Sunday, March 21, 2004

Compassionate conservatism and demographic doom
Matt Yglesias says the following in a discussion of the demise of Compassionate Conservatism that started in David Brooks’ Saturday New York Times column and continued in Jack Balkin’s blog:
Before 9/11, Karl Rove and Matthew Dowd were concerned about the GOP's looming demographic doom -- with every passing day the electorate grows less white. Thus, Nixon's southern strategy, which paid off with decades of solid electoral wins, looks set to backfire in the early 21st century. The day of reckoning, moreover, is not far off. If Bush wins the same proportion of the white vote, the black vote, and the Latino vote that he won in 2000, he will lose the 2004 election by a non-trivial margin due to the changing racial demographics.

Matt goes on to suggest that Compassionate Conservatism was an effort to postpone that reckoning by calving off the socially conservative fractions of the Black and Latino vote with some relatively inexpensive safety net programs. Yglesias feels that the Republicans discarded Compassionate Conservatism when they found the better issue of “only we can make you safe” after 9/11. Brooks feels that Compassionate Conservatism required bipartisan compromise, a thing that required time to develop after the Florida recount and 9/11 robbed us of time because Bush was too busy making us safe. Balkin suspects Compassionate Conservatism was never more than a slogan and that slogan was not necessary when the Republicans found themselves controlling all branches of the government.

I agree with Balkin that Compassionate Conservatism was never more than a slogan and, though the Republicans may have had an eye on some minorities, the main intended audience was soccer moms. But I’m interested in the demographic problem Yglesias brings up.

Republicans have been courting the Hispanic vote since at least the first Reagan administration with the goal of making them “their Blacks” – a rather repulsive formulation that means they hope to make the Hispanic vote as perennially dependable for Republicans as Blacks are for Democrats and by the same margins. After twenty years, this effort has yet to show success.

The failure lies in two areas. First, is the simple fact that the Hispanic vote is not a monolithic block. Despite what TV sitcoms tell us, there is a large degree of diversity in that simple census category. Both parties have trouble with this concept and will find themselves regularly surprised and frustrated until they do get it. Second, the Republican effort to win Hispanic votes has always taken backseat to their Southern strategy and its race-bating successors. Their “big tent” concept always falls to their need to need to secure their position among their current core of white, Anglo, Protestants. During that same twenty-year effort to gain the Hispanic vote, the Republicans were tolerating and even celebrating people like Pat Buchanan, Pete Wilson, and the xenophobic, anti immigrant wing of the party. If the Democrats do continue to edge out the Republicans in the quest for (non-Cuban) Hispanic votes, we will have Pat and Pete to thank as much as any positive effort of our own.

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