If many liberals seem unconcerned about their party’s future after a midterm trouncing, it’s only because many have bought into the comforting notion that history is theirs. Even in defeat, liberals are predestined for victory. The intellectual case for progressivism is unassailable. The potency of their moral case makes them unstoppable. Demography is destiny. Old people die. White people disappear. The trajectory set.
And while this may all turn out to be the case, it’s probably worth considering other factors before accepting the Liberal Inevitability Hypothesis.
History hates you
The most obvious reason people with high certitude about the future typically end up looking foolish is the volatility of history.
As some of you may have noticed, from time to time unforeseen “events” crop up and adjust people’s perceptions about the world. Sometimes, a charismatic leader emerges and convinces a whole bunch of Americans to think differently about politics. Quite often, charismatic leaders end up disappointing voters and everything changes again. And other times, a political party’s preferred policies result in disasters. Wars break out. Wars end. Voters readjust their focus. They evolve. Devolve. React. You don’t have look back more than six years to understand how fast it can all happen. Though many of the ideological splits will be recognizable and the debates will feel the same, we’ll have a new set of problems. Americans will likely continue to wander into coalitions on the left and right that together organically moderate government.
Voters hate you
People are also unpredictable. There is a near-endless – and useful– discussion about how Republicans must to a better job reaching out to Latinos and other minority groups. Well, in national midterm exit polls the GOP ended up doing better with Latino and Asian voters than in recent years. At the very least, this illustrates that voting trends aren’t necessarily on an unalterable path.
What is also often ignored is that one of the most critical groups needed to win elections are old folks – a group Democrats are increasingly losing. As a number of people have pointed out, the largest growing demographic group in the United State is the elderly. And not only are they stubbornly replenishing but they’re keep sticking around longer.
As a piece in the Daily Beast explained.
In the 2012 election, those 65 years or older were 17 percent of the total vote. But by 2030 those numbers will nearly double, and over 30 percent of the electorate will be over 65. To put this in perspective, the Hispanic vote will probably be only about 15 percent of the electorate by 2030.
Ah ha, you say! But those cranky detestable conservatives will soon die and young people who share our enlightened liberal values will soon take their place.
Even if we accept that demographics mean everything, why are so many pundits convinced that voting habits will never change? The idea that Millennials, who in large numbers are uninformed and uninterested in politics, are fated to embrace fixed lifelong ideological positions that comport with today’s Democratic Party’s seems to be bit of wishful thinking. (Even today, most of them are unwilling to do the hard work of democracy – filling out a mail-in ballot.)
Many of us have changed our minds on issues for a host of reasons. For starters, the concerns of a single rent-paying 20-something is distinctively different than a married 40-something with two kids and a mortgage. Pot legalization won’t always be the predominant issue on your mind. We have no clue what this generation is destined to think after 20 years of experiences. (A 2013 Harvard University’s Institute of Politics poll found that 56 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 disapprove of Obamacare – even though young people were overwhelmingly in favor of the policy before it passed. Will they be as eager to pass large-scale reforms in the near-ish future?)
Politics will fail you
Whatever you think of the GOP’s strategy, Democrats campaigned like a party devoid of ideas in 2014, relying heavily on the exhausted “War on Women” and class-warfare rhetoric.
It’s often claimed that Republicans were the victims of their own success after conservative reforms cooked up in the 1970s were implemented – on welfare, education and taxation. Over successive decades, the Republican Party sputtered as the tank emptied of fresh ideas and were put on the defensive. Since then they’ve been searching for similarly appealing policy. It’s not implausible to imagine that liberals, for a few reasons, are headed for a similar fate.
For one thing, Democrats could be playing defense for a few more years. When you set the agenda for two terms, you’re the one forced to defend your choices. So when you pass legislation that assures us you will fix all of healthcare’s problems, you end up owning all of healthcare problems for many years.
And if we accept that liberals have succeeded in winning the culture war, we also have to accept that much of the subject matter will no longer be as politically potent in national races. As this transpires, socially liberal independent voters may reassess their view of fiscally conservative policies ideas. Because, really, there’s no ideological reason someone who supports gay marriage can’t support lowering top marginal tax rates or increasing energy production. Cory Gardner’s win in Colorado, and perhaps Ed Gillespie’s close call in Virginia, are two examples of the changing complexion of politics.
There is also the gridlock – which looks to become a more permanent feature of American politics – to consider. It’s made state-level policy more important. Much has been made of the fact that voters in Red States made penance for their capitalistic excesses by voting for minimum wage hikes even if they voted against Democrats. Pundits might be drawing the wrong conclusion from this discrepancy. What it could mean is that American don’t have to agree with their party on all the specifics. It proves that voters want people in Washington worrying about different issues than local legislators. It could also means that issues we square away locally will become largely irrelevant in national elections.
But, finally, remember the most important thing: Just because you’ve chosen a self-satisfying term to describe your ideology and it happens to contain the word “progress” in it, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ideas are more enlightened or destined to move foward.