I’ll assume many folks on here probably saw this story, but just in case, check it out:
Once again, as per the above link, the state that conservatives love to hate demonstrates that right wing narratives, both about ACA and California are false: while right-wing states refused to expand Medicaid and/or set up strong state exchanges -- and did everything they could to undermine the law -- California did the opposite and residents there have reaped the benefits. Far from perfect of course for all the reasons progressives understand (it's still a private market rooted in profit and the notion of health care as a commodity rather than human right), CA shows how much better things could have been nationally, were conservatives not so uniformly hostile to anything the previous administration pushed for, and which they perceive as helping too many of the "wrong people" ("undeserving" and "irresponsible" working class folks, especially of color -- remember, Glenn Beck once said, entirely seriously, that the ACA was just Obama's way of getting reparations for slavery).
In any event, this brings to mind a larger matter that has always fascinated me: namely, the way in which right wingers view California and other relatively progressive states. It’s always interesting to hear conservatives bash states like California, Massachusetts and New York as presumed hell-holes where excessive regulation and taxes hamstring economic development, while praising so-called red states like Texas, North Carolina, Georgia or my own state of Tennessee as examples of places where conservative fiscal values predominate, much to the benefit of their respective populations.
First, because it is precisely in those liberal environs where most of the new jobs are being created and where the economy is strong, while the places presided over by the right are, in most instances, literal economic basket-cases. Roughly 40% of all new jobs in the nation in the past few years have been created in California, while Kansas, controlled by tax-cutting, trickle-down Reagan clones is producing nothing but the well-earned derision of every competent economist in America. Indeed, the faulty policy direction of the Brownback administration has created such fiscal misery there that even conservative Republican lawmakers have voted to raise taxes in order to generate sufficient revenue to operate the essential services of the state. And second, because to whatever extent red states are even remotely functional or fiscally solvent, or able to meet even the most basic needs of their citizenry — from school funding, to roads, to the kind of economic stability and wage base needed to attract private insurers to a workable health care market — it is only because of the more progressive parts of those red states: the blue dots in a sea of rural and exurban crimson. Without St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri is on economic life support; so too Louisiana without New Orleans, Tennessee without Nashville and Memphis; North Carolina without the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill research triangle and Charlotte; Georgia without Atlanta; Kentucky without Louisville and Lexington. In short, without the much more liberal, more highly educated, and decidedly less provincial parts of “real America” as some like to call it, that “real America” would be the economic equivalent of an underdeveloped country.
This is not meant to suggest that those rural areas of the nation aren’t important — indeed, to the extent they are areas whence most of the nation’s agricultural production comes they are obviously vital contributors to the country as a whole, in that they literally feed the rest of us. But so too do they benefit from the economic stability produced by a strong tax base, smart and consistently applied regulation, a commitment to public health, education and transportation. For such persons to deride “city folks” in blue states or “coastal elites” while ignoring that virtually everything they take for granted, from cell phones to internet service to entertainment to the national tax base needed to support their retirements, their infrastructure, the health care depended upon by their elderly, and their local economic development comes from those same “liberals” they despise (and the places those liberals live) is the height of irony. Indeed, even immigration, documented and undocumented — which many voters in rural areas would like to halt — has been vital to rural economies and agricultural production, which is to say that if the right got its way, the very places lived in by its staunchest supporters would suffer. Rather than bashing progressives for supporting more humane immigration policies, red state voters, and especially those states in which agriculture provides so much of their economic output should be saying thank you, much as we should thank them for the hard work they do every day in order to provide the food that sustains us all.
In short, a sense of reciprocity is what we often lack as a nation: reciprocity between geographic locales, between political parties, and between each other. This lack of a sense of reciprocity is why some states refused to expand Medicaid after the passage of the ACA -- returning to the initial part of this post -- because to help others is seen as a zero-sum loss by the right, rather than as an investment in the health of their state’s people, vital to the overall well-being of the nation; because atomistic individualism is the coin of the conservative realm, no matter the harm it does the social fabric and even economic health of the country. And when reciprocity would require a commitment to the health, education and well-being of those who are racially or culturally “different” from the dominant norm, it has proved especially hard to come by for some, no matter the collective injury done to the nation as a result of rampant inequality.
So too empathy: when conservatives bash big cities and those who live there, or support “tough-on-crime” policies like the so-called war on drugs — so long as the folks being incarcerated were black and brown — they establish an ethic of unconcern and an aura of ambivalence that cannot but ultimately redound to their detriment, as it is now, with the opioid crisis. And yet they cry out for services, for rehabilitation, for treatment, and most of all for the very understanding and forbearance they saw no need to extend to the urban poor of color, caught up in an earlier opioid crisis in the 70s or the crack epidemic of the 80s. And they deserve the empathy they seek, but only to the extent they are willing to offer it in turn. Reciprocity is not a luxury here but a necessity. And if we had such a thing in greater abundance as an operative mindset, a guiding principle of our politics, many of the problems that presently plague us would be far more manageable.
But we don’t, and so here we are.