April 30, 2008

Are the Children Our Future?

The Pew Research Center has released just about the billionth piece of evidence proving that the Bush era has been a total disaster for conservatives (as if we needed any more). It seems that the 18-29 set, which has always been pretty liberal in its collective heart, is now leaning left by a margin of 25. These are the kids who came of age after 9/11 and have difficulty remembering when they didn?t have an e-mail address and when the GOP wasn?t defined by the Iraq war. 

Matthew Yglesias does a good job in crystallizing how most in the liberal smart set will interpret the data: 

[Y]ou’re looking at the undertow of the past thirty years of conservative identity politics. The right has had great electoral success mobilizing people against the kind of social transformation we’ve been experiencing for the past several decades (more and more assertive racial and ethnic minorities, secularists, cosmopolitan types, etc.) but they haven’t actually halted any of these transformations and the lines of cleavage that have given the GOP the bigger half of the cookie in most elections since 1968 leave them with the smaller half among the youngest cohort.

OK, sure: this is a kind of variation on the ?What?s the Matter with Kansas? theory of American conservatism, but updated to reflect post-2006 reality. The unwashed middle, who are willing to vote solely on the basis of ?moral values? (and/or crypto-racism), is dwindling, and the younger generation has no interest in this voting style whatsoever. 

Political parties are pretty malleable, so I think it?s a better idea to look at what those really big issues are that could unite a broad Right coalition. Mitt Romney tried to make himself the perfect GOP candidate by standing on the thee pillars of ?economic conservatism? (?free-trade?), ?national security? (pro-war), and ?social conservatism? (vague references to ?life?). But such things haven’t proved to work too well in the recent past. 

In truth, the Big Three that have had the widest popular appeal over the past five years have instead been opposition to racial preferences, opposition to amnesty/immigration restriction, and anti-war foreign policy. Ward Connerly?s civil rights initiative of 2006, which effectively banned affirmative action in the universities, won by a landslide?even though it was opposed by youth icon Barack Obama. The only time the conservative movement really showed its teeth, and has been willing to go against the GOP, was during last summer?s battle over amnesty. I don?t need to go into Iraq, which is increasingly viewed as a disaster even by Republicans (and, more importantly, Reagan Democrats.)

These issues are perhaps the only three that can unite an increasingly fracturing youth population (within an increasingly fracturing population as a whole). And better still, they?re all natural conservative issues, and ones which, with the exception of the opposition to war, don?t really work for Democrats. 

And yet, on all of these issues, the GOP has come down on the wrong side?publicly even: opposing Connerly, sponsoring amnesty, and devoutly supporting the war to the point of self-parody. 

I agree that on many crucial fronts conservatives have sadly lost the culture war. But it has taken a very stupid party to continue to ignore the most obvious means of getting elected. 


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