The result is hyper-partisanship. Older Tea Partiers fear that Obamacare will drain resources from their Social Security and Medicare benefits. Occupiers, including college grads with loans but no jobs, want more jobs and/or benefits – including Unemployment – to see them through the recession.A growing economy’s wealth could paper over such differences – but not a slow-growing one.
As a result, a recent Pew Foundation poll found that two thirds of all Americans now see a “strong” or “very strong” conflict between rich and poor – up 19% in the last two years. In fact, conflicts between rich and poor now rank number one – higher even than conflicts between races, and higher than conflicts between immigrants and the native born. This was not the case as recently as 2009. All of this has produced an uneasy stalemate which might continue indefinitely, were it not for one other factor.
The Conservative movement arose largely following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which, as President Johnson correctly foresaw, would throw the South to Republicans for years to come. (There were 18 Southern Democratic Senators at the time). That act was followed by the Voting Rights Act and Great Society programs, which many Americans perceived not as favoring equality, but rather as favoring blacks.
That push for equality set off the conservative argument for “states rights.” That opposition still echoes in the libertarian pronouncements of Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Tenn), who believes that private property rights trump laws outlawing racial segregation. That opposition also echoes in the racist – and recently disowned – newsletter articles which have appeared under the imprimatur of his father, Presidential candidate Ron Paul. These first person articles which appear under Paul’s imprimatur include lines such as "I think we can assume that 95 percent of the black men in that city [Washington] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."
Racism has also surfaced from Newt Gingrich, who has repeatedly called President Obama the greatest “food stamps President,” to cheers from the Republican electorate. At first, the white votes Republicans gained, especially in the South, more than offset the black votes lost. But the rising enfranchisement of black voters, especially during President Obama’s 2008 campaign, has been coupled with an increase in Latino voters. (The U.S. foreign born population in 2010 was nearly 40 million, a 1.6% jump over the previous year, according to Pew. The bulk of that increase was among Latinos).
In a word, the predominantly white, straight, Christian America many conservatives long for is giving way to a predominately multi-racial, multi-ethnic country – one which also celebrates single women (to the horror of “traditionalists”). Simultaneously, more gays have come out as a political force. No longer is opposition to gay marriage, or wanting to return to the days of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell a surefire political winner, even among conservatives. (See: Dick Cheney) Thus, conservatives are fighting not just on the economic plane, but also on the social plane, with the demographics stacked against them.
Trying to tilt the playing field back in their favor, more than a dozen Republican leaning states have, since the 2010 elections, passed laws requiring photo identification at polls, or have cut back early voting periods, or have imposed onerous restrictions on voter registration drives. Under new laws passed under Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, and his Republican controlled legislature, third parties who want to help register voters could face $5,000 fines, a third degree felony and up to 5 years in jail if they violate any of the broad provisions noted in the legal paperwork. “These new laws frighten people from registering voters," said the state’s League of Women Voters president, Deidre MacNab, explaining why the League will curtail its 72-year old good citizen efforts.
The Republicans’ hoped for, short term result: fewer voters from the “wrong” demographic. In the long term, however, conservatives are putting their finger in a dike, and praying. Or, as Fox News headlined in a recent interview with South Carolina Senator and Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint, “2012 Might Be the GOP’s Last Chance To Turn America Around.”
If Republicans win the Presidency and both houses in 2012 – an unlikely trifecta - they could kill the perceived drain of resources in Obamacare. Tea Partiers would feel safer, and the health care mandate would be difficult to resurrect. Still, many Republicans are desperate enough to risk everything on this high stakes hope.
The alternative, long term, is for conservatives to open themselves up on social issues, such as gay marriage and immigration reform – not building a fence but setting out a legalized welcome mat. Such a change, however, would transform the Republican party, driving a stake through the heart of their current base. There is no question that Republicans have money backing their candidates, especially amid the unlimited super-PAC contributions enabled by Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices in Citizens United. But how far can the money push them in light of the social realities?
The real question is, as more Americans move beyond the conservative Republican base, do Republicans, as now constituted, have a future beyond 2012? Unless the Democrats stumble in a major way, the answer is: not likely.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist