Christopher Dale isn’t as liberal as he used to be, but he’s not ready to vote for bigotry and craziness either.
I’m not quite the Democrat I once was. As my single, city-dwelling 20s have given way to my settled, suburban driveway-and-a-dog mid-30s, my views concerning fiscal policies especially have become gradually more conservative. In hindsight, the needle had nowhere to go but right.
I’m told this sort of creeping conservatism is common. As we grow older we earn more money and, naturally, become more discerning about exactly what is being bankrolled by the increasingly large chunks deducted from our paychecks. And as we gain life experience, we become less naïve and, on a counterbalancing curve, more cynical. Most of us join a struggling middle class declared the backbone of a nation whose tax code, paradoxically, seems hellbent on breaking said back.
My changed perceptions are mild yet marked. For example, though I still see the value in—and certainly the need for—most social safety net programs, I don’t agree with the indefinite extension of unemployment benefits, especially without riders such as meaningful training programs to help the long-term unemployed collect skills while they collect my hard-earned tax dollars. I am similarly wary of overly cushy public sector union pensions; amidst a sluggish economic recovery, everyone needs a haircut.
Ten years ago, I undoubtedly would have been on the opposite sides of both issues. Score two for the GOP.
My demographic checklist is even more politically suspicious. Male. White. Married (to a woman – call me old-fashioned). Suburban. Upper-middle class household income. On paper, I am someone who just a few years ago would raise a red flag among Democratic pollsters and, to their Republican counterparts, would seem ripe for regime change.
But today, that same Democratic booster could extinguish any worries about me switching teams by asking a few simple questions.
“Are you a racist, a sexist, a homophobe and a bigot?”
“Do you believe in science?”
“Are you completely divorced from reality?”
In other words, they could ask, do I consider myself a reasonable adult? If I do, the chances of losing me to the GOP are exactly zero percent. Because any mild misgivings I have about Democratic fiscal policy are rendered irrelevant by the Republican Party’s continued embrace of intolerance and ignorance.
No reasonable person would suddenly start siding with those that discriminate against gays, immigrants and women—and dismiss proven scientific facts like climate change and evolution—in order to fight for marginally sounder economic policies. In that situation, the means dramatically outweigh the ends, resulting in a nonstarter.
For Republicans, the fanatical Tea Party faction is more than a sharp-tongued thorn in its side. It has become an obscene obstacle to converting voters—even those who, historically for the GOP, have been there for the pilfering: Middle-aged males. And in my case, a white one to boot.
And never mind joining them; I can’t even enjoy constructive dialogue with a reasonable (a.k.a. “establishment”) Republican because, en route to a spirited debate about budgetary jurisprudence, I encountered a fist-shaking mouth-breather wearing a stylish red, white & blue tricorn cap. I couldn’t make out everything he said—perfect diction is difficult to achieve with a less-than-complete compliment of teeth—but I definitely heard a “faggot,” a “wetback” and more than a few “Jesus”es in there.
After that, I wasn’t really in the mood for conversation… because it’s hard to talk while vomiting.
Indeed, the last time a Tea Party produced a turncoat was the mid-1770s.
Trouble Brewing for GOP
The disconnect is, I believe, more intra-party degeneration than inter-generational discord.
Though my contemporaries are not entirely our fathers’ 30-something white males, the similarities far outshine the differences. As Generation X continues to mature, its men—like their fathers before them—are taking on an elevated roster of responsibilities. They transition from workers to managers, from husbands to fathers, from aspiring to affluent. They accrue a nest egg for their families, and don’t want that savings hindered by frivolous federal spending.
Regarding social issues, the collective outlook of middle-aged men today is certainly more liberal than our fathers’ but, given the natural march of progress over a 20- or 30-year period, these differences are negligible. Our parents, after all, are Baby Boomers, and grew up in a decidedly more liberal environment than we enjoy these days. Sure, gay marriage is now legal (at least partially), but would our fathers have insisted, for example, on a woman being forced to keep a child resulting from a rape? Would they agree with thinly-veiled attempts to disenfranchise minorities?
Most laughably, would they think human beings used to ride dinosaurs?
No, they would not.
The GOP’s core demographic, then, hasn’t changed all that much between generations. Rather, the looming difficulties Republicans face in recruiting 30-something men for the Red Team lies squarely with the party’s lack of appeal. The trouble brewing lies in the Tea itself.
For Republican recruitment efforts, the Tea Party’s longevity is making for even longer odds. When the Tea Party first rose to prominence in 2009, most saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to the election of our nation’s first black president. An uproar from racist rednecks was anything but surprising, we surmised, but soon they’ll lay down their misspelled protest signs and go back to their normal levels of craziness and irrelevance.
If in fact that had happened—if the nuts had been tossed back into the nuthouse, rather than served to the party—the GOP’s historic hold over middle-aged men would not have been threatened. But after five full years of bigoted belligerence, it’s clear that this revolution against reason is far more than a passing fad. And as the Tea Party rages on, more of its heretofore prime prospective demographic disassociates itself from a party whose fiscal policies are best suited for responsible adults, but whose social stances aren’t fit for children.
In the process, the GOP has helped solidify our tenuous ties to an imperfect president who, in his second term, has smartly stopped rewarding the Tea Party’s childish behavior. In a display of manhood far more fitting and familiar for us, Barack Obama has used his powers of Executive Order as a means of leapfrogging this lunacy. With questionable legality but unquestionable leadership, he has refused to have his remaining time in office wholly sabotaged by the Tea Party’s insufferable, insatiable temper tantrums. Obama has realized that there’s no compromise with crazy and—a PR nightmare for the GOP—now stands in clear contrast to it.
Obama, then, has positioned himself as markedly more mature than his political rivals. And maturity—not bigotry, not religious fanaticism, and certainly not denial of science—is perhaps the most attractive quality to middle-aged men.
I just turned 35. I have a wife, a mortgage, subordinates at work. I’m one of the grown-ups in the room now. I have real-world priorities and real-world problems that have absolutely nothing to do with, for example, whether two men get married. And if 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real, that’s decisive enough a majority to persuade me. I’m also not interested in people who think the Flintstones is some sort of animated documentary.
When the GOP isn’t relating to white, middle-aged males, it’s a sign that the Tea Party is well past expiration date. Tossing it into a rushing river worked once. Perhaps it would again, with the aid of some rope and cement shoes.
Regardless the resolution, Republicans must remedy what has become a chronic illness, or risk irrelevance among its largest remaining bloc of potential voters: us.