Welfare State Conservatism

It is said that Alaska is the most northern southern state.  While its conservatism is distinct from that which is predominant in the south—frontier-inspired libertarianism as opposed to evangelical traditionalism—the two share a similar view of the federal government.  Reagan liked to say that government is not the solution but the problem, but it could be the motto for Alaska or any southern state.

Alaska's congressional delegation is one of the most conservative in the country, and the south remains solid for Republicans, as it has for many years.  Curious, then, that both feed so ravenously from the federal trough.  A study by the Tax Foundation, using Census Bureau data, airs the dirty laundry.  The organization compared at a state level the allotment of federal expenditures, such as infrastructure investment and social security payments, and the collection of federal taxes or income taxes on individuals and businesses, etc., to determine federal spending per dollar of tax collected.  The results are startling.

Alaska has the nation's second highest ratio.  It gets $1.87 back from Washington for every $1 it pays.  Wintry-whipped Alaskans needn't gnash their chattering teeth for placing second because they rank first in federal spending for earmarked projects or federal appropriations that circumvent the regular congressional appropriations process (remember the $400 million Bridge to Nowhere?).  The plucky self-styled libertarians to the north have held the pork title for sixteen years straight.  But wait, there's more.  It turns out that nine of the ten states with the highest ratios of federal spending to taxation are red.  These include Alaska and those two most southern of southern states, Alabama and Mississippi.  And get this, eight of the ten states with the lowest ratios, or the biggest net subsidizers, are blue.

Facts are stubborn things and can punch holes in self-serving narratives.  Those living in red states, in popular imagination, are said to embody American ideals of "family values," hard work, and self-sufficiency, while blue state inhabitants are often characterized as narcissists who possess a grandiose "sense of entitlement."  The canard is repeated to great effect.  A variation of it, no doubt, will be repeated in weeks and months ahead.

Sarah Palin is being billed, like Senator McCain, as an anti-Washington maverick—what could be more "outside" the beltway than Alaska?—who took on her state's barons of pork.  It's a familiar portrait, a microcosm, in a way, of the narrative that red state America thrives in pioneer-like glory free from the assistance of the rotten federal government.  It doesn't hold up.  As mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin hired a Washington lobbyist to panhandle on the Hill, a strategy that helped the town obtain $8 million in earmarks.  "It was about being face-to-face with those who were actually writing the budget," she proudly explained at the time.  She even supported the Bridge to Nowhere.  It shouldn't surprise, really.  Such hypocrisy is par for the course for welfare state conservatives.

Running against Washington pays electoral dividends, even when running to Washington for monetary dividends, but the strategy nevertheless begs the question: can you be against Washington when you're so dependent on Washington?

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