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The Rising Tide of Liberalism

[ 119 ] November 28, 2012 |

Chait is really optimistic about the future of liberalism given the political leanings of young people:

What all this suggests is that we may soon see a political landscape that will appear from the perspective of today and virtually all of American history as unrecognizably liberal. Democrats today must amass huge majorities of moderate voters in order to overcome conservatives’ numerical advantage over liberals. They must carefully wrap any proposal for activist government within the strictures of limited government, which is why Bill Clinton declared the era of big government to be over, and Obama has promised not to raise taxes for 99 percent of Americans. It’s entirely possible that, by the time today’s twentysomethings have reached middle age, these sorts of limits will cease to apply.

I am too naturally pessimistic to buy into this without reservation. But there’s no question that in some fundamental ways he is right. On social issues, conservatives are losing badly and they increasingly know it. Gay marriage is going to be legal across the nation within 20 years. We are moving toward drug legalization with shocking rapidity. Anti-immigrant politics don’t appeal to these voters. The key question revolves around economic issues. If young people are committed to building an American version of a European-style social welfare state, then I feel really optimistic about the nation’s future myself.

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  1. Malaclypse says:

    I’m really certain you could find quotes from the early 70s certain that the 26th Amendment was the death knell for conservatives.

  2. Manta says:

    How is this era different from the previous ones? Were young people significantly more conservatives today than, say, under Reagan?

    • Manta says:

      Misprint: are young people significantly more liberal today than, say, under Reagan?

      • Murc says:

        Actually, yeah, kinda.

        People do tend to get more conservative as they get older, but part of the reason for conservatives success is that a LOT of young white dudes turned violently against liberalism in the 70s and 80s and kept those beliefs as they got older. And they were a bigger slice of the population, too.

        The backlash against liberalism and the counterculture, deserved or not, was actually a real thing, not just a conservative talking point.

      • Manta says:

        Thanks for the answer & data.

      • Matt McIrvin says:

        Speaking as someone who was a teenager at the time: yes. There was a real conservative youth movement back then.

        Alex P. Keaton was a myth, but mostly in that these kids’ parents weren’t hippie boomers; they were the children of fairly conservative people themselves. But they were passionate about Reagan in much the same way that some young people in 2008 were about Obama.

    • Craigo says:

      In 1984, young voters went for Reagan by about the same margin as the nation did.

      It’s not just that the very large millenial generation is strongly liberal – it’s that the second largest existing cohort, the boomers, are the Republican base, and not for much longer. These sort of stark differences between age groups really are rare.

      • Craigo says:

        I mixed up the boomers and the silents a bit – the Silent Generation is actually the most conservative, and appears to have been that way for some time.

        • Craigo says:

          Yeah, I saw that. It’s actually standard practice today to group young voters into 18-29, so I was combining the two categories.

          But yeah, taken separately, the youngest voters were somewhat more Republican than average.

          • Sherm says:

            Yeah, it has always seemed to me, and I believe that there is some data supporting this, that the younger boomers are more conservative than the older boomers. The younger boomers being the ones who reached 18 after the draft had ended and who started their careers in the 80′s.

            • brewmn says:

              I remember going to the University of Illinois starting in 1982, with the expectation that I was being transported to Berkeley in 1969. Instead, I was greeted by armies of frat boys in pink Izods going into business administration and looking forward to making big money in banking. Quite a cold slap of reality to the face of this aspiring hippie at the time.

            • PBF says:

              Pew – The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election.

              Late Boomers are the most Republican voting cohort.
              Also discusses how Boomers in general lost their youthful allegiance to the Democrats as they aged

          • FMguru says:

            The notion that boomers were ever liberal was always a side effect of the outsized media presence of a tiny, college-attending subset of boomers who protested the war and attended Woodstock and all that. For every boomer who burned their draft card or took part in a “be in” or campaigned for McGovern, there were several dozen that were entering the blue-collar workforce, or quietly getting business and engineering degrees. But the “boomers were all hippie protestors with long hair” pop culture image has always dominated.

  3. Murc says:

    I am too naturally pessimistic to buy into this without reservation.

    Never, ever underestimate the people to turn nastily conservative once they get old, especially if they get old AND there’s a scary new demographic coming up behind them AND they’ve gotten a decent slice of the economic pie and are terrified of losing it.

    A lot of the “Reagan Democrats” and people who outright switched from Democrat to Republican in the 70s/80s were people who supported an economic agenda that, today, would be regarded as shockingly socialist… as long as all those broads, darkies, and fags couldn’t get a taste of it.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      But is there actual evidence of people’s political beliefs turning hard to the right as they get older. Obviously there’s many anecdotal observations, but statistically?

      • Craigo says:

        Again from 1984, a middle-aged Depression baby, someone who could never remember a time without the New Deal, was in the age cohort least likely to vote for Reagan. That same voter was in the strongest Carter demographic in 1976.

        It wasn’t until their generation died off and were replaced by the Silents that older voters became strongly Republican.

      • Murc says:

        Well, can we define “turn” hard to the right?

        Left and right are objective to a certain extent, but they’re also relative. “I’m an economically populist racist” was considered a very liberal standpoint in the 1940s; by the 1980s it was a conservative one.

      • tt says:

        There was a post on this on CT four years ago (the linked Gelman paper is also worth reading): http://crookedtimber.org/2008/10/07/cohort-age-and-period/

        The consensus seems to be that we have no good way of distinguishing cohort effects, age effects and period effects.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        I think in the US the “aging into economic conservatism” is correlated very strongly with maintaining racist attitudes learned before the Civil Rights Act kicked in, whether consciously or subconsciously.

        • Manta says:

          But that’s a hypothesis that *can* be tested: what happens outside US? Say, in Britain, France, Germany, Italy?

          • Holden Pattern says:

            1) I don’t know for sure — dunno about cross-national studies of cohort politics. But its a good question.

            2) The US is, I think, unique among modern democracies in the scope of its historical racist problem and the extent to which that was embedded in our institutions.

            • Jason says:

              I don’t think 2) is correct. The legacy of slavery and our nation’s existence coming from the eradication of a native population makes us a strong competitor, but the US is hardly unique in its racial problems.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                Not unique in having racist problems, but unique in the extent to which the racism has been integrated into our politics and our institutions.

                Opinions may differ, of course — the Japanese do a hell of a job as well.

                • Josh G. says:

                  The Japanese, however, mostly express their racial insularity by simply not admitting many foreigners. It seems to me that this creates less friction than having a large minority population, but insisting on treating them as second-class citizens.

                • Your point is fair enough if we limit our view to Western Europe, but not if “modern democracies” includes other countries in the Americas, or Australia.

      • This was relayed to me in an anecdote by a professor of political science at Pitt (David Barker), but he claimed that people who vote for a winning president twice are effectively cemented as members of that party for life. I realize that’s a slightly different question from the one you’re asking, but it seems relevant in the sense that, if it’s true, people in my age bracket who have twice voted for a victorious Obama are unlikely to vote Republican down the line.

        • john says:

          That would also have to mean that all of the people who voted for Bush would be cemented as Republicans. But didn’t we see a significant number of these votes go to Obama in ’08?

          • Bill Murray says:

            Not necessarily. 18-29s voted about 45% for Bush in 2004 (I couldn’t get 2000 to load). If the new people in this group voted ~70% for Obama with the people from before still voting ~45%, you get the 2008 and 2012 exit poll numbers

      • Greg says:

        I wonder how much of this effect (if it exists) is just people getting more conservative as they gain more wealth?

        • Bill Murray says:

          Being married is very important in this too. Unmarried men and women were much more likely (each by about 20%) to vote for Obama than married people

          • Djur says:

            Not sure where correlation and causation are there. I’ve certainly noticed that people tend to get somewhat more conservative on certain issues after getting married and having kids, but mostly not on issues of significant national import.

            On the other hand, religious conservatives are more likely to vote Republican (obviously) and also more likely to be married. Older people are more likely to vote Republican and also more likely to be married. Etc.

            Wonder if the data’s there to break out the factors of age, marital status, religion, and political alignment. I suspect marital status is an indicator, not a cause.

      • mark f says:

        “A conservative is a liberal who got mugged by a professor who made him share the ‘A’ he earned in his heart with a layabout Affirmative Action student.” – Winston Churchill

    • SatanicPanic says:

      I can see some extremely old people getting bamboozled into supporting an agenda they don’t understand “Gov’t out of my Medicare!”, but I don’t see any evidence that people get more conservative in voting patterns with age.

  4. Linnaeus says:

    I’ve read a lot of Strauss & Howe (from whom a lot of writers appear to be borrowing when talking about generational theory & social change), and I often came away with the feeling that they had a narrative they wanted to tell, then tried to fit their evidence into that narrative.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      I felt that way too. I think they were trying to fit recent history into a generational conflict model particularly with regards to boomers and Xers. But, they had a kind of stagnant unchanging picture of Xers and their position in society.

    • Matt McIrvin says:

      I think Strauss & Howe are crackpots, mostly in the way they claim to be identifying this clockwork cycle that operates over a span of centuries. But it’s not to say that cohort effects don’t exist.

      I think they interact with stage-of-life effects. People really do get risk-averse and crabby as they get old. But there’s also this half-century lag in American politics that comes from people’s political orientation being set by whatever crises happen in their early twenties, which gets expressed when they become enthusiastic voters as 70-year-old retirees.

    • CaptBackslap says:

      My general feeling about their work is that it’s an interesting theory, but they allowed themselves vastly too much latitude to decide when generations started. The whole thing has the feel of those studies that claim to prove biorhythms are real by misusing “margin of error” to add extra critical days.

  5. Craigo says:

    Here’s a Pew study from last year; there is some evidence that voting patterns in early adulthood remain strong over time.

    • PBF says:

      Pew’s thesis only fits younger voters however so it may be based on age instead of cohort. The report goes on to show how Boomers became more conservative as they aged. The best take away is how split each cohort is with Silents, Boomers and Xs all politically divided.

  6. J.W. Hamner says:

    Everybody has already essentially said this, but whether this snapshot of a liberal youth vote is meaningful depends on how common are generational differences in political preference and how stable those preferences are as people age.

  7. Quite a few of the women undergraduates that I teach deny being feminists but are shocked and appalled by sexist depictions of women in movies from — well, in just about all movies that were made before they were born. They have internalized the lessons of feminism while at the same time accepting the denigration of that label. I think the same is true about race, and about sexuality. They don’t think it’s liberal, because they have been told that liberal=bad, but they have normalized liberal values.

    • Matt McIrvin says:

      There’s been some backsliding, though, too. US attitudes toward abortion were probably more liberal in the early 1970s than they are today.

      I also remember an active feminist movement against strong gender norms in children’s toys and media back then, and if anything that stuff is more cartoonishly hypergendered now than it was in the 1950s.

      • Lee says:

        The cult of the princess pretty much goes against most of the things that feminists wanted to achieve even if the princess allegedly kicks ass. One of the more intelligent and amusing criticism’s of Brave came from Peggy Orenstein, who would have been a kid and teenager in the 1970s, was that Brave can’t be feminst because the main character is a princess.

      • Lee says:

        The cult of the princess pretty much goes against most of the things that feminists wanted to achieve even if the princess allegedly kicks ass. One of the more intelligent and amusing criticism’s of Brave came from Peggy Orenstein, who would have been a kid and teenager in the 1970s, was that Brave can’t be feminst because the main character is a princess.

    • FMguru says:

      It’s a result of the way that “feminist” had come to mean “angry, frigid, humorless man-hating dyke with hairy legs who burn their bras and hate sex”. Lots of women identify with feminist arguments but recoil from the label “feminist”; it’s one of the most successful results of the long right-wing propaganda war that we’ve been living with for the last 40 years. Things seem to changing nowadays, thankfully.

      • Josh G. says:

        Does it matter? Are we concerned with protecting a label, or actually changing substantive societal attitudes?

        • Lyanna says:

          Yes, it matters. The label was demonized in order to demonize the associated substantive views.

          The “I’m not a feminist, but…” type of woman can be easily intimidated into watering down her substantive position, if she’s accused of being a “man-hating feminist” because she holds that position. The stigma of “feminist” shames women (and some men) into keeping silent about, or even modifying, their substantive views, because they know that feminists hold those views.

  8. Greg says:

    I don’t think you can separate cultural and economic issues. If you look back over the history of this country and European history, people are fine with social democratic states so long as they feel like the benefits are going to people like them. There was a large liberal consensus for the welfare state until Democrats in the 60s insisted that non-white people be included. Similarly in Europe, the social democratic consensus was strong, but has only recently begun to erode when immigration started to mean that Europeans would have to share with brown people. Even most conservatives in the U.S. are fine with the elements of the welfare state that they see as primarily benefitting white people (ie Medicare and Social Security).

    An electorate that sees America as a fundamentally pluralistic, multicultural place will be fine with European-style social democracy. That seems to be the key difference between the Democratic coalition and the Republican one. Democrats want government to take care of people like them, but have a more inclusive definition of people like them. Republicans are a coalition between people who want the government to take care of people like them, but define “people like them” as “Real Americans” (ie white Christians who adhere to traditional gender roles), and people who don’t want the government to help anyone. In other words, there’s one party in favor of multicultural social democracy, and another party that opposes multiculural social democracy composed of people who object to the multicultural part and people who object to the social democracy part.

    This points to a serious, existential problem for Republicans. While the rich assholes who reject social democracy in favor of laissez-faire capitalism will always be with us, they’ll also always be small minority. What success they’ve had has been by forming a coalition with people who don’t object to social democracy per se, only social democracy that includes people of color. The latter group will get smaller and smaller over time, and eventually it will be impossible to assemble a majority coalition that opposes multicultural social democracy.

    • Chester Allman says:

      This is an important point. By far, the right’s most effective strategy for undermining the welfare state has been to exploit and encourage racial anxieties and resentments. An America in which most Americans are comfortable with diversity is one in which social democratic policies are on much stronger footing.

      The elegant theory uniting social and economic conservatives for the past half-century has been: when the state steps in, families fail; when families fail, the state grows. The reality is that this theory draws its power from its racial subtext: their families are failing, and the state is growing to serve their needs. Take away that subtext and the theory itself is too abstract to mean much to anyone outside the conservative intelligentsia (such as it is), when compared to the very real benefits of a healthy social safety net.

      Shorter version: when the majority is made up of minorities and whites who don’t fear them, white racism will go from being a potent weapon against the welfare state to an anchor around the neck of anyone who tries to exploit it.

    • Lyanna says:

      This comment says it best, I think.

  9. Keaaukane says:

    Is there a problem/paradox with an aging population that wants/needs medicare and other benefits facing the conservatives who are intent on cutting those benefits? Are the republicans trying to drive away their core constituents?

  10. Josh G. says:

    This Pew Research poll from 2010 shows some interesting data about attitudes of younger Americans towards “socialism” and “capitalism”. According to the article:

    Among those younger than age 30, identical percentages react positively to “socialism” and “capitalism” (43% each), while about half react negatively to each. Among older age groups, majorities view “socialism” negatively and “capitalism” positively.

    I suspect that in part this is due to right-wingers promiscuously misusing the term “socialism”, to the point where pretty much any government involvement in the economy at all (at least if it benefits ordinary people rather than the wealthy) is “socialist”. This may have backfired: rather than stigmatizing government involvement in the economy, the conservatives have destigmatized the concept of socialism by associating it with non-threatening center-left Democratic initiatives.
    Another part, of course, is that capitalism as practiced in America simply hasn’t delivered for an increasing number of younger Americans. In contrast, members of the Silent Generation were probably luckier than any other in coming into an era of unprecedented mass economic prosperity, benefiting from Keynesian policy and rising housing markets, and on top of that also missing the drafts for both WWII and Vietnam.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      But, not the draft for Korea. While only three years long the number of US fatalities in the Korean War was 36,500 versus 58,000 (numbers rounded) for Vietnam fought over a much longer period. So I don’t think we can say the Silent Generation missed out on the horrors of war or the burden of conscription. Lots, and lots of Silent Generation were conscripted to fight in Korea and a fair number died during that time.

    • JL says:

      This may have backfired: rather than stigmatizing government involvement in the economy, the conservatives have destigmatized the concept of socialism by associating it with non-threatening center-left Democratic initiatives.

      I agree with that, and also think they’ve managed to slightly stigmatize capitalism in the same way among a lot of young liberals. The right has associated capitalism with right-wing and only right-wing viewpoints, and socialism with the center-left as well as the actual left, among people who are too young to have absorbed anti-commie Cold War mentality (a group that probably includes me, as I was six when the Soviet Union collapsed).

    • burritoboy says:

      Yeah, this, basically. When I was in college and graduate school (1991-2003), socialism (of any variety or sort whatsoever) was regarded as some sort of strange 19th intellectual fad whose appeal was inexplicable (like analyzing bumps on people’s heads or something). There were a few extremely ancient professors – the youngest of whom was over 80 – who occasionally talked about socialism as a phase they passed through during the Great Depression, only later to strongly turn against it. Any 1960s former socialists either kept it well hidden, or had become strongly pro-capitalist.

      It was hard to even conceive of a different economic theory than neoclassical economics at the time.

  11. david mizner says:

    Yeah there’s gonna be a lot of freedom when banks control everything that hasn’t been drowned by the oceans. It’s gonna be awesome.

  12. Fake Irishman says:

    O/T, but it looks like in Michigan we’re about to get subjected to Right-to-Work/Freeload legislation.
    This is bad, bad news.

    http://www.michiganliberal.com/diary/19866/gongwer-momentum-for-right-to-work-gaining

    • Linnaeus says:

      It’s certainly not good news, but I think the Republicans in the legislature are misreading the Prop 2 results. Even the Republican governor and the state Chamber of Commerce don’t want right-to-work (at least not right now), and I suspect most of Michigan’s voters don’t want it either.

      • Fake Irishman says:

        All true — but when has that ever stopped the GOP from overreaching? Granted, I would love it if Michigan elections in 2014 were like Ohio’s in 1958 (GOP leg passes RTW, then gets slaughtered like a downer longhorn and loses RTW in a referendum) but right now I’m afraid that they’ll find some bs way to immunize this from referendum.

  13. Matt McIrvin says:

    I’ve been telling people that there’s some demographic hope for a while now, and many leftists seem to get actively angry at me when they’re told this. Particularly the types who insist that only a violent revolution will fix America, but even among liberals, this idea seems to have set in that anything short of total despair is an invitation to complacency. And it’s kind of bizarre.

    The thing it won’t entirely fix is, as David Mizner suggested, climate change, because the time frame is just too long for effective action. We’re boned to some degree there, but keep in mind that climate change isn’t a binary; limiting carbon emissions is going to be necessary and helpful far into the future even if a lot of warming happens.

  14. Murc says:

    Gay marriage is going to be legal across the nation within 20 years.

    The Supremes are considering cert on a bunch of pivotal cases in this arena for the upcoming session, are they not?

    I’m actually a little bit hopeful on this score. John Roberts is a pretty orthodox conservative, and while I have no doubt he’d love to enshrine him some culturally reactionary caselaw, he’s more of a Chamber of Commerce type than Alito, and he seems to care about his legacy a bit.

    I can see him (and Kennedy) thinking “Okay, I see which way the wind is blowing on this. Do I really want to be the next Taney? I’d be a conservative hero for about fifteen years and then become one of those Justices that every law prof in the country speaks of with withering contempt.”

    That may be wishful thinking, of course. But I prefer it to thinking “the Supremes dig in their heels and we have to go state-by-state on this, until we finally get lucky vis-a-vis some helpful Presidential appointments or Mississippi grudgingly signs on to gay marriage in 2040.”

    • Karen says:

      2040 is about 60 years to optimistic for Mississippi to allow gay marriage.

      • Karen says:

        TOO optimistic. Just typing “Mississippi” costs me a dozen IQ points.

      • Greg says:

        Do they even allow interracial marriage?

      • Midwest_Product says:

        They’ll keep the discriminatory laws on the books for a couple of generations, sure, but they’ll be enforced no more than any sodomy law is. Given demographic trends, there is no way the issue isn’t decided at the federal level inside of 20 years. That’s 5 presidential terms from now!

        Not sure how long it took Mississippi to do it last time, but Alabama waited 33 years to get rid of their interracial marriage laws after the Supreme Court decision. Using that as a standard, I’d estimate the last vestiges of moronic anti-gay-marriage views will be completely expunged from the legal code nationwide no later than 2065.

        • Jeremy says:

          I think in the most recent election, Alabama just voted down a proposition to remove segregated schools from their state constitution.

        • Murc says:

          Given demographic trends, there is no way the issue isn’t decided at the federal level inside of 20 years.

          This is a very real possibility, but another real possibility is that there are enough Republican Presidencies in that time to keep five guys on the Supreme Court who don’t care about their reputations if they get to keep the gays in their place.

          DOMA is going to die and soon. But extending the 14th Amendment to include gay marriage is gonna take longer, and until that happens it remains in the hands of the states.

          Having said all that, the Supremes could swing in a positive direction as early as this year.

          • Midwest_Product says:

            This is a very real possibility, but another real possibility is that there are enough Republican Presidencies in that time to keep five guys on the Supreme Court who don’t care about their reputations if they get to keep the gays in their place.

            I don’t think this is a risk at all, actually. Barring the simultaneous deaths of both Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Democrats will be in charge of Supreme Court nominations until at least 2017, and by that point nominating someone anti-gay-marriage will be outright political suicide.

  15. sleepyirv says:

    The fact so many young people are socially liberal simply means the Republican Party of the future will be more libertarian. Ron Paul will be Barry Goldwater of the movement. His young supporters today will fondly pull the lever 20 years from now for Rand and think fondly back on I dunno, the blimp.

    On an anecdotal note, I’ve know a lot of anti-government kids who happen to support gay marriage. I’m hard-press why they would become more pro-government over the years.

    • Greg says:

      I think you overestimate how much of Paul’s support is driven by genuine libertarianism as opposed to paleoconservatism. I also can’t see the theocons’ grip on the party weakening enough to allow for any genuine social libertarianism.

      • sleepyirv says:

        If the theocons continue to control the Republican Party than the GOP will simply cease to exist as a major party. Maybe they’ll get replaced by a libertarian third party or they’ll end up playing only in the South but as Chait argues, there’s no place for a social conservative party in 20 years.

        • Greg says:

          I’m skeptical that a plutocratic agenda would ever get much support if it’s not juiced up with cultural resentment.

          • sleepyirv says:

            But what’s the cultural resentment is left? Mind you, I’m talking down the line a bit but if gay marriage and abortion isn’t enough red meat now what issues in the future will be? Pot smoking?

            I don’t think governmental resentment is going anywhere. And while the “makers vs. takers” argument didn’t win, it’s certainly something that can get people to the voting booth.

            • Greg says:

              That’s my point. Cultural resentment is the glue that holds the Republican coalition together. Most people aren’t Randians who see the super-rich as the natural rulers of us all, so they don’t view Makers vs. Takers the same way Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney do. Makers vs. Takers has appeal to racists because they imagine that virtuous white people are the makers and shiftless brown people are the takers. If there’s no “other” taking your money, if you view America as a fundamentally multicultural place as opposed to a white Christian nation being overrun by brown people and godless atheists & feminists, then you don’t find MvT rhetoric as appealing.

  16. Sly says:

    Anti-immigrant politics don’t appeal to these voters. The key question revolves around economic issues.

    It’s not simply a focus on economic issues, it’s that, in increasing proportion, new voters are second generation immigrants, and people aren’t going to vote for you when you implicitly suggest that they aren’t “real” Americans because they aren’t white.

    To give an anecdotal example, whenever I gave lessons on white supremacy and its impact on attitudes and actions towards various groups (Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, Irish immigrants, etc), all the kids of immigrants in my class immediately understood the content because they’re subject to those same sentiments today. They understand the pressures of assimilation, when it feels coercive, and when you never quite “measure up” no matter how middle-class and suburban you get. And these are mostly Asian-American kids who conservative racial orthodoxy often identifies as the “model minority.” The black students, for reasons that should shock no one with half a brain, get it even faster. All that looking at the 19th century iteration of white supremacy does is bring it into stark contrast; what has become subtle and implicit has its roots in something overt and explicit.

    Do the white kids get it as fast? Not so much. Which is understandable, because it’s hard to conceptualize a racial yardstick against which all others are measured when you are the yardstick. And its equally hard (for adults) to see that an entire political movement can have this as its basis, even when the main message of this movement is that their opponents only win elections by giving gifts to minorities at the expense of real (i.e. white) Americans.

    This is all by way of saying that the “rising tide of liberalism” that Chait points to is really nothing more than the gradual decline in political purchasing power of white supremacy, which American liberalism eschewed long ago.

  17. fumphis says:

    Sleepyirv is right. The young cohort right now is scarily vulnerable to becoming the core of a new Paul-esque coalition that’s happy to go with the flow on gay marriage, pot legalization, immigration, probably even abortion/contraception while hewing plenty far to the right on the welfare state and economic policy generally. I think that set of positions is pretty obviously the next step for the Republican Party.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Of course, this would actually be an improvement over the current Republican Party.

      • fumphis says:

        Yes. But its implications for liberalism as an economic agenda aren’t particularly rosy. The current alignment of social policy views with economic policy views is very susceptible to an epochal shift, but I don’t necessarily buy Chait’s arguments that the young cohort today is going to take the country leftward when it comes to the welfare state and tax policy.

      • Pseudonym says:

        Except that it might have the capacity to win national elections.

    • Matt McIrvin says:

      It seems to me that guys about my age (early- to mid-40s, basically conservatives who never liked the Jesusy stuff) are much more into the Randite/goldbug/Ron Paul material than kids are.

      Which is not to say they won’t try. It may still be the future for the Republicans, but more as a way to retain people between 40 and 65 than to make inroads into youth.

      • fumphis says:

        I think the goldbug stuff can kind of be bookended and set aside as its own quirk; it’s never going mainstream because the pursestring-holders know that the ideas are objectively terrible for growth. The danger of the Paul brand is that it has aspects that are (a) very appealing to low-engagement people who consider themselves broadly liberal-minded, particularly the pot and defense-spending angles and (b) quite underrepresented in the mainstream. I think you could make a really strong coalition by taking the finance wing of the party, who could care less about the social side, and melding it with the segment of the country that’s willing to accept a prettily-packaged rightist economic agenda if it’s not accompanied by what’s come to be seen as bizarre reactionary creepiness on immigration, gay marriage, abortion, and so on. And from what I’ve seen of the young Paul crowd, they’d happily go along with that. The Democratic Party is really passing up some low-hanging fruit on pot and gay marriage, lamentably because of Senate-apportionment and swing-state issues.

        • Pseudonym says:

          Have any “South Park conservatives” actually won elections?

          • S_noe says:

            I immediately thought of Dana Rohrabacher, but he’s only down with the pot, not the gays. That may be a generational thing, though – in the early 90s he was kind of cutting-edge. Down to the beard.

            I somehow don’t find it surprising that libertarians/South Park Republicans don’t have their shit together enough to win primaries very often. That said, I think it’s something that could happen in the 20-year-ish timeframe Chait is talking about.

            Dan Savage had a sound bite about how the GOP could win over a bunch of white women if it stopped picking on their hairdressers and their gardeners (gay marriage and immigration). He was pretty bearish on this happening, but I’m less sanguine.

    • Matt McIrvin says:

      …The other thing that may well happen, though, is that the Democrats could become able to become much more social-democratic, or an actual left party could become viable, if old-fashioned Commie-baiting and race demagoguery lose their power.

    • Murc says:

      Saying that conservatives will (at least publicly) profess fealty to social changes that have, due to the work of liberals, become broadly popular and accepted is accurate, but isn’t precisely a new insight.

      Of course the Republican Party of the future will be on-side (or pretend to be) with regard to gay rights, immigration, and drug legalization. Those will be popular positions and part of the broadly agreed social compact. Same way they (profess) to not be in favor of racism these days.

      • fumphis says:

        No, it’s not new, hence “pretty obviously.” But it’s something that has to be brought up in these youth-will-save-us discussions: there’s plenty of room for the right to split the difference between going left on the issues you mention and staying right on the economy and welfare state. Chait’s post doesn’t really make a compelling case that the young cohort represents an obstacle to that kind of positioning.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        It’s not just that, but those positions will have been retconned and sanitized into ALWAYS HAVING BEEN CONSERVATIVE BELIEFS.

    • MikeJake says:

      All it takes is one significant economic setback in a person’s life to sour them on Gilded Age conceptions of how the economy should work.

      It’s pretty easy for some 40-something year old with a secure career and savings to profess to be libertarian, especially if they don’t have kids.

      • ironic irony says:

        All it takes is one significant economic setback in a person’s life to sour them on Gilded Age conceptions of how the economy should work.

        I wonder if this is happening to some of the young adults others have described as leaning libertarian, especially if they see their parents or neighbors struggling in the current economy.

    • SatanicPanic says:

      Doubt that. It’s become pretty obvious that Ron Paul represented angry young white dudes, and they’re not going to be any more inclusive than the angry old white teapartiers. They might be OK with gay marriage, but they’re not going to be cool with immigration reform.

    • Matt McIrvin says:

      The other thing about today’s young people is that they are unemployed and broke to an extraordinary degree, and tired of people telling them they’re lazy and should get a job. It was a major theme of the Occupy movement.

      Now, I know that unemployed broke people get attracted to Paulite rhetoric to a much greater degree than they ought to, but it also seems to me that this is fertile ground for economic leftism.

    • Lyanna says:

      I don’t think so. That would only appeal to young white males, with maybe a statistically significant but still small handful of white females and Asian males.

    • S_noe says:

      To what degree, though, is going for Ron Paul that different from going for LaRouche? I.e., a sign of ignorance plus misguided idealism plus a modicum of batshittery?

      I’m genuinely curious – it seems like libertarianism should have a foothold with a significant number of people, and anecdotally it seems to among people I know. It could take off if the GOP doesn’t turn around.

      But I can just as easily see it becoming a dead end for crazies who hang out outside the post office with a card table full of leaflets. I really don’t know.

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