Is the Northeast Necessary?

Article excerpt

While the rest of America chooses freedom and properity, from Washington, D.C. to Massachusttes to Wales, we see blight, depression, and chronic leftism that would do Western Europe proud. THe surprise is that the Republican Party hasn't written off this dying region once and for all.

A few years ago a cheeky pollster asked Americans what one state would they most like to see secede. New Jersey won the contest-with New York and Massachusetts not far behind. Of course, much as we might like them to, these states cannot formally secede from the rest of the United States. But not since the Civil War and Reconstruction has any one region been more culturally, economically, and politically isolated from the rest of the U.S. than the Northeast today.

At a time when most of the country has grown more conservative, more dismissive of big government command, and more prosperous, the heavily unionized, economically exhausted, industrial Northeast has edged ever further to the left. The result: an ever widening ideological Grand Canyon between what truly is now two Americas.

Michael Barone, compiler of the indispensable Almanac of American Politics, calls this peculiar region the "New England-Metroliner Corridor." It begins with Washington, D.C.-the city with no manufacturing and no industry (besides influence-peddling); with an ex-convict mayor; with one of every three households receiving a government paycheck or welfare payment; and yet with a per capita income that has surged to among the highest of any metropolitan area. Washingtonians extract wealth, they don't create it.

Driving north from Washington along the Interstate 95 corridor, you first hit Maryland, which hasn't officially elected a single Republican to statewide office in twelve years (though Ellen Sauerbrey did have the governorship stolen from her in 1994). Then in succession you go through a modern-day rust belt: Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The shared experience of these states is oppressive tax rates, mindless and meddlesome regulation, obese social welfare programs, slumping real estate markets, and a steady stampede of outward migration-and this is the politically conservative section of the region. The rest of this other America encompasses the New England states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, all of them systematically anti-free enterprise and culturally left-wing.

"On the values issues," writes Barone, "the New England states are not as secular and liberation-minded as post-Thatcher Britain, but they are getting there." Pro-abortion sentiment is so universal in New England, for instance, that even the Catholics are disdainful of the right to life. The prototypical politician of the region may very well be Bernie Sanders, the Harvard professor turned mayor of Burlington turned congressmanand an avowed socialist.

Of course, New England is not the only left-wing stronghold in the U.S. Hollywood and San Francisco may be more leftleaning than Boston or New York City. In the Northwest Oregon and Washington are extremely liberal on non-economic issues, particularly the environment. But only the Northeast offers an agglomeration of states that share a common left-wing ideology virtually across the board.

In this sea of statism there is a tiny island of cultural normalcy and free markets: New Hampshire, "the Orange County of the East Coast," as the Wall Street Journal's John Fund calls it. Despite the diluting effect of a steady stream of tax-refugee yuppies from Boston, New Hampshire's cultural and political institutions remain mostly conservative and populist. With no state income tax or property tax, and the third-lowest per capita tax burden in the nation, New Hampshire has enjoyed the fastest growth rate in all New England. Thus all of the statistics used below to describe the maladies of the Northeast do not apply to New Hampshirean exclusion not likely to offend too many New Hampshirites, I suspect. …