Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the GOP Killed the Reagan Democrats

There is a lot to be said about the whole Obama-taking-over-the-American-auto-industry line, but the thing that has been bothering me for months is how Republicans have dealt with the current situation, which is to say, they have dealt with it by acting rather boorish.

Now, I know some liberal wags will say that this is the only way that Republicans know how to act, but that is not neccessarily so. Listening to this recent comments like this one from Kevin Hassett and the recent glee from some conservatives on the Swedish Government deciding not to support Sabb as well as Senators like Richard Shelby rants against the the Big Three has made it seem to many a worker living in states like my native Michigan, Illinois and Ohio that the GOP doesn't give a damn about them or their lives.

And the fact is, those workers are in a way correct.

There was a time when conservatives led by Ronald Reagan, went after the Reagan Democrats. The GOP was interested in getting these blue collar voters in the Industrial Midwest.

But that was so, 1982.

Now, it seems that the GOP has lost interest in these states as they have with other parts of America save the South. There is a lot of cheering about how Sweden is allowing the free market to deal with Saab, and how we should be doing the same thing here. That is all fine and dandy. In some cases, it would make sense for GM and Chrysler to just deal with bankruptcy to get their financial houses in order.

And I agree with fellow conservatives that yes, the UAW has to share some of the blame here by wanting benefits and pay that was beyond what the companies could afford.

But what happens after that? What do you tell the guy who has worked at a GM plant in Michigan for 20 years and gets laid off in order to help GM restructure? What do you tell that person who might not have any other skills and now has to try to get retraining? What does the GOP has to say other than the wonders of the free market?

Right now, we have nothing to say and that has made that worker decide to vote for the Democrats since they do have something to say.

As the writer at New Majority.com who goes by "Henry Clay" notes, that a lack of real policy from the GOP means that the Republians have lost the Reagan Democrats. He opines:

The near total collapse of the American auto industry in the Upper Midwest means that conservatives can finally stop their search for those working-class Reagan Democrats. In part because of the free-market revolution that Reagan inspired and presided over, the Reagan Democrats are now either retired and living in Florida or on public assistance.

Whatever happens next with GM and Chrysler, we are looking at further deindustrialization and depopulation for the Great Lakes states. And absent thoughtful reform on the part of conservatives to alter the course of these communities, this phenomenon will only further harden Democrat sympathies in the region.

The last 30 years have not been kind to the Upper Midwest, and its voters are increasingly unkind to Republicans. In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the state of Michigan, along with Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Those states gave Reagan 123 electoral votes. In 2008, Barack Obama won all of those states, but they gave him only 100 electoral votes.

Clay goes on to note how the the Reagan Revolution did win the Reagan Dems over, but even despite some successes, left them behind. His example is my hometown of Flint, Michigan:

In spite of their decreasing electoral significance, Republicans cannot afford to ignore these communities. The Northeast and Pacific Coast are long gone. The Mountain West is trending leftward, and the last election showed that Republicans will have their hands full even in the once Solid South.

Reclaiming some ground around the Great Lakes is essential to a Republican revival, but the sympathies of these Great Lakes communities lie increasingly with the Democrats. Consider Michael Moore’s Flint, Michigan. Conceding that Moore is a congenitally dishonest person, his 1989 film Roger & Me did capture the impact of deindustrialization on this one local community. In 1960 the city’s population peaked at almost 200,000. Local GM employment hit a high of 80,000 in 1978. Today, the city’s population is roughly 110,000. And following the 2006 round of GM buyouts, only 8,000 GM workers remained in Flint.

Conservatives should not be afraid to acknowledge that for all of its successes, the Reagan Revolution left Flint and many other post-industrial communities behind.

Instead, however, conservative sentiment is too often a combination of satisfaction that the UAW finally got what was coming to it and belief that citizens in these towns are free to vote with their feet if they are not satisfied with their station.

Republicans don't have to try to prop up GM and Chrysler, but they do have to do something for the many who will lose their jobs, be it money for retraining, or increased unemployment benefits for the newly unemployed. There needs to be a domestic policy answer to help people in Michigan and other states that have been hard hit by the woes in the auto industry.

So, why haven't conservatives come up with any ideas? I think part of the problem is that the GOP has become to see conservatism as more of a lifestyle than a guiding ideology. It has become a place that welcomes those who fit into the movement and ignores those that don't fit. In this case, since conservatives don't like unions, they see the workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler as getting what was coming to them. Conservatism has gone from being interested in governing to being interested in being countercultural, in not fitting in or as David Frum notes, it is more interested in protest than in politics. As David Frum goes on to say:

We saw a country divided in two, red states and blue, NASCAR vs. NPR, real America against the phonies in the cities. A movement that had begun as an intellectual one now scornfully pooh-poohed the need for people in government to know anything much at all. But expertise does matter, and the neglect of expertise leads to mismanagement and failure — as we saw in Iraq, in Katrina and in the disregard of warning signals from the financial market. It was under a supposedly pro-market administration that the United States suffered the worst market failure of the post-war era, and that should have sobered us. Instead, we rallied to Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber.

Disregarding evidence and expertise, we shrugged off warnings of environmental problems. One consequence: In 1988, the elder George Bush beat Michael Dukakis among voters with four-year degrees by 25 points. In 2008, Barack Obama won the BA and BSc vote, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Conservatives stopped taking governance seriously — and so Americans ceased to trust conservatives in government.

What has happened is that we stopped caring about getting votes and winning elections. What is happening is that there is some cache of being seen as out of touch, culturally alienated. The Republican party has become a support group for conservative culture, a place of safety in world that doesn't seem to friendly. While such a role for a GOP might offer safety and succor, it basically assures the GOP to be consigned to a minority party for a very long time.

As a Republican, I totally understand the notion of free markets and support it. I understand that the Big Three were slow to change and become more nimble in the marketplace and should suffer some consquences for that. I think unions aren't all bad, but they have done a lot to bog down the Big Three against their foreign competitors. I am not against seeing the Big Three face bankruptcy.

But I am also the son of two retired autoworkers. I might disagree with them on politics, but I respect their hard work. They went to work in pain, to make sure I had a good life. My dad worked for General Motors for almost 40 years and my mother for 25. It's hard work and their bodies show it. As their son, I can't tell them that they are on their own. I have to offer them and the many like them something more for their years of hard work.

If the GOP wants to be a winning party, it has to offer something to these workers. They can be pro-worker with out being pro-union. They have to be. Cheering the free market and telling these workers to drop dead is the way to ensuring the GOP's downfall.

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