Think of this as Volume 14, Number 41 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Another key to understanding them is they are all about new people.
Republicans began life as a coalition of capital and free labor, in the 1850s. Their coalition was renewed with the rise of distribution channels early in the last century. Democrats dominated from 1932 based on the votes of cities, while Republicans returned to power after 1968 on the strength of the suburbs.
What makes Obama unlike Carter, or Clinton, is partly the nature of his coalition. It includes all the rising forces within the country:
- The new class based around universities.
- Young people.
Most of these folks had not voted before. Young people were notorious for under-voting. Immigrants were invisible, and the "new class" didn't seem to exist before the 1990s.
By contrast the Republican coalition is showing its age. Suburbanites are aging-out, the Greatest Generation is dying off. The South is becoming more diverse. The Tea Party brings no new voters to the party -- as many have noted these people are the extreme end of the Republican base.
What brings new groups to the fray? It's usually not love for the new. It's usually a rejection of the old. Suburbanites rejected the Democratic message of the 1960s decisively. They were afraid of the hippies, the blacks, the intellectual elite -- everything the cities represented to them. A succession of operatives came to be labeled as "geniuses" because they could make these knees jerk reliably, but they weren't geniuses. The knees were always ready, there to be jerked.
What has changed? A few things:
- Republicans are running out of targets to scare people about. Brown people and Muslims are not as potent a threat as communists and black people. Besides, everyone you define as an enemy becomes, in time, part of the other side's coalition.
- Academics have become the economic engine. It's not just the professors, not just the students. It's whole industries -- medical, technology, computer services -- created through academic research.
It's not just about this election. These trends are baked-in. For Republicans to reverse them, in any way, requires that they truly engage on the issues of our time, in all their complexity. But engaging means surrendering to the central Obama Thesis. It means relegating themselves to becoming an Anti-Thesis, leaning against the assumption of engagement, seeking only to modify the terms of engagementt.
Republicans aren't ready for that. Just as Democrats were not ready for it in 1970, or 1972. Thanks to Nixon's sins, Democrats were returned to power in the mid-1970s, without a serious re-examination of their own biases and assumptions, without really having to engage with the reality of the suburbs. This was Carter's real weakness. He saw his coalition as urban and rural, and never really cracked what Georgia politicians like to call the "doughnut hole" -- the ring of suburbs around Atlanta.
The problems of President Obama are short-term. Republicans are wedded to the crazy, and he should do better than anyone even suspects by simply pointing this out, although the media is doing much of the work for him. His work is much easier than anyone suspects in this regard. All he need do to win is energize his base. It's Republicans who need new support. They're like an underdog football team that has to play out of its mind, play mistake-free football, to have a chance against the favorite. They might, but that's not the way to bet.
The right play from here is for the President to become more like himself, to accept the hatred of those who hate him, to shake his head sadly over it but pay it no mind, and to keep bringing people into his government who represent the new ideas.
Which, as I've said before, are neither left nor right but smart, qualified, willing to engage -- men and women of the new class.
That is where the future lies.
With the new whos.