November 10, 2010

New England's Liberal Conservative Non-Schizophrenia; Or Something

Marc Comtois

Robert Whitcomb ruminates over the "psychological" conservatism of New England:

New Englanders are in fact more psychologically conservative than most of the rest of the country, whatever the social and economic liberalism ascribed to them by the press.

That their rates of divorce, illegitimacy, alcohol and other drug abuse, personal bankruptcy and other signs of social dysfunction are less than most of the country's speaks to the region's social stability (call it "conservatism'') compared to, in particular, the Sunbelt.

There, many folks like to call their states "conservative'' but the chaotic personal lives of so many folks belie that description.

Without digging around, my sense that Whitcomb is correct, here. But then he goes on to allude to a sort of dispositional conservatism, at least when it comes to politics:
Why do New Englanders tend not to make big changes in their political representation, whatever the national gyrations?

I'd guess it's because they're more wary than most of the country of promises of change. And they don't have as schizophrenic views about government as many Americans: They know that any advanced society needs a lot of it.*

Well, not quite. Look what happened in Maine, where Republicans swept through Augusta, winning the Governor's race and both legislative Houses. Or New Hampshire where both Congressional and Senate seats are now held by the GOP and the legislature flipped to Republican super-majorities (after drifting Democratic in recent years from its own version of Yankee Conservatism). No, New Englanders aren't immune to making big political changes. At least not all of them.

Perhaps it would be more insightful to look into why 4 of the 6 New England states seem to be political outliers this year and, generally speaking, why dispositional conservatives are so politically liberal. I think Whitcomb is close to identifying it when he says, to paraphrase, New Englanders recognize that modern society requires big government. In other words, there are plenty of New Englanders (particularly, it seems, in Mass., RI, CT and VT), who are interested in conserving the current state of political affairs because they benefit directly from the status quo via jobs or benefits or entitlements. So, in this case, dispositional conservatism reinforces political liberalism. Oh, and self-interest.

*As an aside, regarding that schizophrenic conservatism exhibited elsewhere, here we see a similar thought process as that exhibited in today's aforementioned ProJo editorial concerning "fiscal hyper-hypocrisy".

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Some of the acceptance of big government has to do with population density, too.

I live in the city, the government is literally everywhere. It has to be. Government is the keeper of the grid of roads and pipes that enable urban living. I don't have fields and meadows to walk through, I walk on government sidewalks. We don't have streams, we have concrete drainage ravines. Trees come from the city after much begging, they don't just pop up on their own. We don't even have a horizon for the sun to set on, just buildings as far as you can see.

Perhaps the Boston-D.C. megalopolis leans left because partly because we're dense (no jokes, please).

Cities also push diverse groups of people together and force them to accept each other. Everyone in the city has a gay friend, or a few differently-skinned or non English-speaking neighbors. For me, abortion isn't a choice between 'do I like the idea of unborn babies being killed' or not, it's an effective (if ugly) remedy to high birth rates amongst the population least able to care for children. It's a lot easier to rail on 'welfare queens' and teen pregnancy when you live somewhere where you're exposed to neither. Here in the city it's a more difficult choice between increasing the welfare rolls or allowing society's worst parents to terminate their pregnancies*.

* I know it's a lot more complicated than that, but I don't want this to become Yet Another Abortion Argument. Just pointing out why denser areas might be more susceptible to social liberalism and bigger government.

Posted by: mangeek at November 10, 2010 6:10 PM

It should be noted that NH's Democrat governor is way to the right on fiscal issues. The unions and progressives hate his guts.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at November 10, 2010 7:22 PM

Umm, Mangeek, I don't suspect many people who oppose killing unborn children would change their opinions if only they had to deal with too many kids running around. Indeed, a good number of pro-lifers go out of their way to interact with, typically to help, those children.

It's an interesting question, though: Do you city folk support euthanizing the homeless because you come into contact with the problem more?

I say this as cordially as I'm able: You really should reread what you've written and try to see why others might consider it dripping with arrogance... the diversity of more conservative states puts RI to shame.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 10, 2010 8:42 PM


"I walk on government sidewalks"

They only become the government's after someone else paid to have them constructed. Try getting them repaired when it isn't an election year. Even then, they will frequently send you a bill for repairs.

Government shouldn't do anything that you can find in the Yellow Pages.

"Bigger Government"? In most states over 20% of the voters draw their paycheck from the government. That is 1, out of 5, to govern us. I think we have all we need.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 10, 2010 10:36 PM

Like I said, it's much more complicated than I feel like writing about.

Justin, we've discussed this subject before. Both of us have respect for life, we just don't agree on where it should legally begin.

Should we euthanize homeless folks? Of course not. Should we spend $400,000 taxpayer dollars to keep grandpa on the ventilator another six months? I'm still not sure about that; let the actuaries figure it out, or make people responsible for paying for 'extreme care' themselves.

Should we allow abortion? I think so, I think it's an overall win for society, with a terrible and eternally controversial cost. But I'd also like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned so it became a state issue, and I think it's ridiculous to expect taxpayers to subsidize it.

"the diversity of more conservative states puts RI to shame"

I'm not sure about that. Sure, if 'diversity' is measured as 'proportion of non-white people'. The neighborhood I'm in is thoroughly 'melted'. Just on my street we have Liberians, Portuguese, some Mexicans, some black folks, a few white families, and who knows what else; we range the socioeconomic scale from 'just scraping-by on social security and/or welfare' to 'shopping for a new BMW'. I think a lot of the 'more conservative' cities (read: south and west) are a bit more segregated into ethnic and socioeconomic enclaves.

Posted by: mangeek at November 10, 2010 11:05 PM

But now you've changed your premise, which was clearly that people in cities have more diverse experience and therefore take a more liberal view. Bull. As if conservatives know no people of color or homosexuals. That's simply ruling-class pretension.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 11, 2010 5:31 AM

I grew up in towns of less than 20,000, I can recall a lot of "diverse" occurances. A pedophile ran the bicycle repair shop, prior to this he had been arrested for smelling women's underwear on clotheslines. A notorious "flasher" turned out to be a cop and shot one of the policemen who arrested him. In another case a teenage (15) prostitute, pimped by her father, was put out of business and 148 guys charged with "statutory rape" (few were actualy convicted). These events were widely spaced and perhaps gave us time to reflect and adjust our vision.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 11, 2010 8:06 AM

faust-that clothesline guy sounds like a wannabe-a real pervert would've been sniffing the shorts BEFORE they went in the wash.A bicycle shop,eh?Lots of bicycle seats.What a turd!!

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 12, 2010 8:59 AM
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