The Tea Party And Demographics

You might have missed this nugget from this morning's Dish, but it's been floating around my frontal cortex this afternoon. Do the math in any state: compare the proportion of whites among seniors to the proportion of whites among children. The bigger the gulf, the likelier the kind of cultural and social panic you see from exactly the demographic that watches FNC and supports the Tea Party. This doesn't mean all FNC watchers or Tea Partiers fall into this syndrome, but when it comes to immigration, it's a fascinating dynamic.

I see the rise of religious fundamentalism and the emergence of purely symbolic, policy-free movements to "take our country back" as partly psychological expressions of loss in the face of modernity's complexity and diversity. And I think a core divide within conservatism today is between those conservatives who have an Oakeshottian/Burkean view of the necessity and adventure of social change and those who have a Thomist/Straussian view of timeless, eternal truths and cultures that must be defended in every single respect against their enemies.

Of course, I believe that the Burkean view - that societies must change in order to stay the same - the most persuasive if polities and countries are to remain coherent. That's why I see marriage equality, for example, as a classic Burkean adaptation of existing institutions to new social forces. But the opposite view - I'd call it reactionary, not conservative, but that's an argument for another day - is often stronger, because it draws on deeper emotional roots.

Fear usually defeats nerve. My view is that conservatism as a pragmatic, practical political philosophy is about nerve - having it, and soothing them. Hence Obama, the Burkean.