George Will: GOP slow to recognize that demography is destiny

By GEORGE WILL

WASHINGTON — America's 57th presidential election revealed that a second important national institution is on an unsustainable trajectory. The first, the entitlement state, is endangered by improvident promises to an aging population. It is now joined by the political party whose crucial current function is to stress the need to reform this state. And now the Republican Party, like today's transfer-payment state, is endangered by tardiness in recognizing that demography is destiny.

Perhaps Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election on Sept. 22, 2011, when, alarmed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry's entry into the Republican nomination race, he rushed to Perry's right regarding immigration, attacking the DREAM Act. He would go on to talk about forcing illegal immigrants into "self-deportation." It is surprising that only about 70 percent of Hispanics opposed Romney.

As it has every four years since 1992, the white portion of the turnout declined in 2012. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first person elected president while losing the white vote by double digits. In 2012 — the year after the first year in which a majority of babies born in America were minorities — Hispanics were for the first time a double-digit (10 percent) portion of the turnout. Republicans have four years to figure out how to leaven their contracting base with millions more members of America's largest and fastest-growing minority.

Romney's melancholy but useful role has been to refute those determinists who insist that economic conditions are almost always decisive. Americans are earning less and worth less than they were four years ago; average household income is down $3,800; under the 11 presidents from Harry Truman through George W. Bush, unemployment was 8 percent or more for a total of 39 months but was over that for 43 Obama months. Yet voters preferred the president who presided over this to a Republican who, more than any candidate since the Great Depression, made his economic expertise his presidential credential.

Voters littered the political landscape with contradictions between their loudly articulated discontents and their observable behavior. Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals 2-1 in a nation that has re-elected the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson and his mentor Franklin Roosevelt. A nation said to be picnicking on the slope of a volcano, with molten anger bubbling just below its thin and brittle crust, has matched a rare record of stability in its central political office: For only the second time — the first was the Virginia dynasty of the third, fourth and fifth presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — there will be three consecutive two-term presidents.

A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch. After three consecutive "wave" elections in which a party gained at least 20 House seats, and at a moment when approval of Congress has risen — yes, risen — to 21 percent, voters ratified Republican control of the House, keeping in place those excoriated as obstructionists by the president the voters retained. Come January, Washington will be much as it has been, only more so.

Obama is only the second president (Andrew Jackson was the first) to win a second term with a reduced percentage of the popular vote, and the third (after James Madison and Woodrow Wilson) to win a second term with a smaller percentage of the electoral vote. A diminished figure after conducting the most relentlessly negative campaign ever run by an incumbent, his meager mandate is to not be Bain Capital. Foreshadowing continuing institutional conflict, which the constitutional system not only anticipates but encourages, Speaker John Boehner says of the House Republican caucus: "We'll have as much of a mandate as he will."

The electoral vote system, so incessantly and simple-mindedly criticized, has again performed the invaluable service of enabling federalism — presidents elected by the decisions of the states' electorates — to deliver a constitutional decisiveness that the popular vote often disguises.

Republicans can take some solace from the popular vote. But unless they respond to accelerating demographic changes — and Obama, by pressing immigration reform, can give Republicans a reef on which they can wreck themselves — the 58th presidential election may be like the 57th, only more so.

This election was fought over two issues as old as the Republic, the proper scope and actual competence of government. The president persuaded — here the popular vote is the decisive datum — almost exactly half the voters. The argument continues. As Benjamin Disraeli said, "Finality is not the language of politics."

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

STM wrote on November 08, 2012 at 12:11 pm

The true "entitlement state" is that of the super-wealthy.  These people feel entitled to an enhanced vote and influence because their money has been deemed "speech."  These people feel entitled to tax breaks and tax shelters and the shell-game of international finance to elude their responsibilities of citizenship (a.k.a. taxes).

These people feel entitled to play God with other people's lives. Romney is a great example.  They see a domestic company, purchase it using the company's own worth, then they destroy it in the process of squeezing every last drop of profit from it.  After the carnage, if it still seems like a viable business idea, they offshore the whole company where they can exploit workers for pennies on the dollar. 

When their gaming the system fails, these people feel entitled to taxpayer funded bailouts.  When we the people call them on their behavior, they call out their paid pundit hit-men like Will, Krauthammer, and Coulter to cry, "CLASS WARFARE!"

If Will doesn't like Democrats blaming the Bush administration for the massive financial meltdown that began during and continued after his administration, then he shouldn't be comparing before and after unemployment figures for Bush and Obama.  I lost more money during the last year of the Bush administration than I made in salary that year.  The recovery has been slow under Obama, but at least it's been a recovery. Since the Republican party had only one goal during that period, to see Obama fail, they can take no credit whatsoever for what little recovery we've had.

Will should also quit complaining about negative campaigning.  Romney gave as good as he got.  When you factor in the in-kind campaign contribution of talk radio and the Fox propaganda channel slurring the president 24-7, I'd say the president did pretty damned well.  Making this the most sickening campaign season ever was the presence of big (invisible) money.  You can bet Mitt's $10,000 that the vast majority of that went to conservative, pro-gun, pro-business candidates.  Money like that can buy a lot of mud.

The whining Will has been an apologist for the failing of right-wing politics as long as I can remember.  Just a few days prior to the election he predicted a Romney "landslide" (321 to 217 I believe).  When are you going to call him out for his antiquated views and his inability to see what's plainly before his eyes.  When will the News Gazette hold Will accountable for his failed predictions?  Will is as culpable for the failings of the Republican party as anyone and yet the News Gazette worships him.  They'd better get used to writing justifications for bad decisions because they'll be backing the wrong horses for years to come.

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 08, 2012 at 2:11 pm

STM;  Good comment.  The GOP will not change.  The 1% needs the right wing for the votes; and the right wing needs the 1%'s money for elections.   The right wing will shrink over time due to aging, and education; but they will still be around for a while.  The Democratic party may split into coalitions based on issues also.  Managing them into one party will become more difficult over time.  New parties will replace the big two parties.  A parliamentary form of government will develop eventually.  However, that is years away.  For now, it is the right wing against the rest of the country.       

EL YATIRI wrote on November 09, 2012 at 6:11 pm
Profile Picture

It isn't just demographics Mr. Will.  Thanks to the tea party/evangelicals the GOP has become the anti-science party.  Watching the republican primary was jaw-dropping as they almost unaniimously denied the theory of evolution, the backbone of modern biology.  Romney made fun of Obama's concern about rising sea levels/climate change, at least until hurricane Sandy hit.

The tea party candidates talking about "legitimate rape" and arguing that a woman's body "shuts down" and doesn't get pregnant was just laughable.

We just can't be led by people who have contempt for science and facts.  People who are so arrogant, they claim to have direct communication with God.  In other words religious zealots and extremists who want a theocracy rather than a secular democracy.

 

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 10, 2012 at 8:11 am

EL YATIRI;  Good comment.   After reading your comment; Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc..... came to mind.  Karl Rove, and Rush Limbaugh smoking a hookah.