Friday, November 7, 2008

Dick Armey's Conservatism

In today's WSJ (11/7/08, A17), Richard "Dick" Armey correctly pinpoints the problem with McCain's campaign--a failure to communicate convincing pride in individualism and small government:

The modern Republican Party has risen above its insecurities to achieve political success [in the past]. [We] understood that big government was cruel and uncaring of individual aspirations. Small government conservatism was, by definition, compassionate--offering every American a way up to self-determination and economic prosperity. Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 because voters no longer saw Republicans as the party of limited government. They have since rejected virtually every opportunity to recapture this identity...The evidence suggests we are still a nation of pocketbook conservatives most happy when government has enough respect to leave us alone and to mind its own business.

The last line is pure poetry. Unfortunately, Dick Armey has the fatal flaw of many Republicans--cultural myopia, which has led him to make insensitive statements against minorities. Cultural insularity was a major problem in McCain's campaign and especially in its VP choice, because unless Republicans convince Americans they stand for more than just quota-type diversity, their ranks will not grow. If you don't believe me, take a look at the Arizona audience for McCain's concession speech, and compare its diversity with the people in Grant Park and worldwide who supported Obama. The United States has changed demographically, but the Republicans seem oblivious.

Cultural insularity is the main reason Sarah Palin was such a controversial choice. Picking her meant the Republican Party consciously closed itself to independents who didn't favor a robust Christianity or who valued intellectualism. Palin famously refused to specify what she read (see Couric interview) and admitted she hadn't traveled much outside of North America before her VP nomination (see Gibson Interview, 9/13/08). But Palin aside, the Republicans desperately need a plan that will make them more attractive to people in larger cities, who tend to be less religious and more diverse. The solution is simple: if Republicans want to beat the Democrats, they must agree to advocate smaller government, lower taxes, and more legal immigration.

The failure to have a coherent immigration policy doomed the Republicans and will continue to doom them as long as they are viewed as a white, Christian party. This is because the electoral college system favors states that attract the most immigrants (or whose residents have the most children). For instance, despite winning only 53% of the popular vote, Obama won around 70% of the vote that matters, the electoral college vote. He won by focusing on diverse, larger cities, and he prevailed even though he received only 30% of working-class white votes. In short, Obama won because he understood that a vote in California is worth more than a vote in Alabama.

Assuming the electoral college system continues, sensitivity to legalized immigration and ethnic and religious diversity will be necessary to win the White House. Every single state with more than 19 electoral votes has either a large immigrant population or is not majority white. Meanwhile, many Republican strongholds, like Alabama and Kentucky, are experiencing depopulation or are sustaining population levels mainly because of foreign immigration. In fact, without immigrants and their children, America would have a negative population growth rate. Assuming naturalized citizens favor legal immigration and do not agree that Christianity is the only path to morality, any continued attempt to support Sarah Palin or persons like her as representative of the Republican Party will exclude immigrants and residents in mega-cities.

Still Pro-Palin? Look at a sample of mega-cities, like Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, San Jose, San Francisco, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia--in all those cities, the white, presumably Christian population is a plurality, not a majority. Outside of Texas, guess how many cities with over a million residents are majority white? Only one--Phoenix, Arizona--and the Republicans already tried winning with that hometown hero.

If you continue to disagree that a pro-immigration, non-religious platform is necessary for the Republicans to recapture the White House, you should study Santa Clara County and North Carolina. Both are microcosms of America in terms of changing demographics.

In Santa Clara County, more than 40% of the residents were born outside the country. An astounding 69% voted for Obama, and only 28% voted for McCain. Those numbers demonstrate how out of touch the Republican Party has become with non-Caucasians and non-Christians. Republicans should be more popular in California--after all, Californians recently elected a Republican governor, and the Republican Party's platform of less spending and lower taxation should appeal to high-earners and people concerned with the state's budget crisis. Yet, Republicans cannot gain a reliable foothold in any county where immigration has exploded. This failure to do better in diverse counties, even in states that badly need fiscal discipline, shows that the Republicans' strategy of focusing on whites, Christians, and senior citizens at the expense of other groups is not viable. This is not to say that Republicans should exclude their core groups of support and suddenly focus on minorities. That strategy shift won't work, either. For example, despite having consistent support from Florida's Cuban population, Republicans lost Florida. In addition, foreign-born Americans are only 12% of the national population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2004 survey.

What's the solution? Again, it's surprisingly simple: Republicans need to focus more on fiscal responsibility, advocate more legal immigration to appear progressive, and excise the fundamentalist religious right from their ranks. To do this, Republicans must cast out Sarah Palin and expressly affirm the separation of church and state. Indeed, despite being accused of practicing fundamentalist Christianity, Sarah Palin never delivered her version of JFK's "Catholic speech" or an Obama/Jeremiah Wright rebuttal. By failing to publicly and openly address concerns that her religious beliefs would interfere with her ability to govern the nation impartially, she hurt the Republican Party in all major urban areas. She also lost an opportunity to show that she understood American values, an opportunity a previous Democratic candidate did not forsake. Historians now agree that JFK won in no small part because of his stand against the commingling of church and state:

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end...

And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office...

I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion.

If the Grand Old Party wants true reformation, it will condemn in the strongest possible language any Republican who believes that a particular religion is required to gain God's favor. Ironically, this shift will probably cause the Christian right to create the first viable third party in America, which will gain Senate seats from the Midwest and allow them a firmer, more consistent voice in politics. Thus, my proposed solution would create a win-win-win situation.

Still unconvinced? Take a hard look at the evolution of North Carolina. Less than ten years ago, North Carolina voted for a senator, Jesse Helms, who was opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and who filibustered the idea of having a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. (as you can see, minorities and immigrants have legitimate reasons for not voting Republican). North Carolina voted for Jesse Helms from 1973 to 2003--twenty long years. Recently, however, North Carolina voted out Helms' successor, Elizabeth Dole, in favor of a Democrat, and previously, it elected one of the most liberal Democrats, John Edwards.

The story gets worse for the Republicans. North Carolina voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004--until Obama. That's quite a shift from Senator Jesse "Anti-Civil-Rights-Act" Helms in the last ten to twenty years--and the children of recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, haven't even hit voting age yet. North Carolina shows that if Republicans do not disavow themselves of their Palin/Helms strain of right-wing religion and cultural insularity, they will lose America. Not just "real America," but America, period. After all, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States say nothing about Christianity, Jesus Christ, or the Bible. Also, in 1797, George Washington signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which declared that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Demographics are destiny, as the saying goes. For now and the immediate future, the demographics are decidedly in favor of a party that respects and favors legal immigration, diversity, and separation of church and state. That's good news for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bobby Jindal, and others prescient enough to see the future of American politics.


Blog Post on Immigration Policies of Obama and McCain:

Update on April 2, 2009: not that it's conclusive evidence of anything, but Newt Gingrich agrees with me.

Update on April 2012: for better or worse, urbanization is happening world-wide, not just in the United States: "In the hundred years between 1950 and 2050, the global population is undergoing an irreversible structural transition in the way we live.  Drawn by the economic, lifestyle and social opportunities of urban dwelling, the world's population is migrating from rural areas--accounting for 70% of global population in 1950--to cities--accounting for 70% of of global population by 2050 based on United Nations projections.  In 2009, the percentage of the planet's population living in urban areas crossed the 50% threshold and by 2037 cities in developing nations will contain half the world's total population." (from Credit Suisse, April 2012)

Update on March 2017: "Hillary Clinton, more than others, has a worldview problem because the vast majority of the electorate has already told itself a story about her... I believe there isn't enough money in circulation to persuade those voters that have already made up their minds to change them." -- from Seth Godin's All Marketers are Liars (2005), pp. 81, hardcover.

Update on December 2017: the Republicans won the 2016 election through a twice-divorced candidate who married a legal immigrant, presumably employs numerous immigrants in his businesses, and who has no religious piety or knowledge. Unfortunately--or fortunately--I was wrong about Bobby Jindal's potential. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(From my friend RST)

I believe that the Republicans ignore demographics at their peril. I heard an interesting analysis by the African American professor Manning Mirabel that attributed the Republican loss to a failure to understand the shifting demographic. Joe the Plumber is not (and certainly will not be in coming years) the face of America. However, I think that there is zero chance of the Republicans adopting your strategy because the religious right will not tolerate it. I don't think the religious right will bolt from the Republican Party. Perhaps Jindal is the party's best hope. He is positioning himself for a run and is already in Iowa. Unfortunately, a person of color as titular head of the party amid a sea of white faces just isn't going to work. I suppose anything is possible since the Americans elected Bush twice.

Personally, I am hoping that Sarah Palin is the candidate because then the Republicans will have no chance of winning, and people will become even more alienated by the politics of hate and division ("real" America v. fake America, black v. white, Muslim v. Christian, America v. the rest of the world). Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber like George Bush and Cheney are the real face of Republicanism, and it is important for the country and the world to see its overt ugliness. When Bush ran as a compassionate conservative or when conservative intellectuals promulgate deceptive theories, the real nature of the raw power grasp, the racism and xenophobia, the mindless patriotism, arrogance, the appeal to our baser instincts, the derogation of the constitution and civil liberties, and the destruction of even the basic functions of government are obscured. The true legacy of the Republicans is two wars, a huge deficit, and the country in ruins. Interestingly, even Greenspan recognized the flaw in his theory. The Republicans must do an agonizing reappraisal.

Happily, because of the Republican philosophy as manifest in this campaign and in the Bush/Cheney era, the people of this country were able to transcend their racism, hatred of the Other, and xenophobia, and I am grateful to the Republicans. I feel guilty about this statement because this transcendence is dripping with the blood of the Iraqi people and of American soldiers. The Greeks used to say "mathos di pathos" or suffering brings wisdom. Perhaps it is true.

I don't have any illusions about Obama. No candidate can deal with the systemic problems, and I see Obama's presidency as a third term of Bill Clinton minus the zipper problem. I was quite disillusioned with Clinton. In any case, I think it is good for little children to have a black role model who is brilliant, highly educated, and at the highest level of government. I think it will be a step in dispelling racial stereotypes although I do not harbor the illusion that it will make much difference in the short run.