Douthat, Texas, and California

DOUTHAT, TEXAS, AND CALIFORNIA…. The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat devotes his latest column to arguing that there are key differences to governing in “blue” states and “red” states, and President Obama is “pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths.”

Consider Texas and California. In the Bush years, liberal polemicists turned the president’s home state — pious, lightly regulated, stingy with public services and mad for sprawl — into a symbol of everything that was barbaric about Republican America. Meanwhile, California, always liberalism’s favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

But flash forward to the current recession, and suddenly Texas looks like a model citizen. The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession. Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009.

Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area.

Let’s peel back the layers a bit. We’re in the midst of a major debate over health care policy, and Texas is anything but a “model citizen.” It is easily the worst state in the nation for the uninsured, and stands to benefit greatly from the White House’s “blue-state agenda.” For that matter, its poverty rate is second only to Mississippi nationwide. If Texas is a “model citizen” for taxes and fiscal balance, it’s also a disaster for those families who are struggling with less.

California is generally a reliable “blue” state, at least electorally, but to characterize it as “liberalism’s favorite laboratory” strikes me as more than a little disingenuous. A variety of factors led to the state’s condition as a “fiscal disaster area,” but near the top of the list are the measures, pushed by the right and approved by voters, that severely restricted California’s ability to raise more revenue.

Douthat added that blue-state governance has a “tendency toward political corruption,” as if ideology contributed to the Blagojevich fiasco or the recent scandal in New Jersey. Are we to believe, then, that the series of breathtaking corruption scandals involving Republican officials throughout the Bush years are necessarily evidence of flaws in red-state governance?

Douthat concludes that Obama will have more success if the economy “start[s] performing more like Texas.” Here’s hoping the president ignores the suggestion.