Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Party of Work Struggles With Demographics

As we Republicans continue to soul search after this election, a number of interesting articles give us food for thought.

David Brooks of the New York Times is of the opinion that Republicans have always believed in the American creed of liberty, individualism, equal opportunity, populism and laissez-faire. Of a political philosophy based upon concepts that ordinary people are capable of greatness, that individuals have the power to shape their destinies, and they should be given maximum freedom to do so. Republicans in this mold place tremendous importance on churches, charities and families and are innately suspicious of government. More government means less individual and civic vitality.

Yet in the face of the above, the Republican party has lost the American popular vote for President in 5 out of the last 6 elections.  A problem with demographics or a problem with message? Has the American public moved on from the economic message of more government means less work?

According to Brooks, each year brings more Americans whose cultural roots lie elsewhere. They are from different cultures, with different attitudes towards government and authority, of individualism and enterprise. Asian Americans and Hispanics have an "awesome" commitment to work and value industriousness more than whites. Rather than reject, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, enhance opportunity and not crush it.

By embracing that particular idea, they rejected the Republican party through their votes by an over 3 to 1 ratio.

Will changing positions on immigration reform entice these groups into the party?  According to Brooks, no. The real problem is economic values. Republicans should be the party that celebrates work and inflames enterprise by helping people transform their lives. By helping them navigate through a modern economy in which one can work more productively but see their wages not rise. What are the best ways to rouse ambition and open fields of opportunity?

While most argue that the Republican party is failing to properly market or brand itself, Brooks argues the party instead should be spending more time on specify, grounded everyday problems.

Brooks' article can be read here.

Ross Douthat, also of the New York Times, tends to agree with this analysis and also argues against a demographic excuse for losing 5 of the last 6 popular votes for President. He focuses on the problems of the middle-class which are far different from the days of Ronald Reagan. Health care now takes a larger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks and pay stagnation is a greater threat than inflation. Both Douthat and Brooks fret over the excessive cost of college today.

Overhauling the Republican message on the economy will be difficult and both authors argue against playing identity politics like our Democratic friends. Such politics is far less painful than overhauling an economic message. This election cycle, Democrats ignored the economy while Republicans stressed it, using however the wrong message to try to get its point across.

Would a more moderate tone on immigration help Republicans? Yes. Would such a moderate tone win over Hispanic and Asian voters?  By itself?  No.  Such voters tend to lean leftwards on government involvement in economic matters, and rightward on social issues. They vote their pocketbooks first.

Douthat argues that the Republican party needs is an economic message that would appeal across demographic lines, one that would acknowledge that government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream, rather than opposing all state efforts. The new message should be to reform and streamline government while addressing middle class anxieties as to wages, health care, education and living daily lives.

Douthat's article can be read over here.

Are we as Republican ready to accept overhauling the Republican message in such a fashion to entice the changing demographics and their votes? Or will we take the easy way out the way Democrats have to pander to those demographics on a more short term basis?

Interesting late night reading.


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