Massachusetts is the best state in the union.

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Massachusetts, in today’s political culture, is more epithet than state. The People’s Republic, Taxachusetts, “Sweden”—this is America’s arugula-munching, maple syrup-swigging, receding-ponytail hippy uncle, exiled to its cold, lonely corner of American geography by Sunbelt population growth and a rightward-leaning national discourse. That “Spirit of America” license plate doth protest too much. For much of the country, Massachusetts, if not actually un-American, is the suspicious redoubt of the American left.

As a native, I’m willing to take it on the chin for the state’s crimes against the republic:  certain unfortunate regional accents, the term wicked, and that image of Michael Dukakis in a tank . For the state’s affection for happy-clappy bumper stickers (“no one is free when others are oppressed”) and the drivers my brother calls “Massholes”—I apologize.

Still, all the Bay State-baiting can get depressing. Especially in the recent primary season, as Mitt Romney, pummeled by charges of “Massachusetts moderate,” has run farfrom the state he once governed. Et tu, Mitt?

On the brighter side, though, Gov. Romney’s candidacy is an opportunity to take a closer look at the state that dare not speak its name. Through all the red mist and flying blue fur this election year, it’s worth reminding voters of a truth Romney probably won’t be emphasizing: The nation’s favorite punching bag is an exceptionally successful state.

Let’s compare Massachusetts to its peers on three basic measures of success: education, social well-being, and economic strength. Some Americans believe good results on these metrics are the goals of responsible government, and others believe they’re the happy consequences of free markets. But however we get there, these are desirable outcomes for all Americans…

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