Prominent among the post-election breast beating on the Right is a counterproductive (and quite ugly) meme. It goes something like this. We've become a nation where half the population expects the government to take care of them, a nation where takers outnumber makers, where there are more people in the wagon than pushing the wagon. This metanarrative is counterproductive because it insults the very voters you need to win over to have any chance of ever having another Republican president, and ugly because it raises stereotypes about certain groups being lazy shiftless folks looking for a handout.
I'm not saying this meme is completely without credibility. Many sweeping generalizations have an element of truth in them. I'm sure there were people who voted for Obama simply because they think he'll protect some or another benefit they get from the government.
On the other hand, it's an oversimplification to say that Romney was the candidate of rich white people, but truth be told there are a lot of glum faces on Palm Beach island this week!
The counterevidence to the "takers for Obama vs. makers for Romney" meme is abundant for anyone with eyes to see. How about my former neighbor, a retired African-American postal carrier, with an Obama sign in his front yard. Is he a taker? Maybe his life's work is worth less since it was done for the federal government and not the private sector? How about the millions of Hispanics and Asian-Americans who exit polling indicates rejected Republican candidates? Are they all on the government dole?
Hopefully the answer is obvious. If anything these communities typify values of hard work and family more than some white communities.
Perhaps the answer to the GOP defeat is more complicated than one is led to believe by the likes of Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh? If you find those voices authoritative then you probably won't care what David Brooks has to say. He's a moderate and he writes for the liberal New York Times. Nevertheless in my opinion he's one of the sharpest commentators out there and if Republicans are going to learn from this defeat -- and if those of us social conservatives who care passionately about defending the unborn and traditional marriage are going to have a voice in Washington (my hunch is that a meaningful slice of the people who voted for Obama did so in spite of his social liberalism) -- we should listen to such as Brooks (and his colleague Ross Douthat) that the GOP's traditional "public is bad private is good, what's good for Wall Street is good for Main Street" economic message is hopelessly out of touch with the challenges faced by growing numbers of hard-working Americans.
Here's a relevant quote from Brooks' November 8 column The Party of Work:
The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.
Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.
Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.
For these people, the Republican equation is irrelevant. When they hear Romney talk abstractly about Big Government vs. Small Government, they think: He doesn’t get me or people like me.
Let’s just look at one segment, Asian-Americans. Many of these people are leading the lives Republicans celebrate. They are, disproportionately, entrepreneurial, industrious and family-oriented. Yet, on Tuesday, Asian-Americans rejected the Republican Party by 3 to 1. They don’t relate to the Republican equation that more government = less work.
Over all, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the six post-cold-war elections because large parts of the country have moved on. The basic Republican framing no longer resonates.
I'm not Asian or Hispanic, but I have the same reaction listening to cliche-ridden rhetoric about the evils of big government, etc. "He doesn't get me or people like me."
Sure, I understand the threat posed by deficits and runaway spending. But when I'm struggling to scrape together enough money each month to pay our bills, when I'm getting screwed by my insurance company, when I worry about how we're going to afford to send our boys to good schools -- with those things on my mind the priority of cutting the capital gains tax or reducing the size of government to below twenty percent of GDP leaves me cold.
I guess that's why for the first time in my adult life I didn't vote in a presidential election. Give me a candidate that represents my social values and economic values and I'll make the effort to vote.