Liberal columnist E.J Dionne is concerned about recent efforts by conservative leaders to rebrand the Republican Party.
He applauds House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for "asking what government could do for the middle class," but he worries that "[i]n some states where Republicans control all the levers of power, they are rushing ahead with astonishingly right-wing programs to eviscerate government while shifting the tax burden toward the middle class and the poor and away from the wealthy. In trying to build the Koch brothers' dystopias, they are turning states in laboratories of reaction."
Dionne goes on to cite Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's Kansas as an example of these "Koch brothers' dystopias" and warns, "The 'Red State model' is likely to take hold in only a few states -- and may provoke a backlash."
Really? Has Boston-born and Harvard-educated Dionne visited Kansas recently? (Or ever?)
If Dionne were to bother to visit Kansas, he would find a state with an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent, a full 2.5 points below the nation's 7.9 percent average. Despite "eviscerated" state government spending, Kansas' fourth- and eighth-graders beat the national average in both math and reading scores. The state's 11.2 percent poverty rate is also well below the national 15.8 percent national average. And despite all those evil tax cuts for the rich, the gap between Kansas' wealthiest and poorest citizens is also much smaller than the national average.
The most recent Jayhawk Poll showed Brownback enjoying a 55 percent to 37 percent approval rating. But I'm sure the backlash Dionne predicted is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, things are playing out a bit differently in the progressive utopia of California, where Democrats control not only the governor's mansion, but two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers.
At 9.8 percent, unemployment is a bit higher in the Golden State then in Kansas -- or the rest of the country, for that matter. Despite California spending far more per student than most states, its fourth- and eighth-graders perform far worse on reading and math proficiency scores than the average American students. A third of all the welfare recipients in the United States live in California, and the Census Bureau reports that the state also has the nation's highest poverty rate. Almost one-quarter (23.5 percent) of Californians live below the poverty line.
And there is plenty of wealth to go around in California, but it also has one of the nation's highest levels of income inequality. According to the Census Bureau, it is getting more and not less unequal.
That may change too. Gov. Jerry Brown just pushed through a $6.8 billion tax hike this November that gives California the highest marginal tax rate in the nation. With millionaires across the state quickly buying up real estate in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, Brown's tax hike may lessen income inequality after all -- by driving so many wealthy Californians out of the state entirely.
If anybody should be asking, "What can government do to help the middle class?" it is the Democrats. The party's environmental agenda has driven up the price of energy, making it harder for families to put gas in their tanks and unprofitable for employers to keep factories in the U.S. Obamacare has driven up the cost of employment, contributing to the weakest labor market recovery since the Great Depression and prompting some employers to cut existing workers' hours and find other creative ways to avoid paying massive fines and tax penalties.
There is no doubt that Republicans need to rebrand their party, but the Democrats need to take a long, hard look at what their policies are doing to America's middle class.
Conn Carroll (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.