by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
October 8, 2010
OUR NATION - AND ITS POLITICS - IS CHANGING
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Oct. 8, 2010 -- Political reporters love narratives, and love to cling to them long after reality turns their story lines and conventional wisdom to ashes.
The story line we've been hearing for the last few months is that the Democrats are doomed. They went too far to the left and the right-wing backlash that rose up in response will ensure that Republicans will take control of Congress after the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
Despite the fecklessness of the Democrats in the face of the craziness of their right-wing opposition, there are reasons to believe that the Democrats will hang on to their congressional majorities, and that we are not the "center-right" nation so many pundits believe we are.
A cursory glance at some Gallup poll data done recently by Chris Bowers of DailyKos.com yields this optimistic thought: Our nation has shifted leftward on many issues over the last few decades, and many issues that were once thought to be on the fringe are now mainstream ideas.
For example, 94 percent disapproved of interracial marriage in 1958. By 1968, it dropped to 73 percent. By 1978, it was 54 percent. By 1991, it was 37 percent. By 2007, only 17 percent disapproved. That same gradual acceptance of something that was once considered unthinkable is playing out regarding same-sex marriage. In 1998, less than 15 percent of Americans favored it. By 2008, slightly more than 50 percent do.
Or take Americans' attitudes toward legalizing marijuana. In 1969, only 12 percent were in favor. It rose as a high as 30 percent in 1978, dropped to 16 percent in 1990 and today stands at 41 percent. Once again, a position once on the fringe is now in the mainstream.
Or take the income gap between men and women. In 1961, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. That figure stayed mostly unchanged until 1982, when the women's figure rose above 61 cents. By 1990, it was 71 cents. By 2008, it was 77 cents. That's a fairly dramatic 23 percent increase in three decades.
Or consider Bowers' most counterintuitive finding. Public sector social investment spending today is at the highest level of Gross Domestic Product ever - higher than Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, higher than Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.
When defense, law enforcement and interest payments on the federal debt are removed from overall public spending, public social investment spending now stands at 32 percent, or nearly as much as the peak years of the New Deal (14 percent in 1940) and the Great Society (19 percent in 1968) combined. Even after the Obama Administration's economic stimulus runs its course, we'll still see public spending well above New Deal or Great Society highs.
In other words, despite a Republican Party that is far more conservative than its predecessors, the country is still moving left. One reason why is the changing demographics of the United States.
According to Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, the fastest growing ethnic group in America is the one that Republicans have been bashing the most - Latinos. They joined with black Americans and white voters under age 40 to give President Obama his victory in 2008.
Much of the current opposition to Mr. Obama and the Democrats comes from whites over age 50. They are the ones more agitated over the news that the United States will be majority-minority nation by 2042. By 2050, the country will be 54 percent minority, as Latinos double from 15 percent to 30 percent of the population, Asian Americans increase from 5 percent to 9 percent, and African Americans move from 14 to 15 percent.
Then there is the so-called Millennial generation - those born between 1978 and 2000. Teixeira says that age cohort is adding 4 million eligible voters to the voting pool every year, and voted for Obama by a 66-32 margin in 2008.
By 2020 - the first presidential election in which all Millennials will have reached voting age - Teixeira says this generation will be 103 million strong, and about 90 million of them will be eligible voters. They will represent just under 40 percent of America's total eligible voters, and they are far more progressive than their elders.
In addition to age and ethnicity, Teixeria says that education and job status of potential voters trend toward Democrats.
Professionals are now the most Democratic and fastest-growing occupational group in the United States, and gave Obama about 68 percent of their vote in 2008. By the middle of this decade, professionals will account for around one in five American workers.
Also, the bulwark of the GOP base - white evangelical Christians - will soon cease to be a factor. Teixeria says growing religious diversity favors Democrats as well, especially rapid increases among the unaffiliated, of which 75 percent voted for President Obama.
Unaffiliated or secular voters - not white evangelical Protestants - are the fastest-growing "religious" group in the United States, with the percentage of adults reporting no religious affiliation almost tripling from 1944 to 2004, from 5 percent to 14 percent.
Projections indicate that by 2024, 20 to 25 percent of U.S. adults will be unaffiliated, and by 2040, white Christians will be only around 35 percent of the population.
In short, the Democratic base is younger, well-educated and multicultural. It's not hung up on hot-button issues such as immigration, gay marriage or abortion. It's connected to the world and seeks to make a difference in it.
By contrast, the Republican base is older, less well-educated and fearful of the future. The incoherent sound and fury of the Tea Party conservatives is little more than the last gasp of a white, male, heterosexual and Protestant Christian culture that is slowly losing its grip on American society. They are unable to deal with the reality that the future of America is one that is more racially, culturally, sexually and religiously diverse, and that as a nation, we have been inexorably moving in that direction for the past 50 years.
There is little to indicate - short of another civil war - that this movement will slow or even stop in the coming decades.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.