Lay Off Massachusetts

George W. Bush doesn’t get to choose which United States he’s president of.


“He talks about PAYGO. I’ll tell you what PAYGO means, when you’re a senator from Massachusetts, when you’re a colleague of Ted Kennedy … “
President Bush in the Oct. 13 debate. “As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.”
Ibid. “[O]nly a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough.”

As a liberal, I long ago got used to name-calling from conservatives, even ones who occupy the Oval Office. (If liberalism itself were as unpopular as the term “liberal,” the Democratic Party would have folded its tent years ago.) And Ted Kennedy’s a big boy who can take care of himself. But I hope Bay Staters aren’t so demoralized by their 41-year exile from the White House that they let Bush scapegoat their commonwealth.

Bush probably tells himself that it’s all right to sneer at Massachusetts because Massachusetts-dwellers sneer at everybody else. It’s a cherished myth among conservatives that Northeastern liberals spend all their time snickering about those pathetic hicks in Texas, Mississippi, and the various other states that comprise “the real America,” whatever that is. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard any liberal sneer at any state of the union, and the people who did the sneering were usually morons. Are there substantive disagreements between Blue America and Red America? You bet. Is class snobbery a social reality in the United States? Absolutely, and the kind that’s codified by meritocracy is probably more toxic than the old-fashioned kind based on bloodlines. But liberal disrespect for “the flyover,” if it ever existed, failed to survive the advent of cheap airplane travel, mass communications, and merit-based aristocracy. In America, genius and virtue are widely dispersed. Who can afford to be provincial?

Only the president, it seems, and a few intolerant conservatives. And even they can’t really believe it—Bush least of all as the scion of an aristocratic Connecticut Yankee family, who escaped National Guard duty by enrolling at Harvard Business School.

Want to know something funny about Taxachusetts? For every dollar it pays Uncle Sam in taxes, it receives only 79 * cents back in federal services and subsidies. That ranks it 44th among the 50 states in federal expenditures per dollar of taxes. Indeed, there’s a very strong correlation between liberal, pro-government “blue states” and states that are least dependent on federal spending. There’s also a strong correlation between conservative, anti-government “red states” and states that are most dependent on federal spending. (Click here for details.) If you think of Red America as stubbornly self-reliant and Blue America as a drain on the Treasury, you’ve got it exactly backward.

I don’t begrudge the South and the West their many military bases and national parks. But I do wish people in those parts of the country would stop feeling superior to Northeastern welfare-staters. I will happily make an exception for the District of Columbia, where I live, which eats an appalling $6.17 for every dollar of federal revenue it kicks in. But lay off Massachusetts, Mr. President. When you took the oath of office, you swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of all 50 United States, not just the ones that voted for you. We fought a war about this, and the secessionists lost.

Correction, Oct. 14: An earlier version of this column mistakenly reversed the 9 and the 7, thereby stating, erroneously, that Massachusetts receives 97 cents for every dollar it pays to the U.S. Treasury. (Return to the corrected sentence.)