Michael Wolraich's picture

    Waiting for the GOP to Die

    Demographics, we've heard, are pro-Democrat. In a few years, a wave of young Latinos will swamp those dastardly Republicans in their southern redoubts, and then the donkey will soar again. Huzzah!

    But wait, it get's better. According to Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast, "even working-class white people" are preparing to join the glorious Democratic demographic revolution. He discovered a Brookings poll that proves, "White working-class millennials are fairly liberal!"

    In short, all we have to do is wait a decade or two for the new golden age of Democratic hegemony to come roaring back to Washington, courtesy of the aging process.

    I call this the Wait for the Old Farts to Die strategy.

    But before we get too carried with this liberal fantasy, let's take a ride in the political time machine back to, say, 1977. Jimmy Carter, one of the most liberal presidents in American history, occupied the White House. Democrats held a 61-37 majority in the Senate and a 291-144 majority in the House.

    In those days, pollsters didn't survey political opinion with the same granularity that they do today, but you can easily imagine what the demographic breakdown would have looked like in 1977 as the tail end of the Baby Boom generation reached voting age. You would have seen "striking differences" between white boomers and their aging parents, just as Tomasky saw in the recent Brookings poll.

    So by Tomasky's reasoning, the Democrats of 1977 should have expanded their dominance as the old farts died out. But that's not what happened. Not even close.

    The trouble with Tomasky and other demographic-obsessed pundits is that they lack imagination. They assume that the ideologies of the political parties and the core beliefs of the voters will remain fixed. Tomasky allows that people's beliefs "become a bit more conservative as they age and have kids and own property," but he insists that most won't change because they  "grew up in the America of Will and Grace and the relentlessly multi-culti Sesame Street." (Time machine, take us to November 10, 1969: the television premier of Sesame Street, destined to turn the U.S. Democratic in 2025.)

    Of course, everyone knows that the political environment transformed in the 1980s and 1990s. The Republicans used race politics to capture the South. The Democrats triangulated to gather up ex-Republican remnants from the Northeast and West Coast.

    The Tomasky's of the world see this transformation as a simple redrawing of the map. Some states turned red, some turned blue. The reality is more complicated and more interesting. Americans actually changed their political opinions, often quite dramatically. That does not mean that they changed their minds on a fixed set of questions that one might find in an opinion poll. Rather, they evolved as the political environment changed.

    Many of the issues that Democrats and Republicans fight over today did not even exist a few decades ago. Before 1977, abortion was regarded as a "Catholic issue," even after Roe v. Wade. In the space of a few years, it moved from a fringe issue that most Americans had mixed feelings about to one of the most divisive disputes in modern history. Before 1977, the NRA was a minor advocacy group for hunters and sharpshooters, and "gun rights" was not part of the national vocabulary. Nor was "gay rights." That issue did not gain national prominence until Anita Bryant's "Save the Children" campaign in--you guessed it--1977. "Religious right" was another newcomer, thanks to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, founded in 1979. Before that, evangelicals tended to keep their religion out of politics, and they voted in droves for America's first evangelical president, Jimmy Crater.

    In short, the political parties did not evolve around a fixed set of popular beliefs; they evolved with them and very often encouraged people to change the way they thought about the world. In What's the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank described how Kansas shifted from moderate business-focused Republicans to ultraconservative cultural-focused Republicans. An aggressive core of proselytizing conservatives recruited supporters by focusing on abortion and religious issues. They actually changed people's political identities. They didn't have to change everyone--just enough to turn the tide.

    And there lies the danger of Tomasky's way of the thinking. If Democrats sit on their asses, stoking the same old liberal fires while they wait for the old farts to die, passionate conservative activists may sweep in and capture the next generation from under their noses. The issues that occupy the minds of our future old farts will vary somewhat from the questions in Tomasky's poll. They will likely be less race-focused, for one. But the new questions may be just as divisive, and they may keep conservative Republicans in power far longer than demographic-consumed pundits predict.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke (Da Capo, 2010)



    Even if Democrats don't sit on their asses, I still think little will change until the demography of the gerrymandered House districts changes, or the gerrymandered borders are changed. All depends upon where groups like "white working class millenial liberals" end up living.

    Another thing that always had big potential to change things is real results in GOTV in mid-terms. as well as local elections that don't coincide with the presidential election. Even in many gerrymandered districts, the majority don't think totally like the conservative GOP, they just get that kind of representation because of the activists that vote while they don't show up.

    The Gerrymander, 1812

    The U.S. has had midterms and gerrymandering since dawn of the Republic. It hasn't stopped us from evolving.

    Gerrymandering and GOTV efforts can make change harder or easier, but they neither create nor prevent change.


    And the Latinos thing always drives me nuts. Those touting that, it's like they've never met a second generation Latino who has turned more economically conservative than his parents, or those who have become anti-illegal-immigrant, or those who have gone into business and have become libertarian about taxes and government regulation. It's almost racist in a way: i.e., banking on: they're all poor and ill-educated and will always vote for the party they think will give them more government handouts.

    For sure. Everyone forgets that the Italians, Irish, and Poles were all good Democrats who abhorred Republican nativism.

    Though to be fair, I think it usually takes more than one generation for immigrant communities to lose their political memories. It's the third generation Latinos who are more likely to become Republican.

    What baffles me is all the white-bashing going on lately in progressive circles when, according to the census, Hispanics overwhelming self-identify as white. 

    USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau

    White only = 77.9%

    Non-Hispanic Whites = 63%

    The difference 14.9%

    Those self-identifying as Hispanic 16.9%

    That's for the US as a whole.  Check out El Paso County, Texas:

    El Paso County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau



    I remember talk like this in 2004, only it was in reverse. It shows that we have short term memories if we forget so fast. 

    It's very possible that, come 2016, whoever succeeds Obama will have to defend the NSA, drones, mass shootings and a bunch of stuff that may or may not be their fault but happened during the Obama years. A young Rand Paul, on the other hand, will talk about the need to "move on" and will get elected.

    Michael, I'm curious to know what you mean by the "same old liberal fires".  LBJ was the last of the liberal firebrands for me.  The neoliberals have dominated the party since way back.    In fact, you might even call Jimmy Carter the first neoliberal.   I don't see any liberal fire in the belly of today's establishment Democrats - not even a glowing ember.   Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis are examples of the old liberal fire and we need more of that, not less. 

    Before the Moral Majority there was the Silent Majority and the republicans put words in their mouths and minds.  They were "branded" in more ways than one. I believe there's another silent majority today, but there's no one to speak for it.

    The pendulum will probably swing back at some point, but in the meantime...  The right is winning everything its little heart has ever desired and precisely because there is no old liberal fire on the other side of the aisle.  By the time Democrats are back in the drivers seat, this country will be back in the middle ages, but certainly not the 50s


    Maybe fire was the wrong word. Embers?

    I do suspect that there's dormant potential in the electorate, as you suggest, but I'm not sure how to release it. Charismatic representatives are certainly necessary, but much more is required to build a movement.

    Most importantly, I think the left need an ideology upgrade, not just a set of political positions but a new worldview. That worldview should certainly inherit from the classic progressivism, but it's not sufficient to simply rehash yesterday's rhetoric.

    Think about the Tea Parties. For all their disparate policies and interests, they share a remarkably consistent perspective on American society--an out-of-control government that tramples on the rights of "traditional" citizens. Everything they fight for--from abortion laws to lower taxes to blocking HCR--fits into this worldview. The rhetoric derives from classic Republican ideology, but it has a modern twist.

    In recent years, I think OWS has come closest to articulating a comparable worldview for the left, but there's something lacking that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's not quite modern enough. Or maybe the Wall Street bad guys are too diffuse. It's not like the old days when Rockefeller and Carnegie and Morgan towered over everyone.

    I'm not sure how more restrictive abortion laws fit into the Tea Party's call for less intrusive government. I'm not saying that they don't try to force it in, but it's a very poor fit.

    As for AmiBlue's lament that we're continuing our strong march to the right, I think it's largely dependent on the issues you're focusing on. Many on the right are lamenting our strong march to the left. In other words, I'm not saying she's wrong, just that it's somewhat subjective. Obviously we're making progress on gay rights, for example.

    Total hypocrisy, and yet...

    I agree with you that progress is mixed. On race and sexuality, we've been moving fairly steadily toward the left. On guns, economics, and environment, not so much.

    I've been away from my computer so I'm late in responding.  I wanted to say that I think we have a worldview, but I don't think we have anyone to lead.  

    I would say, first and foremost we have to protect the liberal advances of the past.  I'll give you an example. I don't have cable so I don't know what's going on there, but I haven't read anything much about the democrats raising a real stink about the the rightwing SNAP trick in the house.  Why oh why are the dems not raising all kinds of hell about it?  That's how the tea party functions and it is successful. SNAP is just the latest example.  Dem leadership, including Obama except when he's campaigning, just sit like dummies without reactions to the really regressive antediluvian policies the republicans are pushing. 

    OWS irritated the life out of me because it just seemed to drift without purpose.  As I said above, we need more Elizabeth Warrens, Wendi Davis's, Patty Murphy's.  Perhaps it will be up to the women to revive the party, but I don't count Hillary in that category. 

    As an aside, I've been wondering if the Pope Francis might help.  The Catholic church joined the right because of abortion issue decades ago.  Francis seems to be trying to shift the focus back to the poor, which made the church a good partner for the liberals in the past.  That's just something that's occurred to me and I have nothing to back it up.  And I'm not a Catholic.

    There is another demographic change in this nation that is not even thought about let alone talked about or written about!


    There are too many goddamn short folks in this country and their number is growing each and every day.

    We have 9% more short people in this country than we had just ten years ago--just check the Encyclopedia Britannica for chrissakes!

    And just look at how they are multiplying on cable. I see them on TLC and The Animal Channel all the frickin time.

    And what about that short lady on that strange NCIS LA show?

    Now you think that this fact would give the dems hope. 

    I mean short people always have to look up and the repubs do nothing but look down on all demographics.

    Jesus H. Christ, anyone with half a brain would not only use a junk enhancing device but understand that short people will never ever ever join the Democratic Party!

    Short people will shortly initiate their own party just as soon as the states demand that you have to be 'this tall' before you can ride a roller coaster or vote!

    Well, I do not know about you but I sure the hell feel better getting that sombitch off of my chest!

    Oh yeah, and before I go just remember that short people go for the chest because they cannot reach the damn jugular.



    I mean short people always have to look up and the repubs do nothing but look down on all demographics.

    Lol, Richard.  I'm 5 foot 2 and shrinking fast so I have plenty of people looking down on me. I expect Republicans to look down on me.  In fact, if they don't I figure I must be doing something wrong.

    But damn that Randy Newman--he must be GOP.  I get that song all the time.  It just never goes away.

    (I joined the Democratic Party way back when.  Maybe I was taller then.)


    (P.S., you don't have to answer this.  I don't want to hijack Michael's thread.)


    I have to reply to this!

    I was thinking that in my 20's I surely was six foot one. Now I cannot reach the 5'11" mark on the weight scale. hahahahah

    I mean, us boomers are all shrinking; and yet, when you think about it,  we are far from shrinking as a 'demographic'. hahahaha

    The AARP could do a lot more for short people, when you think about it.

    No offense, but short women wield far more power than short men. hahahahah

    Demographics are hard to ignore if for no other reason than political organizations put so much energy into capturing as many voters as they can from each 'group.' To some degree, the influence of self identified groups is the product of marginalizing those who don't self identify. Speaking for something like a silent majority is almost an epic poem in that regard; As if one's inactivity somehow magically joined them with a secret praxis.

    Whether from the left or right, there has to be a clear sense that a certain policy style will provide enough leverage to change things in a way that people in general will recognize. The idea that such leverage is available has to contend with an opposing notion that we are on a roller coaster and cannot meaningfully change what is happening.

    Political messages tend to hedge their bets between the two parties.

    The GOP can maintain power using the media. ACORN did not commit voter fraud.The organization was cleared of wrongdoing. ACORN was defunded by Congress and no longer exists. Shilrey Sherrod was labeled a racist based on a video clip. Sherrod was fired. Sherrod was innocent. The media followed the non-existent cover up of a consulate attack in Benghazi.. The IRS was accused of targeting Tea Party Groups. The IRS denied 501 c4 status to Progressive Groups, but did noteny the status to Tea Party groups. Darrell Issa felt comfortable stating that the White House had instructed the IRS to target Tea Party groups before the first testimony had been given. Press stenography is alive and well.

    The press will go on repeated snipe hunts. The media gives non-existent stories a hint of credibility. The ability of the GOP to control the airwaves gives them staying power.


    I think it's misleading to just say the GOP "used race politics" to win the south. They certainly used enough racist fear to stoke the fire. But the rebirth was won on insecurity, concern about serious rising crime, a shaky economy, threats from the Russians & Iran, a welfare system that seemed to encourage rather than fix structural poverty.

    The poster emblems of this war were the Ayatollah & a crashed US helicopter/fleeing from the embassy, Detroit auto bailout, crack gangs in LA, Jimmy Carter sweater politics during high unemployment and Russian threat, Star Wars (hope!), tax cuts (less government! more filling!), Russia in Afghanistan/advisors in Nicaragua/Castro in Angola, roving crack gangs with machine guns, the single black welfare mother.

    So you're right that they can come up with new divisive issues for the next generation - you just underrepresent how many knives they had in their toolkit last time.

    Leave out the welfare mother and they can win over 3rd generation Hispanics with the rest. Since Russia's not so scary anymore and the Ayatollah never invaded anyone, they've created a shadowy ever-present menace. Since Star Wars even now has failed 5 years in a row, they have an NSA surveillance system that can never fail - it pops up a success here & there to justify its costly expansion (but hush hush - top secret behind that curtain). There's a Democratic president so unemployment will be blamed on him no matter what. There were no prosecutions for malfeasance in 2008 so the GOP is largely left blameless for the meltdown.

    They're still running on the Democrats being girly boys, soft on security, soft on real threats, pampering people instead of getting them to carry their own weight. Besides the messaging machine, they keep managing to win through legislative tactics, gerrymandering, controlling the apparatus. They understand voting is a problem, so they attack voting head-on. (in the 80's, drug busts were a direct way of lowering black Democratic votes - now its challenges at the poll, lowering number of booths in black districts & college campuses, and focusing on the hair-on-fire issues to bring out their base - gay marriage worked in 2004, new issue needed for 2014/2016 - hey, gun rights & abortion back front & center).

    And frankly, even with an LBJ-era super majority in Congress, I can't see Democrats coming out ahead with Harry Reid-style leadership in the face of Boehner and Teabaggers. They just never seem to take GOP tactics serious - they do have matches, they will burn the house down or half of it, yes they should be locked up or at least resisted in an organized way. Instead half of Democratic energy is spent trying to out GOP the GOP - hey, we can slash spending & social programs too! hey, we can lock up whistleblowers too! And we pointed out Republicans are racist and hypocrites! Good luck with waiting for the GOP to die at that speed - just creating more zombies, night of the living dead.

    To envision a Democratic resurgence, you can't just imagine Harry Reid's Senate with more Democrats. You have to imagine a different political environment--new issues, new leaders, a revitalized left-wing, etc. In this Senate, Harry Reid probably wouldn't be the Majority Leader. Or if he was, he'd be tangling with a left-wing insurgency that would draw him left. In this scenario, it would be the GOP that was triangulating to the center and marginalizing the wing in a desperate effort to remain relevant.

    Obviously, that's not going to happen any time soon, but it hasn't been that long since since we lived in such a world. That was the state of American politics in 1977, and it took only fifteen years to be turned on its head.

      I would question--humbly, of course--the suggestion that Democrats are rushing to cut social programs. Obama's budget has reasonable increases in spending for HHS and HUD; Obama expanded the food stamp program; he has promised to veto the bill cutting food stamps, and he created the Neighborhood Stabilization whatchamacallit. And some Democrats are to the left of Obama on social welfare.

    Humbly - without time to look into this much - I'm confused with big 2011 claims of a compromise for huge social spending cuts with more to follow. And then the projected upcoming cuts.

    Digby gives her opinion - do you see it different?

      Well, the cuts in Medicare aren't cuts in benefits; they are cuts in reimbursements to providers. If Obama keeps his promises on Social Security(and if Congress gives him exactly what he wants, which is unlikely) people's benefits will only be cut by a minute $100 to 200 a year--my mother says she is willing to make this sacrifice.

      Digby's graph doesn't give a breakdown of the spending cuts i.e. what programs are being cut and by how much. Also, I think an analysis from five months ago is out of date; a lot of things have happened since then. Obama's 2014 budget has a lot more increases in social spending than it has cuts in social spending.

      Our experience of Democratic presidents, especially Clinton and Obama, prevents me from getting too ecstatic about the prospect of Democratic dominion. But the Senators and Congressmen are often better than the presidents, and if the Republicans do become impotent I guess there will be less pressure to compromise with them.

    See my comment to Peracles. The idea is that the Democratic party would change--including its leaders.

    I am sorry, but...if the GOP keeps on insisting government legislating women's reproductive parts of their bodies, the GOP are dead men walking.  Modern women are not going to settle for this type of intrusive government. It is anti-health and anti-science.  Women are going to campaign more and win elections more.  There is leadership coming from this movement. You can not gerrymander women out.  They are everywhere. It could very well be a gender movement instead of a ethnic one that tips the scales to the democrats.

    If the GOP successfully outlaws abortion to the extent that back-alley abortionists make a comeback, I see a resurgent feminist movement as very possible. But I think it will take some serious regression or else some new compelling women's issue to make that a powerful force.

    You only have to move a portion of the female vote away from the republicans. That will flip the House to the Democrats.  I don't see a large scale revolt or marching in the streets everywhere but more of an awakening of women to the repression of them and their children.  That process has already started.  Social media has been a catalyst and forum for women to express a need for change and also supports the activist.  You only have to look at Burnt Orange blog to see that it has been in a unique roll rallying women in Texas.  I can't attend protest in Austin, Texas but I can send $5 to Wendy Davis election fund.  I can't door knock for Grimes in Kentucky but I can help turn McTurtle's campaign ad against Grimes into a viral backfire/backlash and send $5 to Grimes campaign.  This is what is going on right now and it will continue to make a difference in politics. 

    The GOP will maintain a Southern stranglehold for the near future. As LBG said, the South was lost after the Civil Rights Act. Republicans are actively working to roll the clock back on Civil Rights and much of the drive is focused in the South.The change of the region from conservative Republican to Republican was all about race. For years Democrats had to tiptoe around the issue because there was the presumption that a President ticket had to include a candidate from the South. Southerners had to be placated. Democrats diluted bills focusing on minorities.

    There was no Southern candidate on either major party ticket in 2012. Obama won Virginia and Florida and narrowly lost North Carolina so things may be changing. He won North Carolina in 2008. Some Democrats had advocated simply writing off the South as a source of Democratic votes. Other Democrats point out that the voting pattern may change as the South becomes more urban as urban-rural divides are seen in the North as well. Democrats fare better in urban areas. Tactics to insure Republicans victories in the South are changing but race had a great deal to do with the initial change in voting pattern. 

    Romney won the four states with the strictest voter ID laws. Obama won four of the eleven states with some form of voter ID. Republicans realize the impact that voter IDs can have and are pushing forward with more voter ID bills. The Republicans use the fantasy of voter fraud as cover. Minorities are the ones suspecting of being the source of the fraud. It is interesting that Republicans were caught committing actual voter fraud. 

    That depends on how you define "the South". Some people would include Florida in that definition, but most people would include Virginia, both of which went to Obama in 2012. Romney won NC with only 50.4% of the vote to Obama's 48.4%, and remember that Obama beat McCain there in 2008. Georgia was also close enough that significant GOTV efforts could make a difference, although it's admittedly a long shot. Alabama and Tennessee would require > 20% change in votes, so they would be the last to turn (not that there aren't benefits from trying, of course).

    Agreed as it stands now. The Democrats could make gains, if they start to stand for something. More urbanized Voters may go for something other than just Republican- lite. 

    Mississippi voted 44% for Obama, same as South Carolina. And Mississippi's non-Hispanic white population down 3 points in last decade (black population up 1 point, Hispanic population up 2 points), multiracial now accounts for 1.1% of the census, growth in interracial marriages apparently leads the nation but couldn't find exactly how many that is.

    Mississippi is implementing a voter ID law to keep poor and minority voters from increasing  the Democratic vote

    Keep your eye on the turn out in DC for the 50th anniversary of "I had a dream" speech rally.  That just might kick off one of the biggest voter registration drive in the country for minorities. Here in Florida we had to help people get birth certificates and sometimes that took donations to pay for the fees.  Then we had to get them to the county offices to get ID's and then sometimes to another office to register to vote with everything needed. State law restrictions and punitive fines forced us to register voters one at a time.  Made sure that people with hardships could get ballots to vote by mail.  It was a  huge up hill battle and we proved that voter repression would not work. 

    The GOP may not realize but the gutting of the VRA and the ID laws will spur more people to come out to vote. I think women will feel an urgency to vote given the blatant attack on women's rights. It has gotten to a point where they have riven Blacks, Latinos and woen together because they all feel that they are under Republican attack.

    Sometimes I wonder if all these extreme attacks on rights are a Republican death rattle. It is like a death bed last will and testament they are trying to leave behind for us to sign as a witness.  They know their days are numbered.

    Republican Rand Paul will remain popular despite a cloudy history on race.Paul said that he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has sinse backtracked in an attempt to seem like a moderate.

    In 2009 Chris Hightower  a Rand Paul spokesperson had to resign after being exposed as a White Supremacist Devil worshipper ( you can't make this stuff up). Hightowers' claim to fame was writing HAPPY N****R DAY on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

    Rand Paul then made a flubbed attempt to educate Howard students about the history of the Republican Party on matters of race. Unfortunately, a Howard student had to supply Rand with the name Edward Brooke.Paul's cram session on Black history caused brain freeze. Blacks were not impressed.

    Now we have Rand Paul staffer and social media manager, Jack Hunter, exposed as a Southern secessionist. Hunter's highlight was noting that Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had is heart in the right place.

    Rand Paul seems to find himself in deep feces on issues of race. Predictably, Paul Deirdre's attention to drones to avoid the controversy. He is now threatening to block the nomination of the new FBI director because of drones. 

    A blogger on TPM notes that Libertarians and neo-confederates are intertwined. Libertarians believe that government intervention should be kept to a minimum. Neo-confederates believe in nullification the principle that states can reject Federal laws, The fringe wants to secede, Minority groups see protection from discriminatory laws coming from government. When Rand Paul objects to the government telling a business owner that he/ she has to serve a minority that they do not like, neo-conservatives love him. Minorities generally reject Paul's position. Rand Paul's personal assurance that he would not support a racist business does not gain him many minority votes. Republican Libertarians are lied to the neo-confederates by a shared outlook of the Federal government. The shared goals make the GOP less likely to be the place where many minorities end up.

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