North Carolina Lurches Right (and Why It Won’t Last)

I delve more into economics than politics, but occasionally a bit of political punditry is what is required.  This is one of those times.

A bunch of folks are bemoaning the “Decline of North Carolina” as the Republican Party is using their current control of the state government to move NC firmly toward the right.  Even the Grey Lady has lamented this sorry state of affairs as a tragedy.

While in the short term, I agree that many of the things which the NC Republican Party are doing range from poor policy (as I watch our education system drop back to one of the worst-funded in the country) to morally deplorable (issues on abortion, gay rights, religious freedom, etc), I don’t think this is the end of the world for NC.  In fact, I tend to think of this as indicative of the death throes of Red State NC — and possibly of the Conservative movement as a whole in the U.S.

Somewhere back in the early 80’s, thinkers in the Republican party decided to pursue a strategy of “playing to the base”.  They identified those people that would be most fervent in their support of the GOP and tailored their campaigns to the ideals of those people.  Money and votes followed.  It was a brilliant tactical move that rewarded Republicans with numerous wins — but also transformed the party into a right-wing movement that likely would have left Richard Nixon a Democrat (not to mention Bush, Sr, who was quite the environmentalist and a icon of restraint in terms of war as a way to move U.S. interests forward).

The problem for Republicans — and the reason the majority of Americans should not lose faith in our Great Experiment — is that the policy hitched Republican fortunes to a smaller and smaller group of rural aging Americans.  The *majority* of Americans believe in the right to abortion in the first trimester.  The majority believe in protecting the environment.  The majority want health care reform.  The majority want to rebuild our aging infrastructure.  The majority believe in religious tolerance and that the federal government shouldn’t try to force one faith on all citizens.

The fact that the majority is out of step with the Republicans although the Republicans hold a great deal of power in many states leads many Democrats and Independents to despair.  They feel that the system itself is failing.

It’s not.

The system grants one person one vote BUT the influence of a party is very much boosted by the degree to which their supporters are fervent in their participation.  Republicans tapped their core, and the core responded with an outpouring of time, energy, votes and donations.  That’s FREEDOM, folks…  the moderates and the left could buck up and do the same any time.

Here’s the problem for Republicans:  their core values are more and more out of step with those of the 60% or more of the country.  Their success depends on their core — but that core is predominantly elderly and rural.  The elderly pass on to the next generation and the percentage of our populations living in cities continues to grow (you know… those places that need efficient government services like modern rail, infrastructure, etc which Republicans tend to vote against).

In other words, the Republican core is dying both through age and through migration.  Our republican system (by that I refer to the U.S. electoral system, not the party) gives heavier weights to rural state voters than to urban state voters, so they have a short to intermediate term advantage.  Regardless, though, the tide is turning rapidly against the Republicans as led by Neoconservatives.

So for liberals:  don’t despair!  The Neoconservatives have had  their day in the sun.  It’s almost over.  That’s just pure demographics.  If the Republican Party wants to stay relevant in the coming decade they need a new strategy FAST.

On the other other hand… I don’t claim this is “all good” either.  I think democracy works best with two or more vibrant parties sparring intelligently over issues.  By exploiting a culture war in the U.S. the Republicans have abandoned the ground trod by Nixon’s GOP.  We need a good debate and a smart, savvy Republican party as part of it.

In summary:  Democrats need to stop thinking that the United States is going down the tubes, and Republicans better start thinking about how they can win the hearts of the middle if they don’t want to see everything they’ve down flushed down the toilet and branded forever as a misogynistic, extremist, warmongering era studied in the future only as “what not to do”.

The future is still to be made, and I for one still have great hopes for the future.



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