Lately I have been baffled by some actions of the Republicans that appeared to be self-defeating and strategically dangerous. Now I think I have a clearer understanding of their motives, strategy and goals — as well as the reasons for their adamant stand on health-care reform. The very actions that baffled me are shaping the direction in which they are moving — and the path they have elected to take in general.
Let’s start with a macro view of the “baffling” actions, before we tackle the health-care issue. First, consider the position that all but a handful of Republicans took on Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s Senate confirmation. Then there was the “birther” controversy, along with the continual bashing of immigrants and immigration. And finally, this giant flap about “death panels,” town-hall disruptions, and rejection of virtually any health-care reform, let alone the public option. In its totality, this is not about the Supreme Court, Obama’s legitimacy, or health care — I am convinced it is about 2010 and 2012. This is the Republican strategy to win the next elections. It is also about the country’s changing demographics, which are scaring the hell out of the Republicans, and their ability and reactions to cope with it. Further, it is about race, religion and the right.
Take the Sotomayer issue. A report in August 2008 from the U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2042 non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. This is a revision of earlier projections that this would occur in 2050. Today, non-Hispanic whites make up about 66 percent of the population. This is expected to fall to 46 percent in 2050. The report foresees the Hispanic population rising from 15 percent today to 30 percent by 2050. Today, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population; in 2050 they are projected to make up 15 percent. Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of the population and are expected to make up 9 percent in 2050. The United States has nearly 305 million people today, and is projected to reach 400 million by 2039 and 439 million in 2050.
Given these facts, it would seem like suicide for the Republican senators to oppose Sotomayer and offend a growing base of their constituents (especially in the border states). But maybe not, if their strategy is to concede that group to the Democrats and focus their efforts on their white right base. Clearly, that is what they have done.
Enhance, strengthen, deepen hold on the right
Similarly, their position on abortion and antipathy to immigrants takes the same tack: enhance, strengthen and deepen their hold on the religious right. But, for now, abortion, immigration reform and other such issues have fallen in priority to the “hot” issue of the day: health-care reform. Here the strategy is clear: Focus on the 25 percent of Americans who do not want reform — generally folks on the far right who dislike any government program or intervention, and have an innate dislike (hatred?) for Obama as well. The view, I believe, is that if they can “lock and load” that hard core group, deepen and widen it a bit, and motivate members of this group to hit the polls in extremely large numbers, they can win elections over the more sanguine and less motivated electorate in the coming elections. Using tactics that combine fear and fiction, they seem to be gaining some traction with this approach.
Michael Murphy, a well-regarded GOP political consultant and writer, noted a similar dynamic in a Time magazine article last June. While I agree with his analysis, I believe his conclusion is wrong. Murphy wrote:
“It is true that attitudes change. A magnificent Republican renewal may still be possible. Conservatism is traditionally energized by a reaction to liberal excess, and the unabashedly leftish tilt of the Obama Administration’s domestic agenda does give hope. But demography is a powerful force. Waiting and hoping didn’t do much for the Whigs. I prefer a Republican reformation right now.
Young voters need to see a GOP that is more socially libertarian, particularly toward gay rights. With changing demographics come changing attitudes, and aping the grim town elders from Footloose is not the path back to a Republican White House. The pro-life movement can still be a central part of the GOP — it has support among all ages (and a slim majority of Latino voters) — but the overall GOP view on abortion must aggressively embrace the big tent. Saving the GOP is not about diluting conservatism but about modernizing it to reflect the country it inhabits instead of an America that no longer exists.”
Making the tent smaller
True as that may be, it is obvious that is not the direction the GOP is taking. Indeed, it is quite the opposite — do not make the tent “bigger,” make it smaller — but with a reliable base it can count on to be vocal, energetic and to vote. How else can you explain actions that offend a growing minority population, and bizarre objections to a health-care program most Americans want and need? The only conclusion: They are going to rely on their white, right, religious base. Look who their spokespeople are now: Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, et al. — and they all speak in the same tongues.
If this conclusion is true, the question remains, will it work? Maybe — if half of Americans do not vote (as they have in past elections); if the minorities who came out to vote for Obama stay home now that the euphoria of a black president has passed; if the young voters return to their habit of staying away from the polls; if the GOP fear tactics gain traction; and if the GOP has sufficiently rallied its base to the level Republicans believe can win elections.
Meanwhile, America is the victim of subtle racism, lots of fear and shouting, paralysis in the legislative branch, and the stonewalling of action on programs that could and would improve the well-being of us all.
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.