Larry O’Donnell’s unproductive meme

It is a melancholy reality that big lies are harder to refute than small ones. So it is with Larry O’Donnell’s pet theory that last week’s presidential election results represent a victory of the less productive states over the more productive ones. That narrow claim itself is not exactly a lie — the blue states are wealthier as a group than the red ones. The lie consists of the implication that the election was a victory by the relatively non-productive elements of society. And that is surely what O’Donnell is implying; otherwise, what’s his point. If O’Donnell is saying something interesting, he must be saying that power has fallen into undeserving hands (the hands of those who are not that productive) and/or that those who want to curb federal taxing and spending are those who benefit most from it. In this way, O’Donnell gets to attack Bush voters as backward, unworthy, greedy, and too stupid to understand what’s in their interests. And since he’s a liberal, the fact that he purports to take the side of the wealthy goes overlooked.
Unfortunately for O’Donnell, however, there is no evidence that the most productive elements of our society favored Kerry over Bush. The president captured 51 percent of the vote. Does O’Donnell think Bush did that well among unemployed voters? Among the increasing number of voters who pay no federal income taxes? Among government workers? Among those earning below average incomes? Unless he is prepared to make these highly implausible claims, O’Donnell has no basis for implying that Bush’s victory represents the triumph of the less productive elements of society, or that the voters who re-elected Bush, as a group, were voting against their economic interests.
O’Donnell’s theory gains its superficial plausibility by viewing a national election in state terms. And O’Donnell’s hook for trying to make people think about the election that way is his talk of secession. Apparently O’Donnell is willing to give voice to a treasonous position in order to set himself up to take shots at Bush voters. But while we’re on that subject, I’d like to know how many states would remain in the blue column if one excluded the votes of those who pay no federal income tax and those who work for the government. It seems likely, at a minimum, that states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would turn red in that scenario. Obviously no such scenario is in the cards. But, in the hypothetical event of secession, I would expect many of the most productive members of all blue states to peel away and cast their fate with “Jesusland.” Even non-believers might participate in the exodus, on the theory that tax relief and a strong defense are “worth a mass.”

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