This comes from a recent edition of the New York Review of Books. That's a warning. We're getting into the weeds here and, in this case, some "quirky" truths about our political choices arising from close study of suicide and homicide rates.
"Quirky" is the word Andrew Hacker uses in his review of James Gilligan's "Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others." Gilligan is a professor of psychiatry. He surely has some experience dealing with the profoundly depressed and the potentially violent.
[Gilligan's] exposition is based primarily on public statistics, and he uses the numbers responsibly, always allowing for alternative interpretations. His book isn’t explicitly about economic inequality, but something graver: death, and its two most dramatic causes, suicide and homicide. Yet even here, how the economy functions is crucial. Gilligan starts with figures on these two ways life may end, for which we have reliable records going back to 1900. The numbers start with county coroners, are forwarded to state health agencies, and are finally collated in federal reports. To be sure, not all deaths have clear-cut causes. We can’t always be sure if ingesting too many pills was accidental or intentional, just as a road fatality can be a means of suicide. Gilligan is aware of ambiguities like these and factors them into his equations. ...NYRB
Get the picture? This is a serious inquiry, not some political hack looking for "facts" to back his political assumptions. And, after all, it's about life and death and how our political choices appear to determine whether we live or die -- by murder or suicide.
According to his calculations, “epidemics of lethal violence” are closely correlated with the party affiliation of the president. In the 107 years following 1900, Republicans held the White House for fifty-nine of them, leaving forty-eight for Democrats. He found that for all but fourteen of the 107 years, his combined homicide-suicide rate fell when Democrats were president and rose under Republican administrations. (Eisenhower and Carter accounted for twelve of the fourteen exceptional years.) ...NYRB
There would seem to be a very obvious reason for that rose in violent death rates during Republican administrations: "Gilligan’s most specific surmise is that these linkages result largely from unemployment, which tends to rise under Republican presidents."
But not just unemployment.
Gilligan also shows that states usually carried by Republicans have higher homicide and suicide rates, as well as inflicting more deaths in the form of executions. But he doesn’t relate this to the job market in these states—an important omission. He considers another explanation. Republicans muster their majorities from just above the median, pitting “members of the lower middle class against the very poorest lower class.” So when they take power, they are basically telling Americans who are first to be fired that they no longer count. What I take Gilligan to be saying is that those who are subject to the humiliations of being poor at least sense that when a Democrat is in the White House someone there cares more than would be the case if there were a Republican. ...NYRB
So how does the Obama administration compare with, say, the George W. Bush administration? Gilligan's analyis works.
Well, we now have a Democratic president, with three years of high jobless rates. We don’t yet have suicide statistics for 2009 and 2010. But figures for homicides are available from the FBI, which collects them from local police departments. In 2009, the national rate for the FBI combined “murder and manslaughter” rate was 5.0 per 100,000 in the population, and in 2010 it dropped to 4.8 per 100,000. By way of contrast, those rates during George W. Bush’s eight years averaged 5.6 per 100,000. Thus far Gilligan’s inferences are standing up. Despite disheartening levels of unemployment, having a Democratic administration correlates with a moderately declining murder rate. ...NYRB
What I want to know is what is the matter with Kansas? Others have shown that Kansas voters have allowed themselves to be conned into voting for the death party over and over again. You have to wonder what happens in some, if not all, red states that makes them walk into the jaws of the beast more than once. That's where the psychiatrist is needed.