so many state governments embraced polices over a protracted period that were so ruinous to the lives and fortunes of their citizens (at least those who didn't flee). The answer will lie not in honest miscalculation or good intentions, but in prejudice -- the hard prejudice of liberal ideology and Democratic pols' taste for power.
That same liberal ideology and taste for power is driving President Obama's efforts to turn red states blue.