Demographics or the Red Social Model

Within a few moments of knowing President Obama had secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term, the explanations and recriminations had begun.  The two that bubbled up to the surface were demographics and social issues.  People saw this victory as proof that the new minority-majority America that we have been told was coming finally arose.  This meant the dawn a new Democratic era where the the GOP would be reduced to regional rump of a party.

The other issue that came to fore was the party’s views on same sex marriage and abortion rights.  If only they were able to pass an immigration bill to please Latinos or support same sex marriage, well, the party would be saved.

Now, being a gay African American/Puerto Rican such talk should be music to my ears.  After all, I am the mythical diverse voter that the GOP needs.  But this mythical voter doesn’t think making a few changes such immigration reform or allowing my partner and I to legally wed will bring salvation to the party of Lincoln.

First off, it’s not like the GOP is openly hostile to minorities.  The George W. Bush Adminstration placed not one but two African Americans in the positon of Secretary of State.  The 2012 GOP convention in Tampa had the likes of Marco Rubio, Susanna Martinez and Condaleeza Rice as speakers.  A racist political party would not have such people speaking in front of them.  As for the gay issue, the party has been making some halting moves towards inclusion.  Lost in the headlines was the fact that an openly gay Republican ran for a House seat in Massachusetts.

Diversity is important, and I do think there is room for improvement.  But demographics is only the dessert to a bigger issue: the economy.

It’s easy to get more black folk up on the dais of a convention to speak; it’s a lot harder to figure out how to help people in a changing economy.

Walter Russell Mead has talked about the disintergration of the blue social model.  For those who don’t know that phrase, it talks about the guiding rule of American Society from the New Deal onward.  Here’s how Mead describes the model:

The blue model rested on the post-Second World War industrial and economic system.  The ‘commanding heights’ of American business were controlled by a small number of monopolistic and oligopolistic firms.  AT&T, for example, was the only serious telephone company in the whole country, and both the services it offered and the prices it could charge were tightly regulated by the government.  The Big Three car-makers had a lock on the car market; in the halcyon days of the blue model there was no foreign competition.  A handful of airlines divided up the routes and the market; airlines could not compete by offering lower prices or by opening new routes without special government permission.  Banks, utilities, insurance companies, trucking companies had their rates and, essentially, their profit levels set by federal regulators.

The stable economic structure allowed a stable division of the pie.  Workers (much more heavily unionized then than now) got steady raises and stable jobs.  The government got a stable flow of tax revenues.  Shareholders got reasonably steady dividends.

This system was all about security and stability.  This was the system my mother and father encountered when the arrived in Michigan from Puerto Rico and Louisiana  respectively.  You got a job at one of the Big Three automakers and you were set.

But life started change in Michigan and the rest of the nation in the 70s.  Mead notes:

The blue model began to decay in the seventies.  Foreign producers began to erode the market share of lazy, sclerotic American firms–like the Big Three automakers.  The growth of offshore financial markets forced the financial services industry to become more flexible as both borrowers and lenders were increasingly able to work around the regulations and the oligopolies of the domestic market.  Demand for new communications services created an appetite for competition against Ma Bell.  The consumer movement attacked regulations that were clearly designed to protect companies; Teddy Kennedy was a cosponsor of the bill to deregulate the airlines.  Anti-corporate liberals rebelled at the way government power and regulation was being used to allow corporations to give their consumers the shaft.

As the old system dissolved, companies had to become more flexible.  As industry became more competitive, private sector managers had to shed bureaucratic habits of thought.  Lifetime employment had to go.  Productive workers had to be lured with high pay.  The costs of unionization grew; in the old days, government regulators simply allowed unionized firms to charge higher prices to compensate them for their higher costs.  The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unions unsustainably expensive in many industries.


If you haven’t already guessed, this system was powerful during the years of Democratic party dominance.  As that system started to decay, the Dems started to lose power.

As this old model is passing by, there has not been a response from the Republicans.  There has been no Red Social Model. When people look to the party for answers on how to deal with the new economic uncertainty, they get an odd response about lowering taxes- an answer that seems to fit all situations.

I think that’s the reason the GOP lost so big this year.  Yes. the President hasn’t done much and the economy is still in the doldrums.  He hasn’t really told the public what he will do in his second term.  But when people looked to the GOP for an alternative, they found…nothing.  The voting public would rather go with the devil they knew.

Take for example health care.  People are not crazy with Obamacare.  The GOP latched on to that and used to make big gains in the 2010 midterms.  Mitt Romney said one the first actions as President would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But as much as people didn’t like the President’s plan, at least it was a plan compared to…..well, nothing on the Republican side.

In his weekly column, Ross Douthat explains that middle class Americans are facing economic pressures and are not finding good answers from the GOP:

What the party really needs, much more than a better identity-politics pitch, is an economic message that would appeal across demographic lines — reaching both downscale white voters turned off by Romney’s Bain Capital background and upwardly mobile Latino voters who don’t relate to the current G.O.P. fixation on upper-bracket tax cuts.

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.” It should be possible for the party to reform and streamline government while also addressing middle-class anxieties about wages, health care, education and more.

The good news is that such an agenda already exists, at least in embryonic form. Thanks to four years of intellectual ferment, Republicans seeking policy renewal have a host of thinkers and ideas to draw from: Luigi Zingales and Jim Pethokoukis on crony capitalism,Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein on tax policy, Frederick Hess on education reform,James Capretta on alternatives to Obamacare, and many more.

The bad news is that unlike a pander on immigration, a new economic agenda probably wouldn’t be favorably received by the party’s big donors, who tend to be quite happy with the Republican Party’s current positioning.

In light of the disintergrating blue social model, there needs to be a red social model to come and fill its place.  People want to know how they can pay for college or have some kind of health care even if they lose their job.  The GOP circa 2012 couldn’t find an answer to give the people and they chose accordingly.

Becoming a bit more diverse is a good thing, but in this post-civil rights era, is not as pressing as some have made it out to be.  What really matters to the middle class family in the suburbs and the single mom in the inner city is how to keep their heads above the raging economic waters.

Trying to answer these “bread and butter” issues will take some time.  But I think if the GOP can find away to address the anxieties of millions of Americans, they might have a shot of having the chance to govern again.

6 thoughts on “Demographics or the Red Social Model

  1. Susan

    As usual, a thoughtful post and one that I can pass on to my Republican family members. I especially appreciate the shout-outs to Luigi Zingales and the other thinkers who have a lot to say to both parties.

    I searched this post for a mention of what Republicans need to do to get more women to vote for them. I don’t claim to speak for all women, but the Republicans did very little during this campaign to assure us that they would work to preserve our personal privacy. Reproductive freedom is an economic issue, and something President Obama got right. You cannot separate the two and Republicans either ignored this or dismissed it as something not worthy of serious discussion. And it showed in the election results.

    I voted for Obama. I’ve voted Democrat in every federal election since 1984. Funnily enough, I don’t consider myself a Democrat, but the Republican Party has had little to offer me and other women. It’s not a post-civil rights era for us and that deeply affects how many of us approach the debate on the economy.

    I look forward to more posts. Your blog and a handful of other moderate right sources are a much needed antidote to the attention-grabbing ravings of more popular commentators. Thank you.

  2. Rich

    For me, Republican rhetoric on the economy has become warmed-over Social Darwinism and that isn’t the kind of society I want to live in. Their positions on gay rights, regulation, climate change, immigration, health care and others are distasteful to me. And, I think on “social” issues, the GOP is largely out of step with most people.

    They haven’t done anything that I can discern to change the perception that they are only there to help the rich guys. With more globalization and more competition, economic uneasiness among regular people is a major concern. The blue model of having a job for life has been gone for two decades at least. Everybody understands this and very few people want to free load off employers or the government.

    The problem today is that even people who work hard and expand their skill sets are still getting hosed by their employers. Either by lay-offs or by increased demands on their time without commensurate pay. Moreover, employers are using more part time workers and contractors. Good workers that are begging for more shifts are not getting them because companies don’t want to pay for benefits. Instead of giving more shifts to current employees when conditions demand so, many firms are hiring even more part time workers. Fine. This seems to me like a good argument for single-payer health care and an even better Social Security pension system. Employers would be completely divorced from it and the regular guy could take a breath now and then.

    This country has a long tradition of public and private concerns working closely together and lots of government involvement on behalf of the public; more so than a laissez-faire tradition. The GOP doesn’t want to admit or acknowledge that. It’s unfortunate because the parties need to be relatively balanced in power. Otherwise, and the country swings too far one way or the other.

    I don’t know what the answer is for the GOP. But I do know that continuing to run out candidates like we saw in the Republican primary process is a losing proposition. Governor Romney was one of the weaker presidential candidates in a long time and he was the best of a rotten lot. A good first step would be for established party leaders to stand up to the more odious mouthpieces and talking heads. Another step would be for reasonable and pragmatic Republican citizens demand more from their party. It’s time to marginalize the birthers and the homo-phobes and the anti-immigration bigots. If these types of Republicans continue to gain influence in the party, then the GOP can only hope that the Democrats make some rather big mistakes (and that is a distinct possibility if they get drunk with power and try to push things too far to the left).

    Thank you.

  3. Bruce R. Gilson

    I still think that the point has to be made — even to you, an African-American — that Barack Obama won the election entirely because the African-Americans, who constitute well over 10% of the voting population, voted 93%-6% for him. It is unfashionable to say so, but when a group will not vote for a white man who is running against an African-American, no matter how execrable he has been as President, this is racism. And Mitt Romney had no chance against this. The white population went for Romney 60%-40%. If the African-American population had even given Obama just the 84% or so that Democrats normally get, rather than the 93% they did, Mitt Romney would be preparing to move into the White House.

    In 2016, Barack Obama will be ineligible to run again. And unless Deval Patrick or Cory Booker makes it, the Democratic candidate will not have that advantage. Perhaps the African-American vote for the Democrats will come back to its normal level. And the Republicans will have a better shot.

    1. Dennis Sanders Post author


      While I would have wanted the African American vote for Romney to be higher, I think it is understandable for a lot of reasons, including the one you mentioned: they voted for him because he was Black.

      Is that racist? I don’t think so, if you take the history of African Americans in the US. Even I voted for Obama in 2008 partly because as an African American, I wanted to support the first Black President. Four years later, the bloom is off for me and I thought Romney was a better if flawed choice.

      Another thing to consider, is that African Americans tend to see Republicans as racist Southern boys. I don’t think it’s a fair portrayal, but perception can become reality. One of the problems this year is that the GOP did not make a concerted effort in reaching out to minorities. George W. Bush was serious about reaching out and the GOP made some gains because of that.

      More African Americans might have voted for Romney if there were some serious effort to appeal for their vote, but there was nothing. The whole thing about repealing Obamacare might sound good to most Republicans, but for African Americans who may have poor health insurance or no health insurance saw this as cold-hearted. Yes, repealing the law might have been a good thing to do, but we never offered what the replacement was going to be. An African American family living in Detroit or Chicago, hears about repealing Obamacare and automatically think the GOP doesn’t care about them.

      So yes, blacks voted for Obama partially because of skin color. But the other part of that is that the GOP didn’t really offer any viable alternatives.

  4. Mike

    I think it’s a combination of both of what the GOP has to do now: both demographics and a new Social Model based on today’s time and not stuck in the 1980’s and not being afraid to alienate their base.

    But what if it’s really a change of ideology the GOP needs? Conservatives have had more power in the GOP since 1912 honestly. The moderate wing has been purged out and marginalized since 1964.

    Demographics is still an issue. I read articles back that were written during the 80’s and 90’s for people telling the Republicans to reach out beyond the base. But honestly, most (but not all) Republicans see reaching out is political suicide and somehow it magically turns them into Democrats. Believe me, I tried to talk to them about it. It’s very evident they’d rather see the party die than see it become accepting of everyone else (Ironically, some Democrats feel the same way because they would have to work harder to compete for votes). The party just needs to get the bigots out plain and simple.

    It will take time, but the growing demographics don’t like the GOP plain and simple and don’t feel welcome in the party. But yet, I don’t hear of anyone from these groups taking the party head on and working to change it. It’s often a “Not my responsibility” bit and the GOP just writes them off demonizes them and the cycle continues.

    Dennis, I remember your last article about the schools of thought for the GOP in patting. The second one you mentioned was just pandering to social conservatives and only one segment of the country. That’s been the plan since the 60’s since Goldwater got nominated.

    I don’t think the GOP is racist either, but we’re not calling them out and they have significant influence. The gaps between the GOP and groups that aren’t white and Evangelical Christian is growing and the party has been constantly criticized for lack of any diversity not only in demographics, but in ideology. Some Republicans understand this, but the problem is the GOP is afraid to lose it’s base. But however, the people complain too much about this are afraid to get their hands dirty.

    Something has to be done, perhaps another loss in 2016? Sometimes, I think that needs to happen. Creating a new center-right party that doesn’t offend the majority of the country?

    I am a registered Republican and I voted for Obama in 2012 because I agreed with him more on social issues and I am better off than what I was 4 years ago. Romney sold out to the right wing instead of being the moderate like his father was.

    Enough about demographics, I could write an essay on it. There needs to be a new Social Model. The problem is GOP leaders are constantly bringing up Ronald Reagan’s ideas. Move on seriously, a drinking game could be made on how many times Republicans mention him. It needs to reflect today’s time like this recession that we have and it would be nice in my lifetime (I’m 29) to see a Republican win in the cities instead of attending a fundraiser event. I live near Buffalo, NY and the Republicans didn’t even field a candidate for Mayor in 2009. Even in the local newspaper, someone who worked for the Mccain campaign even told that Republicans have to show up and ask for votes. Why not support a new national health-care system? I’ve read conservative arguments for single payer health care systems.

    I could write more, but the GOP needs to have these wilderness years and come up with ideas so when the Democrats hopefully screw up real bad, the GOP will be in the position to win again. Wishful thinking, but a person can dream can they?

  5. Bruce R. Gilson

    I still maintain that if you look at the numbers, the only reason that Mitt Romney lost is that well over 10% of the electorate is frican-American, and they voted 93% for Obama. If they had voted even a normal 83-85% Democratic, Mitt Romney would be preparing to move into the White House.

    So the thesis that the GOP did something wrong does not hold water. There was no way a white man could win against Barack Obama in the face of that solid African-American vote. Sure, I don’t like some of the positions that some more extreme conservatives took — in my state, the official Republican position was to vote against the gay marriage question, and we know that the Senate candidates in Indiana and Missouri made some idiotic statements about rape (but Romney won those two states, so Akin’s and Mourdock’s statements didn’t rebound to defeat Romney!). But the fact is that Mitt Romney did about as well as anyone could have done in these circumstances.


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