Kevin Bacon’s opening argument in “A Few Good Men,” the 1992 movie about the fictional prosecution of two Marines charged with murder, is a shining moment in the history of Hollywood. After rattling off a series of statements that, if true, would appear to doom the defendants, Bacon places his argument in the seemingly unbreakable frame: “These are the facts of the case. And they are undisputed.” Set aside for a moment that Bacon ended up losing the trial, the oratory is a reminder of the raw power of simple facts.
Recent political news has been dominated by the Massachusetts Senate race and its meaning for the Democratic Party. Buried by the coverage, however, is a bit of bad news for the GOP. The government released the December jobs report, and once again, four of the five states with the highest rates of unemployment were those with Republican governors, the self-proclaimed leaders of the so-called GOP Comeback.
Taken in isolation, that fact might seem trivial, like hundreds of other talking points that make their way around Washington on a regular basis. But this one is different because it’s part of a larger trend: Republican governors, as a whole, vastly underperform their Democratic counterparts on virtually every economic or fiscal score. In addition to high unemployment numbers, states with Republican governors are far less likely to be on the Forbes list of “Best States for Business” (only one of the Top 5 has a Republican governor), score a AAA rating from the major credit rating agencies (only two of the seven have GOP governors) or make a real investment in clean technology (only two of the Top 10 clean-tech states have Republican governors).
Perhaps most telling, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, is that throughout the past decade, the size of state governments actually grew more under Republican governors than under Democratic ones. This is true for both traditional ways of measuring the size of government: spending growth and the number of state employees.
These are the facts. And they are undisputed.
These facts are important because they give us an indication of what a “GOP Comeback” would actually look like. We can’t look to the epically vapid congressional Republicans sitting in the cheap seats, because they are enjoying the relief of any obligation to come up with an affirmative plan for this country. While we could look to our former president — whom a real-life Bacon would already have convicted on charges of fiscal negligence — voters are tired of hearing about him. Thus, the only relevant data set is the records of Republican governors.
And while the party seems bent on burying these records, the facts are tough to hide. When Republicans are in charge, government is more likely to grow, investors are less likely to have confidence and people are more likely to lose jobs. This is the record of a party in which dogma and rhetoric continue to trump people and results.
Governors are the weak spot for the GOP, not because they are different from the rest of the party, but because they don’t have their congressional brethren’s privilege of inaction. The governors’ recklessness is a matter of public record, a record replete with indisputable facts that impugn the national party’s efforts to portray itself as ready to assume authority. Voters interested in making a comparison this fall ought to ask the GOP how it would be different than the record of its governors, though I doubt the party can handle the truth.
Nathan Daschle is executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.