No More Nice Dems

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; drawing by John Cuneo
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; drawing by John Cuneo

In the realm of state government, the Republican Party is wiping the floor with the Democrats. The 2016 elections are remembered for the presidential race, but they also gave the GOP control of sixty-eight state legislative chambers to the Democrats’ thirty-one. Amazingly, the lives of almost half of the national population came under the sway of a Republican trifecta—that is, a state government with all three branches controlled by the GOP. Even after the 2018 Blue Wave, the score was 61–37, Republican to Democrat.

What’s salient here is that Republican dominance represents an extraordinary political overperformance. Republican state governments strongly align themselves with the national party leadership—and by conventional measures, and certainly by comparison with the Clinton and Obama administrations, the national GOP has long been a disaster. Every Republican administration from Reagan onward has crashed the economy and exploded deficits. (Trump has already achieved the latter.) Their track record on health care is one of failure. Their handling of national security has been catastrophic (see the September 11 attacks, the rise of ISIS, Trump-Russia, climate change). Their criminality and corruption is scandalous: fraud, perjury, bribery, Boland Amendment violations during the Iran–contra affair, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, theft, and misuse of public funds are just some of the crimes committed by Republican administration officials and operatives—and that’s without counting those chalked up under Nixon and Trump.

And it’s not as if red-state governments have been better. For at least a quarter-century, GDP growth in blue states has exceeded that in red states. Living standards—educational attainment, household income, life expectancy, tax equity—tend to be distinctly higher in blue states. These disparities are mitigated by what economists call “fiscal flows”—blue staters subsidizing red staters in the form of federal taxes. When states go all-in on Republican economic strategies, not even fiscal flows can avert disaster, as the fates of Kansas and Oklahoma have revealed. Some red states even reject fiscal flows: fourteen have refused the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, with predictable consequences. If you wanted to tank the country, or part of it, your best bet would be to get Republicans to run things.

So why do they keep winning state races? To put it another way, why do Democrats—the party of prosperity—keep losing to them? Can this be changed? How much does it matter?

Meaghan Winter’s All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States looks into these questions with remarkable clarity and tenacity. She closely inspects liberal grassroots activism in three states—Missouri, Colorado, and Florida—that “are not places where it is inevitable that right-wing politicians will control the narrative and agenda. Nor are they places where a progressive movement is easy to assemble.” Her method was to visit these regions repeatedly over a period of years; to intimately acquaint herself with…

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