MSU political scientist Matt Grossman recites the ‘Red State Blues’


Matt Grossman, author of the new book “Red State Blues,” has some unusual advice for Democrats and Republicans concerned about the outcome of next year’s national elections. 

The basic premise of his well-researched book, subtitled “How the Conservative Revolution Stalled in the States,” is best characterized by the sage words of Mad magazine’s cover boy Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?”

For Democrats, there’s no need to worry, according to the Michigan State University political scientist. Keep in mind that Republicans have made huge strides since 1994, taking control of 24 state governments.

After compiling and analyzing an impressive array of statistics, he’s concluded that despite liberals' fears, the conservative state governments have failed to enact legislation or apply policies that forward a conservative agenda.

Not everyone will agree with his findings, especially voters living in states which have seriously curtailed access to abortions, passed right-to work laws or can’t get the roads fixed. Other states can point to pro-business and reduced taxes for the rich which have tipped the economic scale.

There’s no question Grossman has done his research. Each of his six chapters are deeply footnoted and there are 14 pages of detailed references.

“Despite a more conservative and ascendant national party, Republican–controlled state governments have not reduced the size or scope of state governments, overcome long-standing state idiosyncrasies in policy and practice, reversed liberal gains or enacted a substantive policy agenda that advances conservative values and goals,” wrote Grossman.

His conclusion: “The Republican Revolution has been less transformational than advertised.”

He underlines his conclusions by analyzing two important policy areas, abortion and Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

He acknowledges that just between the years 2011 and 2015, states enacted more than 288 restrictions on abortions. While abortions may have fallen dramatically, he concludes that declining abortions can be partly attributed to a broad decline in pregnancies due to increased access to contraceptives and changing demographics. Grossman also contended that courts have restricted the ways that states can change abortion law. 

When it comes to fighting Medicaid expansion, even though red states have unleashed their conservative agenda, 36 states have doubled the size of their largest program. He concluded that Republican-controlled state governments made a dramatic impact on individual health, but “has not fully disrupted the liberal direction of policy change nationwide.”

Grossman also took discerning looks at the impact of the Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the size of state government and income redistribution — which he argued may have been the Republicans greatest success.

“There has been no mass privatization; state government employment has tripled in size from 1960-1992 and has kept steady since leveling off in 2002. ALEC, a conservative national legislative organization that focuses on enacting new or changing legacy state laws, has had successes such as ‘stand-your-ground’ laws and education reform that helped create a surge in charter schools, but their power may be diminishing,” wrote Grossman. 

Notable successes for “liberals,” according to Grossman, are gay marriages, drug law liberalization and the passage of environmental policies. Recent correction reform in Oklahoma, not known as a liberal hotbed, provides proof that conservative agendas are becoming more liberal in some policy areas. 

It’s easy to nitpick Grossman's conclusions by applying anecdotal examples of changes made because of Republican control. However, the author prefers that readers focus on the larger, broad implications of policy. He’s basically telling the reader to look at the “numbers” and not get stuck in the weeds.

It would be worth another book by Grossman to look at the longer-term implications of how the imbalance in governance has ceded electoral votes to conservatives, noting the plausible implications on state and federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court.

The book will help liberals arm themselves with facts, even though anecdotal contortions are much more emotional.


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