I rarely watch daytime or weekend television, but I caught a really thought-provoking discussion earlier this morning. “Up with Chris Hayes” had a panel discussing–what else?–the recent conventions. This discussion was a bit different, however; it began with Hayes’ observation about a shift in the tone of Americans’ interminable “culture war.”
Hayes noted something that had struck me as well: whereas in previous election cycles, the Republicans had been the “aggressors” on culture war issues and the Democrats had largely been defensive, this year the roles were reversed. Whatever their message to the rabid base, in public Republicans ran away from the rhetoric of folks like Scott Akin, pooh-poohed the notion that they were anti-contraception (personhood amendment? what personhood amendment?), barely mentioned same-sex marriage, and tried to obscure their position on immigration by highlighting their most prominent Latino, Marco Rubio.
The Democrats, on the other hand, mounted a pretty full-throated defense of reproductive rights, trumpeted their platform’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, and even featured a young speaker who personally benefitted from the President’s “Dream Act Lite” Executive Order.
The turnaround, when you think about it, was pretty extraordinary.
It would be nice to think that Democrats’ willingness to champion these issues was evidence that the party has grown a spine, but let’s get real. I can guarantee that each of these decisions was based upon extensive polling and focus group results–just as the GOP’s decision to soft-pedal and obscure their own views undoubtedly was. These decisions reflected profound changes in public opinion, as Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster on the panel, confirmed. The Democrats have pretty much won the culture wars. (When my generation dies off, the victory will be complete.)
This discussion elicited a really interesting observation from one of the panelists, who described the Democratic strategy as long-term, and the GOPs as short-term. The Republicans are arguing that their candidate is more competent to manage the economy. Even if they are able to win this election with that argument, their next candidate may be viewed as competent or not–it’s an argument that will have to be made “from scratch.” The Democrats are arguing that they are the party better able to manage America–the party that will better reflect the economic and social needs and beliefs of women, immigrants, GLBT folks and the middle class. If they maintain that image, it is an identity will serve the party into the future.
They are playing the demographic long game.
Republicans know the demographics are against them–at least, against what the once Grand Old Party has become.
If this is, as many pundits insist, a “base” election, the election of 2012 will come down to turnout, and the Democratic base is already much larger than the Republican base. Hence the almost frantic efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters and constrict voting hours. Hence the gazillions of dollars being poured into the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Those tactics might work this time, although I’m increasingly inclined to think they won’t, but the culture is moving fast and in a direction that makes future victories unlikely in the absence of a move back toward the political center.
Of course, a Romney reprise of the George W. Bush Administration can do a lot of damage in the short term.