By Paolo von Schirach
June 13, 2011
WASHINGTON – Obama is supposed to lose the 2012 elections. The economy is still in bad shape, with dismal growth. Unemployment around 9% is horrendously high by any historic standard; while we have yet to emerge from the catastrophic housing slump. Any incumbent president going into an election with this record should be very vulnerable. Right? Wrong. Obama may be vulnerable; but the Republican party is more vulnerable, because its “natural” constituency is much too narrow, and so is its message.
Republicans are white and middle class
Let’s take a step back. Looking at the assembled Republican delegates during the 2008 Convention leading to the nomination of septuagenarian John McCain as candidate was rather worrisome for anybody hoping to have a vibrant two party system in America. Very simply, the cameras gave you a view of an almost entirely white, mostly male and somewhat elderly middle class crowd. If this was and still is the “base” of the Republican Party, then, whatever else may happen, it will never have a chance of becoming a majority party.
And, unless miraculously the Republicans nominate a candidate for 2012 who can credibly appeal way beyond the narrow constituency represented by those delegates at the 2008 convention, they have slim chances of beating Obama, however weak he may be next year, given the bad state of the economy.
Democrats appeal to minorities now growing fast
Very simply, the Democratic Party has the significant political advantage of appealing to “diverse America”, even though mostly for the wrong reasons, in as much as it is the party that promises to “give things”: assistance, aid, welfare. But precisely because it gives things to them, the Democratic Party has solid support among Latinos, Blacks, women, senior citizesn and single mothers, typically the weaker and more vulnerable segments of society.
The Republicans have essentially zero appeal among most of these constituencies. And the problem for them is that these groups are growing fast, whereas the white, male, middle class voters are shrinking as a percentage of the total. As Mike Murphy noted in TIME Magazine, (Numbers Matters. But Which Ones?, June 20, 2011), a bad economy certainly plays to the strengths of the pro-business Republicans; but the significant demographic shifts already occurred and still underway strongly support Democrats. And demographics may very well trump the economy unless another disaster occurs before November 2012.
Republicans cannot run just on spending cuts
Of course the fact that when the Democrats rule they feel an obligation to provide more and more for their aggrieved constituencies is in large part the reason why our debt grows and we are now are in this fiscal mess. But, from a stand point of political appeal, the Republicans cannot credibly run on an austerity message and nothing else. A platform about major spending cuts and tax cuts alone, as the magic mix that will re-energize America and make everybody rich, will not sell in the inner cities. In case you did not notice, there has not been much trickle-down there in the poor neighborhoods lately.
Republican inclusiveness: America as ”Opportunity Society”
If they want to win, the Republicans need to credibly broaden their base. And therefore they need to have a positive, constructive message of inclusiveness, something that gives genuine hope to minorities and others who feel left out. If the Republicans do not want to go the route of welfare, aid and subsidies, then they should be able to re-cast themselves as the party that will recreate a genuine ”Opportunity Society” in America. There is no contradiction between sound economic and fiscal policies and providing a real ladder to all those willing to climb it.
Education is step one
And the very first rung of this opportunity ladder has got to be quality public education. Opportunity is not real without access. And education is the prerequisite for access. Yes, one can be fiscally responsible and also socially inclusive by making sure that most Americans will have good education and thus the tools to participate and engage in their own version of the American Dream.
Blacks and women as delegates at 2012 GOP Convention?
It would be nice to see Blacks and women and Latinos as delegates at the next Republican Convention. And not because they have been “bought” with welfare promises; but because they do feel that they are building a real “Opportunity Society” in which all Americans will have a chance. It would be nice; but I doubt that we shall see it.
And thus expect Barack Obama to be re-elected, as the Republicans stay prisoners of their own narrow world –a world overwhelmed, for better or worse, by a radically transformed America.