Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Warning Bells for the GOP

To hear the Rush Limbaugh's and Sean Hannity's of talk radio tell it, the recent US elections were entire the product of local issues and in no way prefigure GOP hardships in next year’s mid-term elections. Those are the talking points, and they have been shouted from the rooftops, so to speak. But, increasingly, more sober voices are being heard, warning Republicans that all is not well in the kingdom George W. has created. A surprising entry into this growing chorus of naysayers appears in the redoubtably neo-con Weekly Standard, edited by neo-con luminaries William Krystol and Bush-is-never-wrong flunky Fred Barnes. In their article, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam warn that the GOP leadership has become too comfortable with power in Washington and that the policies of the Bush administration no longer benefit the electoral majority that brought him to power and kept him there. The article is well worth reading, both for what it says and what it doesn’t.

There are a number of interesting admissions in this article and the first one is something Republicans really hate to discuss – the actual composition of their voting base.

This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."

Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn't just out of touch with the country as a whole, it's out of touch with its own base. And its majority is hardly unassailable: Despite facing a lackluster Democratic presidential candidate who embodied virtually all the qualities Americans loathe--elitism, aloofness, Europhilia, vacillating weakness--George W. Bush, war president and skilled campaigner, was very nearly defeated in his bid for reelection. GOP operatives boast that their electoral efforts were targeted down to the minutest detail, and that their marketing prowess delivered victory for the incumbent. The trouble is that even such extraordinary efforts delivered only a narrow victory.

For all the blather from the Rove-influenced, big-moneyed neo-con wing of the GOP about the party’s future depending on Hispanic and black voters, it just isn’t so.

The hope that compassionate conservatism might help Republicans make permanent inroads among blacks and Hispanics has evaporated--Katrina's racially charged aftermath probably delivered the coup de grâce to Bush's efforts to woo African Americans--and now the party is struggling to hold on to its white working class loyalists. Last summer, Bush's approval rating among non-Hispanic whites stood at 61 percent. Over the past year, it's plummeted to 44 percent.

The great Latino voting bloc hasn’t emerged yet and when it does, it is unlikely to vote Republican. Steve Sailer made this point brilliantly last year. The GOP depends on a white majority vote. Black and Hispanic voters do not share the GOP’s agenda and will not vote Republican in large numbers, no matter how much outreach, or how many concessions the GOP makes. Worse, while Bush does his best not to alienate Hispanic voters by reigning in illegal immigration, his failure to do so infuriates the non-Hispanic white voters on which the GOP depends. It’s a recipe for future electoral disaster.

Douthat and Salam finally get to immigration after worrying about the rapidly declining financial security faced by lower class Americans, white and non-white. And they attribute that financial insecurity, at least in part, to mass immigration from Mexico.

Then there is the elephant in the room--immigration. No other issue separates the Republican base so starkly from the Republican elite, and with good reason. Simply put, large-scale immigration from Mexico has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. The college-educated have reaped the benefits of a steep decrease in the price of labor-intensive services, while working-class Americans, exposed to increasingly stiff competition, have seen their earnings stagnate and even dwindle.

Put more simply, American workers in low, semi- and non-skilled jobs are being driven out of the job market by illegal Mexicans. Wages respond to the same supply and demand pressures as do prices. If there are 100 available jobs emptying trash cans, and only 80 people willing to take them, then employers will have to compete with each other to attract employees to empty the trash cans. They do this by raising wages or offering benefits. However, if someone opens the door to more workers and suddenly there are 200 people willing to empty trashcans – and 120 of them are willing to work for virtually anything, then the equation changes. Pressure shifts away from employers and back to employees, who must now compete with each other for jobs. Employers know they no longer need to offer incentives to keep laborers, and can get new workers with ease. It becomes economically sensible for the employer to fire his current workers and hire new ones at lower wages. The greater the level of immigration, the greater the downward pressure on wages at the level where most immigrants enter the labor market. In an information/high-tech economy like the US, the highest levels of employment are relatively insulated from the effects of high immigration because few immigrants – legal or otherwise – have the qualifications to compete in those markets. Hence, the support of many GOP pundits and elites for open door immigration which drives the price they pay for services down, but has no effect on their wages, and the building fury among middle and lower class Americans who feel the negative effects of this open door policies on their paychecks and neighborhoods.

Douthat and Salam sense the bind the GOP finds itself in over immigration.

But Mexico is more than a source of cheap labor. It's the ancestral homeland of a large and growing number of Americans. Remembering the lessons of Pete Wilson's doomed anti-immigration crusade, many Republicans, from President Bush on down, are reluctant to travel that road again. Such considerations drive the Bush administration's proposed immigration reform, which would offer a path of earned legalization to those already in the country. Bush is half-right: Few Americans would support a program of mass expulsion (which would probably destroy the Republican party's electoral prospects for a generation), and there needs to be a greater effort to Americanize Hispanics (as we used to say). But taken on its own, Bush's quasi-amnesty would in all likelihood increase the size of the unskilled influx, further damaging the economic prospects of low-income native-born workers, and raising the likelihood of a revolt by the Republican base.

One suspects that the authors would be surprised by just how many Americans would favor the forcible expulsion of illegal immigrants (possibly even a solid majority), but the question will never be asked exactly because the elite political class in Washington senses that it wouldn’t like the answer. Nevertheless, Douthat and Salam try to make a case for serious border enforcement though they sound distinctly pained in the process.

… the GOP needs to find a way to split the difference between the anti-immigration hawks and the advocates of open borders--by predicating any earned legalization program on increased spending for border control and serious sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers. Would such measures put an end to illegal immigration? Of course not. But they would do something to slow it, and more important, seal a fissure that's opening within the party.

In the long run, though, the GOP needs to recognize that clumsy pandering on immigration isn't the best way to win Hispanic voters (especially since many of the workers being hurt by unfettered immigration are themselves native-born Latinos). If Republicans are going to continue making inroads among Hispanics, they need to address their economic aspirations, not their ethnic loyalties. It's upwardly mobile second-and third-generation Mexican-Americans, not recent immigrants, who are likely to turn to the GOP--and wage subsidies for low-income workers, a health care reform that drives down costs, and government support for large families are all more likely to win them over than any amnesty proposal.

The evidence that most Mexican-Americans will ever vote republican, at least in sufficient numbers to help the GOP is seriously in doubt. In fact, the evidence regarding Mexican-American living patterns across multiple generations is chilling. To the extend that they are assimilating, many seem to be adopting the habit and degenerate behavior of the underclass. Such "Americans" will never vote republican, or with any sense, if they vote at all. It also raises serious questions regarding the average I.Q. of recent immigrants from south of the border and what an large infusion of lower-I.Q. immigrants really means for the economic and cultural health of the U.S. over the long term. But that’s not a topic you’ll find discussed in the Weekly Standard, or certainly any mainstream publication, save to offer politically acceptable denigration of the whole notion of I.Q.

Douthat and Salam make another critical observation:

Both military service and parenthood are crucial to the country's long-term survival. It's about time we recognize that fact.

This position should be so commonsensical that saying it out loud ought to be unnecessary. Unfortunately, in the current climate of intellectual decay and evasion, stating the obvious becomes essential since common sense has been run out of the national political discourse. (The situation is far worse in Europe, but that should be of no comfort to Americans. The intellectual and demographic demise of Europe directly harms American interests and isolates the US from what should be its natural allies.) The first law of Darwinian reality is that populations (you can equally well insert "cultures") that do not reproduce themselves become extinct. The second rule is that populations that fail to defend themselves against predators also become extinct (or at least linger on in impoverished misery). Rarely are conquerors as beneficent to the vanquished as the US was to Germany and Japan. That represents an historical anomaly. Consider how the Japanese treated the defeated Chinese during the same war for an example of the usual course of events. Reagan’s oft-repeated bromide "peace through strength" rang true to those who had lived through WWII and won their votes.

The authors then point out – quite correctly – that the economics of modern life have conspired to make children an almost prohibitively expensive luxury.

Conservatives have long emphasized the importance of these cultural factors, and rightly so--but just as culture impacts economics, so too can economic policy affect cultural trends. It's possible to imagine policies that would support a virtuous cycle, in which increased working class economic security shores up familial stability. And policies that offer government support to economically insecure families wouldn't be money for nothing. America, like any nation, depends on parents' willingness to raise healthy and well-educated children.

Without a youthful population, the costs of supporting retirees are unsustainable, and the innovation and entrepreneurial zeal that make America the world's economic leader will slowly wither. Yet the decision to raise children continues to be treated as something akin to the decision to buy an expensive automobile--a perfectly fine thing to do, but don't expect any sympathy or support when you can't afford a tune-up or an oil change. Having a large family used to be a sign that you had faith in the future. Today, outside the family-friendly exurbs that played a crucial role in reelecting President Bush, it's become a form of conspicuous consumption--or, for the poor, a mark of irresponsibility.

The ever-indispensible Steve Sailer has pointed out that a major difference in the cultural norms and voting habits of red states, as compared to their blue-colored brethren – is the statewide birthrate. States whose economic conditions (cost of living, etc) are more favorable to families tend to produce them, states where the cost of raising a family is high tend to produce fewer families and fewer children. States with more families and higher birthrates vote Republican. Douthat and Salam follow this line of reasoning to realize that policies that make family formation more attractive and attainable are in the GOP’s long-term interest since they will increase the segments of the population most likely to embrace republican ideals. Bush’s failure to assist struggling families, the authors claim, represents yet another long-term debacle for the GOP. (Sailer comes to the same conclusion - indeed, one wonders how much of Steve Sailer’s work Douthat and Salam have read.)


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