New York Times: The Party of Work - David Brooks
David Brooks wrote a column last week that I think offers considerable insight into the history and future of the Republican Party. Brooks writes:
... Starting in the mid-20th century, there was a Southern and Western version of it, formed by ranching Republicans like Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Their version drew on the traditional tenets: ordinary people are capable of greatness; individuals have the power to shape their destinies; they should be given maximum freedom to do so.
This is not an Ayn Randian, radically individualistic belief system. Republicans in this mold place tremendous importance on churches, charities and families — on the sort of pastoral work Mitt Romney does and the sort of community groups Representative Paul Ryan celebrated in a speech at Cleveland State University last month.
But this worldview is innately suspicious of government. Its adherents generally believe in the equation that more government equals less individual and civic vitality. Growing beyond proper limits, government saps initiative, sucks resources, breeds a sense of entitlement and imposes a stifling uniformity on the diverse webs of local activity....
As I read this, my mind went immediately to an article recently published in The New Republic, The Mormon Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The author describes the journey of Mormonism from communalism to economic individualism. Jackson Lears writes:
Mormons embraced economic individualism and hierarchical communalism; they distrusted government interventions in business life but not in moral life; they used their personal morality to underwrite their monetary success. They celebrated endless progress through Promethean striving. They paid little attention to introspection and much to correct behavior. And their fundamental scripture confirmed that America was God’s New Israel and the Mormons His Chosen People. It would be hard to find an outlook more suited to the political culture of the post–Reagan Republican Party.
Brooks could probably add Romney as a Mormon variant of the Goldwater, Reagan, and Bush tradition.
But the demographics of the nation are shifting. The community that intuitively embraces the GOP equation of "more government = less vitality" is shrinking. I think Brooks nails it with this observation:
The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.
Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.
Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.
For these people, the Republican equation is irrelevant. When they hear Romney talk abstractly about Big Government vs. Small Government, they think: He doesn’t get me or people like me....
I've lived in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood for more than twenty years. This rings very true to me.
A lot is being made of Republicans needing to change their stance on immigration. While agreeing they need to change, I don't think this is the primary obstacle. Republicans have not artfully made the case for how their small-government model creates more, not less, opportunity for minorities. Republicans have not addressed how opportunity can be improved and risk reduced for many vulnerable people who work hard but live at the margins. Republicans once had a minority of leaders (like Jack Kemp) who thought in these terms. If they want to win elections, they need to recover that part of their heritage.