Slandering the Red States

This morning’s New York Times Sunday Magazine has a column by Jim Holt that tries to channel the Democrats’ post-election blues in a more constructive direction. Forget about secession, Holt argues; stick up for states’ rights instead.

[T]here is a less drastic survival strategy available to liberals in the coastal and Great Lakes states, one that involves neither emigration nor civil war. It is based on the venerable doctrine of states’ rights.
[T]he doctrine of states’ rights has had a varied career. But why resurrect it today? The reason is simple. There are big differences among the states, as the last election showed — differences in their understanding of tolerance, in their attitude toward the role of religion in public life, in the value they place on education, conservation and scientific research. The more sovereignty each state has, the better it can pursue policies that are appropriate to the needs and preferences of its people.

Let’s pause here and note two basic points. First, the Trunk was the first to point out, more than ten years ago, that John C. Calhoun was becoming the political philosopher most in tune with modern liberalism. You heard it here first. Second, isn’t it a bit annoying that liberals are utterly unable to discuss the differences between red states and blue states without turning the discussion into an opportunity to slander the red-staters? It is indeed aggravating. So let’s dissect the position of blue superiority that Mr. Holt so airily erects.
Holt says the states differ in their understanding of tolerance. Yes, that’s correct. In red states, the Boy Scouts are happily tolerated for the good they do and the diversity they bring to the local scene. In blue states, on the other hand, they are bitterly hated and, whenever possible, driven out so that blue states can stamp out diversity and maintain their purity of anti-religious and anti-heterosexual culture. No true blue-stater would dream of tolerating a Boy Scout.
Next, Holt says that the states vary in the “value they place on education.” That’s certainly true. The effect can be measured in a number of ways. One of the most basic is to look at high school students’ test scores. Look here, for example, where average ACT scores are compiled by state. As of 2004, the average ACT score in America was 20.9. Presumably if the blue states are far ahead of the reds in their concern for education, the red states should be clustered well below the average. Right, Mr. Holt? Sure. Well, let’s check the actual data. Among the red states showing better than average achievement for their high school students are Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. So one half of the states that voted for President Bush have school systems turning out above-average scholastic achievement tests.
Sounds random to me. Here’s something that isn’t random, though: the District of Columbia, which has been run exclusively by liberal Democrats from time immemorial, has by far the worst high school achievement record in the country. I suppose if those morally superior Washington liberals really “placed a value on education,” as Holt assumes, they would begin in their own back yard.
And, of course, we haven’t even mentioned home schooling, a classic red state phenomenon. The comparisons of home schoolers and public school students (blue or red) are striking:

Almost 25% of home school students were enrolled in one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools.
Home school achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th percentile) were well above those of public and Catholic/Private school students.
On average, home school students in grades 1 to 4 performed one grade level above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests.

So much for education. What’s the rest of the blue-state catalog of superiority? Surprisingly enough, a key ingredient is marriage. Holt writes:

Marriage affords a vivid example. In some states it is evidently more imperiled than in others. The Bible Belt states, in particular, have a shockingly high divorce rate, around 50 percent above the national average. Given such marital instability, these states are anxious to defend the institution of heterosexual matrimony, which may explain their hostility to gay marriage. The state of Massachusetts, by contrast, has the lowest divorce rate in the nation. So its people — or at least its liberal judges — perhaps feel more comfortable allowing some progressive experimentation. It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out, assuming the Bush administration does not succeed in choking off the right of a state to recognize same-sex marriages by getting the Federal Marriage Amendment enacted.

I was taken aback by this claim, until a I did a Google search and realized that this is a standard slander that the left directs against the “Bible Belt.” Unfortunately, the New York Times, unlike almost all bloggers, does not link to its sources. So I have no idea what Mr. Holt can possibly be referring to when he claims that “Bible Belt” states have divorce rates 50% above the national average. No source that I can find supports any such claim. For example, if we look at the 1994 data, a divorce rate of 6.9 per one thousand would be needed for a state to be 50% above the national average. Only two states qualifed: Nevada, which had extraordinarily high rates of both marriage and divorce, for obvious reasons, and Arkansas. Neither these statistics nor any others I have seen would support a claim remotely similar to Mr. Holt’s.
One obvious problem with the divorce numbers is that they are calculated not as a percentage of marriages, but as a percentage of the population. Thus states like Massachusetts and New York, which have low rates of marriage, show up with similarly low rates of divorce. [This suggests an obvious analogy: if a country has a low birth rate, it will inevitably, some years thereafter, have a low death rate, as well; but this does not mean that it is a safe place to live.] If we calculate divorces as a percentage of marriages, which seems more reasonable, there is no correlation between blue states and red states at all, let alone a 50% increase in divorces in the Bible belt. So this appears to be yet another liberal canard with no basis in fact.
But these issues are merely preliminary. Holt finally gets to the real point: the Marxist, financial one:
One of the most striking differences among states is in their levels of wealth. Liberals tend to live in more economically productive states than conservatives. The top five states in per capita personal income (Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York) all went to Kerry; the bottom five (Utah, New Mexico, West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi) all went to Bush. Since the blue states are generally richer than the red states, they must bear a greater portion of the federal tax burden. Most of them pay more to Washington than they receive, whereas most of the red states receive more than they pay. Some liberals in blue states must wonder exactly what they get in return for subsidizing the heartlanders, who are said to resent them.

This is the Larry O’Donnell fantasy, and we have addressed it repeatedly. A full-scale rebuttal is not possible at the moment, but we’ll update tomorrow with the coup d’grace.
UPDATE by BIG TRUNK: See also “Go (away), blue!” by Mac Owens.


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