Blue States Are From Scandinavia, Red States Are From Guatemala: BTHIS In blue America, state government costs more—and it spends more to ensure that everybody can pay for basic necessities such as food, housing, and health care. It invests more heavily in the long-term welfare of its population, with better-funded public schools, subsidized day care, and support for people with disabilities. In some cases, in fact, state lawmakers have decided that the social contract provided by the federal government is not generous enough. It was a blue state that first established universal health insurance and, today, it is a handful of blue states that offer paid family and medical leave. In the red states, government is cheaper… people… pay lower taxes. But they also get a lot less in return….
THE QUINTESSENTIAL blue state is, of course, Massachusetts. There, health care is available to almost everybody, regardless of income or preexisting medical conditions. Welfare benefits are among the most generous in the country, and the state spends hundreds of millions on public housing each year. These programs don’t always lift people out of poverty or protect them from financial catastrophe. Still, Massachusetts’s residents get a lot more help from their state government than people who live elsewhere in the United States…. This may have been what John Winthrop, the early governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, envisioned when he crossed the Atlantic nearly 400 years ago. Near the end of his journey, Winthrop famously exhorted his fellow Puritans to create a “city upon a hill,” a place where a sense of obligation to the common good superseded self-interest. In colonial times, during their fabled town meetings, New Englanders established America’s first public schools…. About a century later, a wave of immigrants from central, southern, and eastern Europe arrived in the Northeast and upper Midwest, grafting Catholic notions of social justice and Jewish notions of social responsibility onto the old Yankee sense of mutual obligation….
The South was slower to industrialize and slower to take measures to protect the vulnerable. By the time of the Great Depression, most Southern state governments did not provide any form of cash assistance to people in poverty. One likely reason was the region’s own equally distinctive colonial ancestry…. But something else had soured the South on social welfare: race….
Today, Texas doesn’t even try to provide the kind of protection for its vulnerable residents that Massachusetts does. It has more uninsured residents than any other state in the country; its lawmakers have repeatedly refused money from the federal government to expand health insurance for kids. Its welfare program is among the nation’s stingiest….
By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states. It’s impossible to prove that this is the direct result of government spending. But the correlation is hard to dismiss….
IF RICK PERRY wants to strip the Texas welfare state bare, why should voters in Maine or Oregon care? If anything, the blue states would probably benefit from such a move…. But reformers and progressives in the blue states have never been content to ignore what’s happening in other parts of the country. In the nineteenth century, this meant that an African American shouldn’t be a slave just because he lives in South Carolina rather than Vermont. In the twentieth century, it meant that an African American shouldn’t be dispatched to the back of the bus—or barred from entering the voting booth—because she called Birmingham, not Boston, home. The United States was one country, with one set of rights. No state or section had the right to take those away….
Advocates for the red-state approach to government invoke lofty principles: By resisting federal programs and defying federal laws, they say, they are standing up for liberty. These were the same arguments that the original red-staters made in the 1800s, before the Civil War, and in the 1900s, before the Civil Rights movement. Now, as then, the liberty the red states seek is the liberty to let a whole class of citizens suffer. That’s not something the rest of us should tolerate. This country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.