Free Markets, Free People
I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism. Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it. Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.
But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership. A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.
In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested. With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.
The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.
Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum. If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.
As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.
The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.
My esteemed colleague George Scoville brought to my attention a post about how Republicans are making a mistake in their responses to the Occupy Wall Street protests/movement. John S. Wilson at Mediaite argues that mocking OWS, tying the unruly protestors to the Democrats, and waiting for the protests to fade is just how Democrats set themselves up for a beating by the surprisingly resilient Tea Party.
Wilson is right: conservatives are underestimating OWS. While individual protestors on camera often have no idea what they’re talking about, that’s typical for a large protest; it doesn’t mean OWS is bound to flop. Unless Republicans think Obama won such a convincing victory in ’08 because the voters knew him so well, they should absolutely take this movement seriously and respond energetically.
That said, a few of Wilson’s points are false. Like:
“The message is as clear as the implications: income inequality has gotten out of control and is untenable.”
- Once they were reminded of how much money Obama got from the financial sector, Democrats were forced to get into the weeds about who’s getting more money from Goldman Sachs et al.
- The anti-war protestors have to contend with the fact that it’s been Democrats running those wars, and getting involved in new ones, for the last 3 years.
- The stimulus and bailout bills had plenty of giveaways to large corporations, many of whom were allies of Democrats who voted for those bills.
- Student loan forgiveness is the worst stimulus policy ever, especially when college grads have a low unemployment rate and the average 2011 college graduate starts at over $50,000 — instantly vaulting them into the top 25% of incomes.
They’ll still think Obama is better than the Republican, but the idea is to make them less energetic supporters.
The college grad thing brings me to another misconception:
“that [tax cuts] message probably isn’t endearing to rural white voters who make less than $40,000 a year. How could it be?”
This is just denial. Those voters voted GOP in 2010 when it was all about fiscal issues and Big Government. What does Wilson think has changed about the GOP message since then?
Democrats keep thinking that if they promise to pick Group A’s pocket to give to Group B, Group B will always love them. But electoral politics is less about policy than signaling loyalties and aspirations. What do the rural white low-to-middle-income voters see on TV and in photos?
- a bunch of urban college kids bleating to have their loans forgiven
- the usual screamers and hippies protesting war (is that endearing to the typical Southern or rural family? and does the anti-Israel contingent appeal to evangelicals?) and fossil fuels (which goes over really well in coal towns and places where families are supported by oil jobs)
- city folk fighting with cops and local businesses and generally trashing their surroundings
- bongo drums and twinkle fingers and “the people’s microphone”
- unions openly organizing at these events
When they see that, they don’t think, “Hey, those are the kind of people who will look out for me. Let’s give them a shot.” They’re thinking, “Those are the unwholesome whiners who call me a hick and want to shutter the local factory when they’ve never worked as hard as I do.”
It doesn’t help the Dems that they’re technically the party in power, and have had the upper hand since early 2009. This would be more fertile ground for Tea Partiers if they hadn’t become so associated with political division and gridlock; they should concentrate more on unifying policies like:
- good government
- opposition to bailouts or any special favors for special interests, especially Big Business
- requiring that military interventions involve a clear national interest, which can be mixed with a message of maintaining support for the troops
Offering conservative/free-market solutions on each of those things takes the wind out of OWS’s sails. Tax reform, more transparency/accountability in government, opposing all energy subsidies instead of just the “green” ones, etc.
That’s how I’d respond to OWS. This is precisely the time for Tea Partiers to go out and remind everyone that they’re better-behaved protestors who are running against Washington and against special interests, and to remind the other side that the small-government folks still have energy of our own, and challenge OWS on just who they think their champions are.
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