Demography as Destiny: The GOP's Self-Inflicted Wound

By James Fallows

I mentioned yesterday the "demographic suicide" analysis of the modern Republican predicament: that in its increasing fealty to an older-white-male-Southern base, the party has moved itself toward structural-minority status. Can it really happen? Look at the predicament of Republicans in California, after Pete Wilson led them over the anti-immigrant cliff a generation ago. Four readers weigh in to augment and challenge this theory.

What George W. Bush Knew. A long-time observer and participant in Democratic politics, from the West Coast, writes:

I've always maintained that George W. Bush's greatest failure has gone largely unremarked:  He quite clearly foresaw that the GOP would die if it became the party of white guys alone, and he specifically wanted to broaden it to include Hispanics/Latinos at the very least. 

Part way through his Presidency, however, perhaps as a result of what was observed in Florida in 2000, at some klatch among GOP strategists (which, if it was a single event, would seem to merit a footnote in history), it was decided by people more powerful in the GOP that, rather than accept the changing demographic, the better approach was simply to deny non-whites and other marginalized people the right to vote, to the extent this could be arranged.  That effort went into gear quickly, and broadly, and remains in gear to date.  (A variant is the GOP facilitating creation of "minority majority" Congressional districts.)  Of course, this merely buys time.  But it has bought a lot of time.

The long arc from Eisenhower. Mike Lofgren, who is a long-time observer and participant in Republican politics on the East Coast, writes:

We may have come to the endpoint of a 50-year political arc for the Republicans on the subject of anti-intellectualism. After Sputnik, we had Eisenhower's initiative to aid science education. Note that Ike said that the need to educate a large pool of scientific and engineering brainpower was of vital national interest - far beyond the need for weapon systems themselves. And that same year (1958) Vice President Nixon (yes, Nixon) gave a speech extolling higher education in the humanities.
 
The first real break in this attitude toward learning by any major political figure came from George Wallace's sneers against "pseudo-intellectuals." A couple of years later, in executing Nixon's Southern/hardhat strategy Spiro Agnew condemned an "effete corps of impudent snobs."
 
But it has now degenerated to the point where Romney, a Harvard JD himself, has to inveigh against the "Harvard faculty lounge," and the message of Santorum campaign can pretty much be summarized as "ignorance is strength." And even back when Agnew was excoriating the nattering nabobs of negativism, he did not have the vast echo chamber afforded by a national multimedia conglomerate which expressly appeals to an uneducated and/or low-IQ demographic, and the viewing of whose "news" programs, as polls have shown, makes the viewer less informed than if he had not seen anything.

The law that really changed history. A child of immigrant parents writes about the under-appreciated force behind the new demographic laws of politics: the 1965 immigration reform act. That law is not under-appreciated by me, since I've written about it several times in the magazine and in books. But the reader is correct about the disproportion between how much it changed America and how often it's discussed.

Reading the excellent NY Mag Article you linked to about the demographically dwindling Republican base lead me to think about one of the most overlooked acts of our time - the 1965 Immigration Reform Act.
 
Now when most people think of landmark 1965 legislation, they rightly think of the Voting Rights Act. But demographically speaking, the Republican "Southern Strategy" would not have been stopped just because ten percent of the population had their voting rights guaranteed. No, the reason for Republicanism's decline is the influx of immigrants from all over the world who don't take kindly to the racism the Republicans now seem to openly sell.
 
Case in point - my parents came from Asia in the mid-1970s. They tend to be, my father especially, socially conservative. But they would never vote Republican on a national level - especially with the turn the Republican party has taken since September 11th.
 
The 1965 act was actually an afterthought at the time, just made to get rid of an embarrassment of a system that prevented any Asians and Africans from coming. Nobody expected that we'd come in droves, and change the face of America in the process. In 1960, the population of America was ~ 90% White, 10% Black. In 2010, it was 72.4% White and 12.4% Black - and a strong 15% "other," a number which is projected to grow.
 
Now without the Voting Rights Act, I'm sure much of that 15% would also be disenfranchised, or at least less free. But it's interesting that the greatest conservative fears about the Voting Rights Act - that of losing white power - were amplified by the afterthough Immigration Act. I wonder now, when President Obama has overseen landmark legislation in consumer protection for finances and health care, what afterthought of a bill we're overlooking.

The real cost of the anti-"snob" speech.  A reader responds to my assertion that Rick Santorum's "college is for snob" speech was mainly offensive to the college-boy crowd:

It's no insult to the "creative class," who weren't going to vote for Santorum under any circumstances anyway and don't consider him worth resenting or being insulted by.

What's devastating about it is he's saying it to audiences full of working-class people who've been struggling and saving up their whole adult lives so their kids can be the first in their family ever to go to college and have a hope for a better life.

I know how my conservative grandfather, a carpenter, would have reacted to that idea when he was finally able to send my father, his second son, to the local college on a scholarship as the first in the family ever to be able to get that education.

(What really gets me is that the conventional wisdom among the punditry is that Rick Santorum is "likable.")

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/03/demography-as-destiny-the-gops-self-inflicted-wound/253823/