New York Democrats may shrug off the carpetbagger charge thrown at Senate candidate Hillary Clinton, but their indifference to her never having lived in the state reveals something important.
America's Founding Fathers had clear reasons for devising a political system in which states would send representatives to the national legislature. Each state, the Founders argued, would always have regional interests, which needed a hearing in the national decision-making process, if states were to go along with decisions they disagreed with and the republic were to work.
This idea of governance—crucial to the nation's success in reconciling its often fractious diversity with an energetic executive—still runs through the thinking of Democrats and Republicans in most of the country. But in New York, the Democratic Party abandoned it long ago in favor of a left-wing ideology closer in spirit to European social democracy. This ideology, which takes a national rather than a regional or local perspective, has led New York Democrats to embrace big-government schemes regardless of their impact on the state's prosperity.
A single 1993 policy debate gives an especially clear glimpse into this key difference between New York Democrats and fellow party members elsewhere in the country. President Bill Clinton had just proposed to Congress a sizable tax-hike plan that he falsely claimed wouldn't hit any part of the country disproportionately. The plan included new taxes on energy production and gasoline and a boost in the income tax. Democratic and Republican congressmen from energy-producing states like Louisiana and Texas strongly objected to the energy tax, and with the help of former Texas Democratic senator Lloyd Bentsen (then Clinton's secretary of the Treasury) they quickly killed it. Members of Congress from western states banded together across party lines to water down the gas tax, since it would hurt residents in their sprawling part of the country, where long drives are the rule.
The federal income-tax increase, which would hurt New York more than any other state, passed easily, though. New York City residents—40 percent of New York State's population—have higher per-capita income than citizens in most of the country, but it's more expensive to live there. Unlike elsewhere, a family of four living in Gotham with an annual income of $100,000 is hardly in the lap of luxury. But the feds don't index federal income taxes for cost of living, so they whack New Yorkers, especially those living in or near New York City, hard.
Yet not a Democratic member of New York's congressional delegation rose up to oppose the income-tax hike. Even the venerable senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose office regularly issues reports claiming that the state sends more tax money to Washington than it gets back in federal goodies, voted for it, worsening the very problem he so often bemoans. This startling indifference to New York's regional interests is perplexing to Wall Street execs, who grumble that they get more attention paid to their problems from out-of-state congressmen than they do from the state's own Democratic congressional delegation.
Nor did any New York Democrat raise so much as a peep when the state party nominated Hillary Clinton as its Senate candidate. Yet in 1993, her health-care task force made bold recommendations to revolutionize the nation's health-care system—including the adoption of regional pricing pools and restrictions on specialized medical education—that would have really hurt New York, with its high medical costs, its bigger share of elderly and of very ill citizens, and its large complex of teaching hospitals.
New Yorkers have paid a heavy price for this social democratic, anti-regional mind-set. Thanks to the swollen welfare state that this worldview has created, taxpaying entrepreneurial types and the wealthy elderly have fled the state in droves, in search of more welcoming economic climes. The state has gone from first to third in total population since 1950 and will soon slip behind Florida into fourth place, causing it to lose almost 40 percent of its congressional delegation over the same period. During the same half-century, the state has also lost more than two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies once located there.
Hillary Clinton, a candidate for all places, is a natural for a party that considers itself above the concerns of a mere state.