Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.
That’s a quote from yesterday’s New York Times column by Ross Douthat that people are talking about today. Douthat counsels Democrats against gloating: the problems confronting us are just too serious to allow for such an indulgence. But he also points out unpleasant truths for both parties.
Conservatives, Douthat writes, often fail to understand why bigger government is such a draw for unmarried, single women voters. They don’t just want “gifts,” as Mitt Romney put it, but they find life without the promise of government support genuinely frightening.
Conservatives often misunderstand the Hispanic voters, too, deeming them “natural Republicans,” who just don’t want to see their relatives deported. Douthat proposes that this is a too rosy view:
[Democrats are] winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates.
The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.
Liberals, too, fail to face reality:
But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.
This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the economic era that many liberals pine for — the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom — was an era that social conservatives remember fondly as well: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.
No such renewal seems to be on the horizon. That isn’t a judgment on the Obama White House, necessarily. But it is a judgment on a certain kind of blithe liberal optimism, and the confidence with which many Democrats assume their newly emerged majority is a sign of progress rather than decline.
These are issues the GOP, if it is not to be reduced to permanent minority status, must learn to address. Carrie has a great piece on how crucial it is for the GOP to learn to talk to women. It’s difficult to talk about these things without sounding un-cool. But it is going to take the daring to be un-cool if we are to restore families that don’t need big government.