September 1, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC-Conservatives are used to being called callous and uncaring, wanting to throw grandmother out in the snow, starve school kids, cut down every tree in sight, poison all the rivers and lakes, bomb the Third World, lock up minorities, and so on. But up until now the full evil of conservatism has been successfully concealed: conservative rule makes more people want to kill themselves.
"Suicide Rises Under Conservative Rule," says a September 20 headline on nature.com, the website of Nature magazine. "A nation’s suicide rate increases under right-wing governments according to two studies that have looked at Australia and Britain over the past century." No, as the old saying goes, we’re not making this up. The story was based on two refereed articles in the British-based Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. One of the articles is entitled: "Mortality and Political Climate: How Suicide Rates Have Risen During Periods of Conservative Government, 1901-2000." The subhead tells it all: "Do Conservative Governments Make People Want to Die?" (You have to read it, not to believe it: www.nature.com/nsu/020916/020916-17.html.)
More from this pathbreaking scientific research: "Alienation and isolation may run higher in societies driven by competitive market forces, suggest the teams behind the findings. Left-wing rule, focusing more on equality, might put people under less pressure." Never mind the gender gap; now liberals have the "suicide gap" to crow about. In total, one study found, in Britain there were 35,000 more suicides under Conservative governments in the 20th century than there would have been had the Labour Party been in power for the entire century. Of course, fancy statistical regressions can’t handle counterfactual scenarios, such as the economic suicide that perpetual Labour Party rule would have brought to Britain.
But this is a mere quibble. The ultimate conservative strategy for suppressing liberal turnout (you don’t think those suicides are conservative voters, do you?) and reducing welfare spending has been exposed. How long before Jesse Jackson adds this to his repertoire about genocidal conservatives? And surely it is only a matter of weeks before the left-leaning public health lobby starts to demand that a new category of cause of mortality be added to death certificates: "Died of conservative governance." And think of the class action lawsuit the trial lawyers can bring; why, it gives a whole new meaning to "ambulance chasing."
Former Vice President Walter Mondale, during his 1984 political juggernaut that swept him to victory in Minnesota and Washington DC against Ronald Reagan, proclaimed that, among other constituency groups he embraced, he wanted to represent "the sad." Now, thanks to Nature magazine, we can see that he was just ahead of his time.
Of course, an alternative theory needs to be studied: Conservatives may just be happier people, less prone to suicidal despair when liberals come to power. The empirical evidence here is abundant: How often do you hear Rush Limbaugh laugh, and how often do you hear Mario Cuomo or Bill Press laugh? Is the fact that Al Gore and Tom Daschle look like morticians merely a coincidence, or rather a good fit for their followers?
Steven F. Hayward is F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and an adjunct fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center.