What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes

By Cynthia Thaler, Alternet.org, January 18, 2013

Excerpt

In 2011, the ratio of employed population to full population among racial groups was 51.7% for African Americans and 59.4% for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, the ratio between the median wealth (assets minus debts) of white households versus that of black households was the largest since the government started collecting such data in 1984, and approximately twice what it had been before the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States

…racial wage and employment disparities between blacks and whites since the 1940′s have been shaped by both market and non-market factors, including: racial discrimination; political and institutional factors such as social-movement mobilizations; shifting government policies; unionization efforts; and evolving public employment opportunities…

 

…“racial economic gains have relied most directly upon momentary shifts in political mobilization, state strategy, and union power rather than on secular trends in human capital or economic restructuring; yet these shifts (perhaps because they have been so momentary) often failed to sustain or build upon whatever gains have been achieved.”…

…Black voter turnout in 2012 was exceptionally high — and may for the first time have equaled that of whites among eligible voters– suggesting growing political clout, according to the Pew Research Center. A wide variety of contemporary academic literature has also focused on how traditional high-poverty U.S. urban areas are changing in complexion.

Full text

In 2011, the ratio of employed population to full population among racial groups was 51.7% for African Americans and 59.4% for whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, the ratio between the median wealth (assets minus debts) of white households versus that of black households was the largest since the government started collecting such data in 1984, and approximately twice what it had been before the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States. Further, in 2010 the number of African-American households in poverty rose to 27.4%, followed by Hispanic households (26.6%) Asian households (12.1%), and white households (9.9%), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Traditional explanations of these gaps have focused on the decline in manufacturing, in addition to skills and education disparities in the new service economy.

A 2011 paper in The Journal of Politics & Society, “What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes,” reviews and synthesizes a large volume of scholarly work to better understand the reasons for these continuing economic disparities. The researchers, based at the University of Chicago, note that racial wage and employment disparities between blacks and whites since the 1940′s have been shaped by both market and non-market factors, including: racial discrimination; political and institutional factors such as social-movement mobilizations; shifting government policies; unionization efforts; and evolving public employment opportunities.

The paper’s findings include:

“Recent studies in economic history make it clear that the post–World War II era for African Americans was neither an age of steady relative progress nor one of persistent immobility. Instead, these decades might be best characterized as an extended period of racial-inequality stasis bracketed by two quantum-leap advances.”

The first period of rapid gain was in the 1940s, when wartime mobilization and a rejuvenated Great Migration from the South stimulated increases in African American earnings, both in absolute terms and in relation to whites. Traditional explanations for racial gains in wage equality in the 1940’s include the migration of millions of African Americans to northern cities, moving them away from agricultural labor toward industrial work. A second explanation is the rising level of education among this group that partly resulted from this northern migration.

More current research has linked a number of government actions to these decreases in racial disparities in the 1940’s. These include practices of the National War Labor Board, which allowed wage increases for low-paying jobs despite wartime wage controls. In addition, wage inequality among government jobs narrowed, facilitated by initiatives such as the Roosevelt administration’s Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC). Furthermore, increased levels of union activity helped raise wages at the lower end of the wage scale, as unions also pressured employers to include anti-discrimination policies; and anti-discrimination laws passed at the state-level  impacted the labor market generally for black men and women.

“A second moment of relative black economic progress took place between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, when federal civil rights policies played an especially prominent role in generating wage gains among blacks that significantly outstripped those of whites.” Researchers have identified a number of factors that may have influenced the earnings compression in the period between 1965 and 1975. These included federal civil rights policies, including anti-discrimination mandates in the south, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Unionization in the public sector also likely had a positive effect on the wages earned by African Americans.

“…Black–white male earnings ratio stood at .62 in 1964, rose to .72 by 1975, then fell to .69 by 1987. Black women experienced a similar increase during this period (relative to the wages of white women and white men), though without the same drop-off thereafter.”

After the mid-1970’s, wage gains for African Americans came to a halt. The authors note that conventional sociological wisdom suggests that the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy required new levels of education and new skills. African American workers had difficulty meeting the skills demand for these jobs, especially as public schools declined. But there has been a “revised explanation” among more recent historians. This more recent scholarship argues that the reasons for this change go beyond demand and supply-side economics: These include a drop in the real value of minimum wage; and declines in unionization also likely played a role in overall wage inequality.

An unemployment gap between white and black workers has persisted, even in the 1940’s and 1970’s when African Americans experienced wage gains, and this gap continued through the end of the 20th century. Research has shown that much of this gap since 1960’s cannot be explained by deindustrialization or the mismatch of skills, and the emergence of this gap preceded de-industrialization, first emerging in the 1940’s. Researchers have suggested a number of alternative explanations, including: discriminatory hiring practices; reduced anti-discrimination enforcement; and the effects of the criminal justice system. However, “much remains unknown about the causes of a persistent gap in racial unemployment over the past half-century.”

The authors conclude that “racial economic gains have relied most directly upon momentary shifts in political mobilization, state strategy, and union power rather than on secular trends in human capital or economic restructuring; yet these shifts (perhaps because they have been so momentary) often failed to sustain or build upon whatever gains have been achieved.”

Despite these ongoing economic challenges for the African-American community, other areas merit attention. For example, the national jobs picture for African-Americans also improved slightly in 2012, relative to prior years. Black voter turnout in 2012 was exceptionally high — and may for the first time have equaled that of whites among eligible voters– suggesting growing political clout, according to the Pew Research Center. A wide variety of contemporary academic literature has also focused on how traditional high-poverty U.S. urban areas are changing in complexio

http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-race/inequality-labor-markets-politics-historical-basis-black-economic-fortunes

 

 

The Progressive Economic Narrative in Obama’s State of the Union

by Richard Kirsch,  Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute; author of ‘Fighting for Our Health’, 2/13/2013

Two years ago, frustrated by a conservative resurgence in the 2010 election, a group of progressive activists, economists, communicators, and pollsters came together to write a compelling story about our view of the economy (as Mike Lux relates). Our goal was to write a story that people could easily understand, based on our beliefs about how to create an economy that delivered broadly shared prosperity — a story that could stand up against the right’s familiar recipe of free markets, limited government, and rugged individualism. The core of the story we developed in our progressive economic narrative (PEN) was: “The middle class is the engine of our economy. We build a large, prosperous middle class by decisions we make together.”

So it was a milestone in our work to hear President Obama tell our story and use our language in his State of the Union address. The key line, delivered at the top of the speech and quoted in almost every news story, was “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.”

Taking another lesson from PEN, the president prefaced that quote with an explanation of what the economic problem is, focusing on how working families and the middle class have been crushed. In PEN we say, “American families are working harder and getting paid less, falling behind our parents’ generation. Too many Americans can’t find good jobs and too many jobs don’t pay enough to support a family. Big corporations have cut our wages and benefits and shipped our jobs overseas.” Here’s the president’s version:

But — we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of Americas economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.

When it came to describing how we build this middle-class engine, the president again used the same ideas frame laid out in PEN: “We build a large and prosperous middle class through the decisions we make together; investing in our people, expanding opportunity and security, paving the way for business to innovate, and to do business in ways that create prosperity and economic security for Americans.” The president’s agenda was based on these same concepts:

Invest in people through education (starting at Pre-K), skills we need for today’s jobs, affordable health care, and a secure retirement.

Pave the way for businesses through research, infrastructure, and green energy.

Do business in ways that create prosperity, with a higher minimum wage and pay equity for women.

The president’s story contrasted sharply with Marco Rubio’s. Rubio also paid homage to the middle class, but he told the conservative tale:

This opportunity — to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life — it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs. Presidents in both parties — from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan — have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.

So the fight is joined. For too long, progressives have not taken on the conservative story with our own narrative. As a result, even when people agree with us on specific issues, they still hold fast to the right’s definition of how to move the economy forward. We have, with the simple tale told by the president and in the progressive economic narrative, a very different story, an economy driven by working families and the middle class, which we create by decisions we make together, with our government as the catalyst.

Our next task is to tell this same story over and over again in all of our communications. Repetition is key. People need to hear the story whenever we communicate on an economic issue. We give examples of how do to that on job quality, job creation, the federal fiscal mess, and health care at progressivenarrative.org.

President Obama left out one part of the progressive economic narrative in his speech. As we say in PEN, “Our political system has been captured by the rich and powerful and corrupted by big money in politics. The issue is not the size of the government, it’s who the government works for — powerful corporations and the richest few, or all of us. We have to take our democracy back to ensure that our economy will work for all of us. “

That’s a story that politicians are reluctant to tell. As always, we need to lead and the leaders will follow. It is up to us to build an America and economy that works for all us. Clearly describing our vision of how to do that is a crucial element of building power that progressives overlooked for too long. We’re much closer when the president tells that story to the nation. It’s up to us to keep telling it every day.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-kirsch/the-progressive-economic_b_2680460.html

The Gradual Selling of America the Beautiful

By VERLYN KLINKENBORG, New York Times, February 9, 2013

Excerpt

Of the 2.27 billion acres that constitute the land area of the United States, a little less than 30 percent — about 640 million acres — belongs to you, the American citizen. It is land acquired over the years by treaty, conquest or purchase by the federal government acting on behalf of the people, and indisputably belongs to neither the states nor individuals. But in the last few decades no part of the American land mass has stirred greater controversy….the real threat to the public lands is not from Congress, or the state legislatures, whose laws would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional. The real and constant threat is more subtle, and more piecemeal. Only about a third of the 640 million acres of public land — national parks, permanently protected wilderness where only backpackers are allowed, national wildlife refuges — enjoy complete or high levels of protection against commercial development. Nearly all the rest is multiuse land, for logging, grazing, hard-rock mining, oil and gas development. Especially vulnerable are the 248 million acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. It is to this threat that President Obama must pay more attention than he has.Some presidents — like George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have done a good job protecting public lands; in contrast, President George W. Bush did his best to get the bureau into the speed-leasing business, vending leases, with virtually no profit to the government, for gas and oil drilling…… attitude toward protecting and exploiting public lands. Congress has extraction fever of a rare severity, and it will be on full display. Finding the right balance is always the hard part, especially in the West, where the urge to return to the exploitative ways of the past is strong. But the public lands belong now, as they always have, to the future. There are dozens of wrong ways to use them. But there is no such thing as a wrong way to protect them.

Full text

Of the 2.27 billion acres that constitute the land area of the United States, a little less than 30 percent — about 640 million acres — belongs to you, the American citizen. It is land acquired over the years by treaty, conquest or purchase by the federal government acting on behalf of the people, and indisputably belongs to neither the states nor individuals. But in the last few decades no part of the American land mass has stirred greater controversy.

Almost four decades ago, a movement known as the Sagebrush Rebellion tried to force the federal government to give up ownership of hundreds of millions of acres, mostly in the West. A similar fever gripped Western legislatures in the mid-1990s. George W. Bush’s Interior Department basically said no to the idea that the federal government should set aside large areas of federal land for permanent wilderness protection.

Those attitudes persist. Two years ago, the Republican House basically told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that he could not spend a penny on a program that would merely study existing federal lands for possible wilderness protection at some point in the future. Mitt Romney said he did not fully grasp the “purpose” of the public lands in the course of suggesting that more of them be taken over by the states for oil and gas development. And in the last year, four states — Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona — have passed or have pending bills that would transfer millions of acres of federal land to state control. It is no surprise that the most vociferous opposition to the notion of public ownership is in the West, where there is a disproportionate amount of federal land — just as there is a disproportionate amount of natural resources, like oil, gas and timber, and a disproportionate amount of mountains, canyons and other grand scenery.

But the real threat to the public lands is not from Congress, or the state legislatures, whose laws would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional. The real and constant threat is more subtle, and more piecemeal. Only about a third of the 640 million acres of public land — national parks, permanently protected wilderness where only backpackers are allowed, national wildlife refuges — enjoy complete or high levels of protection against commercial development. Nearly all the rest is multiuse land, for logging, grazing, hard-rock mining, oil and gas development. Especially vulnerable are the 248 million acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

It is to this threat that President Obama must pay more attention than he has. Every president has adjusted the rate at which land is leased for exploitation and the rate at which it is protected, usually by speeding or slowing the rate at which the bureau grants oil and gas leases, but often by pushing Congress to designate new wilderness or using the powers granted under the American Antiquities Act of 1906 to unilaterally protect land when Congress will not act. Some presidents — like George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have done a good job protecting public lands; in contrast, President George W. Bush did his best to get the bureau into the speed-leasing business, vending leases, with virtually no profit to the government, for gas and oil drilling.

In a speech last week, President Clinton’s interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, presented a telling chart that showed how much land has been protected — by Congress and by the president — from the Reagan to the Obama presidency. So far, the current administration is dead last, and by several lengths. Mr. Clinton, for instance, protected 26.9 million acres, 9.3 million through executive action, over his two terms; a total of only 2.6 million acres has been protected so far under President Obama.

One reason is simply politics. Mr. Obama has tried to balance — too carefully, as he nearly always does — the interests of conservationists and Big Oil. As Mr. Babbitt pointed out, some six million acres were leased to the oil and gas industry during Mr. Obama’s first term — more than twice as much land as was set aside for protection. Mr. Obama has four years left, and judging by the tone he has taken since his new term began, we think he may well do a better job when it comes to conservation and land protection. Nominating Sally Jewell as his new interior secretary is a good first step. The toughest part of her Senate confirmation hearings will have to do with her attitude toward protecting and exploiting public lands. Congress has extraction fever of a rare severity, and it will be on full display.

Finding the right balance is always the hard part, especially in the West, where the urge to return to the exploitative ways of the past is strong. But the public lands belong now, as they always have, to the future. There are dozens of wrong ways to use them. But there is no such thing as a wrong way to protect them.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/the-gradual-selling-of-america-the-beautiful.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130210

The Ignorance Caucus

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, February 10, 2013

Excerpt

[The Republican] party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions…while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs…

Full text

Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)

But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.

What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?

Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/opinion/krugman-the-ignorance-caucus.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130211&_r=0

Why are “Wedge Issues” Essential to Republican Rule?

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS,   23 July 2006

Excerpt

While they have the public and the media distracted with red hot emotional topics, they go off and make the wealthy wealthier, increase our national debt, dismantle the Constitution, and take away government social services. Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue that the Busheviks could care less about… wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response. Name any Republican wedge issue from immigration, to abortion, to gay marriage, to flag burning… “the war on terrorism” … and you run head into an emotional, not a reasoned, hook…. Basically, the Republican “rule by emotional appeal” boils down to a big brother elitism whose message to Americans is simply this: “Don’t think. We’ll do the thinking for you. Just follow.”

Full text

Why are “wedge issues” so important to the modern Republican Party?

First of all, wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response. Name any Republican wedge issue from immigration, to abortion, to gay marriage, to flag burning — not to mention the granddaddy of them all: “the war on terrorism” and FEAR — and you run head into an emotional, not a reasoned, hook.

In short, the Republicans are tremendously skilled at employing the art of the demagogue to get Americans — around half at any given time — to avoid reasoned discussion of public policy. They do this by appealing to emotional, instinctual reactions that are not processed through a thoughtful process. It’s called pressing a hot button.

Second of all, the Republicans use wedge issues to, essentially, pickpocket the American public and dismantle the American government.

While they have the public and the media distracted with red hot emotional topics, they go off and make the wealthy wealthier, increase our national debt, dismantle the Constitution, and take away government social services. Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue that the Busheviks could care less about.

Finally, wedge issues are a tremendous fundraising tool for the right wing. In fact, the campaigns of right wing candidates were financed by the money generated by right wing wedge issue direct mail. Richard Viguerie was the guru who started the direct mail juggernaut for GOP candidates — and organizations — and he’s still going strong. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Rove came to the fore in Texas politics as a direct mail consultant.

In short, wedge issues that press the hot buttons of right wing donors sell big time. We heard Viguerie speak recently and he referred to “pre-sold” wedge issues. In essence, these are topics like “gay marriage,” “abortion,” and “war on terror” that you include in the first sentence of a GOP direct mail piece and you are guaranteed a good response because they have such visceral impact on Stepford GOP followers.

Progressives and Democrats have far fewer “pre-sold” appeals — except for the mention of Bush and Cheney — because progressives and Democrats think more before acting. That may sound snobbish, but it’s true from a direct mail perspective.

Basically, the Republican “rule by emotional appeal” boils down to a big brother elitism whose message to Americans is simply this: “Don’t think. We’ll do the thinking for you. Just follow.”

http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/79-why-are-wedge-issues-essential-to-republican-rule

The Persistence of Racial Resentment

By THOMAS B. EDSALL, February 6, 2013

Excerpt

Although there was plenty of discussion during the 2012 presidential campaign about the Hispanic vote and how intense black turnout would be, the press was preoccupied with the white vote: the white working class, white women and upscale whites.

Largely missing from daily news stories were references to research on how racial attitudes have changed under Obama, the nation’s first black president. In fact, there has been an interesting exploration of this subject among academics…Despite how controversial it has been to talk about race, researchers have gathered a substantial amount of information on the opinions of white American voters…the evidence strongly suggests that party attachments have become increasingly polarized by both racial attitudes and race as a result of Obama’s rise to prominence within the Democratic Party…At the moment, the population of the United States (314 million) is heading towards a majority-minority status in 2042. The American electorate, on the other hand (126 million) is currently 72 percent white, based on the voters who cast ballots last November …the shifts…within the right wing of the Republican Party. Many voters voicing stronger anti-black affect were already Republican… Some Republican strategists believe the party’s deepening conservatism is scaring away voters…

what Time Magazine recently described as the Republican “brand identity that has emerged from the stars of the conservative media ecosystem: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and others.”

It is not so much Latino and black voters that the Republican Party needs. To win the White House again, it must assuage the social conscience of mainstream, moderate white voters among whom an ethos of tolerance has become normal. These voters are concerned with fairness and diversity, even as they stand to the right of center. It is there that the upcoming political battles – on the gamut of issues from race to rights – will be fought.

Full text

Although there was plenty of discussion during the 2012 presidential campaign about the Hispanic vote and how intense black turnout would be, the press was preoccupied with the white vote: the white working class, white women and upscale whites.

Largely missing from daily news stories were references to research on how racial attitudes have changed under Obama, the nation’s first black president. In fact, there has been an interesting exploration of this subject among academics, but before getting to that, let’s look back at some election results.

In the 16 presidential elections between 1952 and 2012, only one Democratic candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, won a majority of the white vote. There have been nine Democratic presidential nominees who received a smaller percentage of the white vote than Obama did in 2008 (43 percent) and four who received less white support than Obama did in 2012 (39 percent).

In 2012, Obama won 39 percent of the white electorate. Four decades earlier, in 1972, George McGovern received a record-setting low of the ballots cast by whites, 31 percent. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey won 36 percent of the white vote; in 1980, Jimmy Carter got 33 percent; in 1984, Walter Mondale took 35 percent of the ballots cast by whites. As far back as 1956, Adlai Stevenson tied Obama’s 39 percent, and in 1952, Stevenson received 40 percent – both times running against Dwight D. Eisenhower. Two Democratic nominees from Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis in 1988 (40 percent) and John Kerry in 2004 (41 percent), got white margins only slightly higher than Obama’s in 2012 – and worse than Obama’s 43 percent in 2008. In other words, Obama’s track record with white voters is not very different from that of other Democratic candidates.

Ballots cast for House candidates provide another measure of white partisanship. These contests have been tracked in exit polls from 1980 onward. Between 1980 and 1992, the white vote for Democratic House candidates averaged 49.6 percent. It dropped sharply in 1994 when Newt Gingrich orchestrated the Republican take-over of the House, averaging just 42.7 percent from 1994 through 2004. White support for Democrats rose to an average of 46.7 percent in 2006 and 2008 as public disapproval of George W. Bush and of Republicans in Congress sharply increased.

In the aftermath of Obama’s election, white support for Congressional Democrats collapsed to its lowest level in the history of House exit polling, 38 percent in 2010 -  at once driving and driven by the emerging Tea Party. In 2012, white Democratic support for House candidates remained weak at 39 percent.

Despite how controversial it has been to talk about race, researchers have gathered a substantial amount of information on the opinions of white American voters.

The political scientists Michael Tesler of Brown University and David O. Sears of UCLA have published several studies on this theme and they have also written a book, “Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America,” that analyzes changes in racial attitudes since Obama became the Democratic nominee in 2008.

In their  2010 paper, “President Obama and the Growing Polarization of Partisan Attachments by Racial Attitudes and Race,” Tesler and Sears argue that the evidence strongly suggests that party attachments have become increasingly polarized by both racial attitudes and race as a result of Obama’s rise to prominence within the Democratic Party.

Specifically, Tesler and Sears found that voters high on a racial-resentment scale moved one notch toward intensification of partisanship within the Republican Party on a seven-point scale from strong Democrat through independent to strong Republican.

To measure racial resentment, which Tesler and Sears describe as “subtle hostility towards African-Americans,” the authors used data from the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey, an extensive collection of polling data maintained at the University of Chicago.

In the case of A.N.E.S. data, Tesler and Sears write:

The scale was constructed from how strongly respondents agreed or disagreed with the following assertions: 1) Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. 2) Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. 3) Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. 4) It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.

The General Social Survey included questions asking respondents to rate competing causes of racial discrimination and inequality:

The scale was constructed from responses to the following 4 items: 1) Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. 2) A 3-category variable indicating whether respondents said lack of motivation is or is not a reason for racial inequality. 3) A 3-category variable indicating whether respondents said discrimination is or is not a reason for racial inequality. 4) A three-category variable indicating whether respondents rated whites more, less or equally hardworking than blacks on 7 point stereotype scales.

Supporting the Tesler-Sears findings, Josh Pasek, a professor in the communication studies department at the University of Michigan, Jon A. Krosnick, a political scientist at Stanford, and Trevor Tompson, the director of the Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, use responses from three different surveys in their analysis of “The Impact of Anti-Black Racism on Approval of Barack Obama’s Job Performance and on Voting in the 2012 Presidential Election.”

Pasek and his collaborators found a statistically significant increase from 2008 to 2012 in “explicit anti-black attitudes” – a measure based on questions very similar those used by Tesler and Sears for their racial-resentment scale. The percentage of voters with explicit anti-black attitudes rose from 47.6 in 2008 and 47.3 percent in 2010 to 50.9 percent in 2012.

Crucially, Pasek found that Republicans drove the change: “People who identified themselves as Republicans in 2012 expressed anti-Black attitudes more often than did Republican identifiers in 2008.”

In 2008, Pasek and his collaborators note, the proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes was 31 percent among Democrats, 49 percent among independents, and 71 percent among Republicans. By 2012, the numbers had gone up. “The proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes,” they write, “was 32 percent among Democrats, 48 percent among independents, and 79 percent among Republicans.”

At the moment, the population of the United States (314 million) is heading towards a majority-minority status in 2042.

The American electorate, on the other hand (126 million) is currently 72 percent white, based on the voters who cast ballots last November.

Obama’s ascendency to the presidency means that, on race, the Rubicon has been crossed (2008) and re-crossed (2012).

What are we to make of these developments? Is the country more or less racist? How can the percentage of people holding anti-black attitudes have increased from 2006 to 2008 at a time when Obama performed better among white voters than the two previous white Democratic nominees, and then again from 2008 to 2012 when Obama won a second term?

In fact, the shifts described by Tesler and Pasek are an integral aspect of the intensifying conservatism within the right wing of the Republican Party. Many voters voicing stronger anti-black affect were already Republican. Thus, in 2012, shifts in their attitudes, while they contributed to a 4 percentage point reduction in Obama’s white support, did not result in a Romney victory.

Some Republican strategists believe the party’s deepening conservatism is scaring away voters.

“We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party,” John Weaver, a consultant to the 2008 McCain campaign, said after Obama’s re-election. Mark McKinnon, an adviser to former President George W. Bush, made a similar point: “The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”

Not only is the right risking marginalization as its views on race have become more extreme, it is veering out of the mainstream on contraception and abortion, positions that fueled an 11 point gender gap in 2012 and a 13 point gap in 2008.

Given that a majority of the electorate will remain white for a number of years, the hurdle that the Republican Party faces is building the party’s white margins by 2 to 3 points. For Romney to have won, he needed 62 percent of the white vote, not the 59 percent he got.

Working directly against this goal is what Time Magazine recently described as the Republican “brand identity that has emerged from the stars of the conservative media ecosystem: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and others.”

It is not so much Latino and black voters that the Republican Party needs. To win the White House again, it must assuage the social conscience of mainstream, moderate white voters among whom an ethos of tolerance has become normal. These voters are concerned with fairness and diversity, even as they stand to the right of center. It is there that the upcoming political battles – on the gamut of issues from race to rights – will be fought.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/the-persistence-of-racial-

Global Austerity ‘An Unethical Experimentation On Human Beings’ – Paul Krugman

The Huffington Post  |  By Bonnie Kavoussi Posted: 02/08/2013

Paul Krugman doesn’t just think austerity is bad economic policy; the Nobel Prize-winning economist says it’s just plain wrong.

“We’ve basically had an unethical experimentation on human beings going on across the world right now,” Krugman told HuffPost Live on Friday. “All these countries are pursuing austerity policies, and in doing so, they are giving us evidence on what actually happens when you do those policies.”

Several European countries — including Great Britain, Greece, Spain and Italy — have slashed their budgets in recent years. Those countries have seen high unemployment rates and stagnant economies.

“It’s been a disaster,” Krugman said of austerity in Great Britain. “They have gone back into recession.”

The U.S. has also pursued austerity, albeit to a smaller extent. The U.S. government has cut 719,000 jobs since President Barack Obama took office. And the unemployment rate still is far higher than before the recession.

You can watch the whole segment here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/08/paul-krugman-austerity_n_2648039.html

Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America

Thomhartmann.com / By Thom Hartmann [1], Sam Sacks [2]  February 7, 2013

Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the “evil” of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britain.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics.  So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

And, under Bush and Obama, we’ve seen the rapid privatization of our commons, the further erosion of social safety nets, and more losses of national sovereignty with more so-called free trade agreements.

In Europe, we’re seeing sovereign governments neutered by Conservative technocrats. According to Ayn Rand, the rich can never be asked to sacrifice. So instead, it’s working people across the Eurozone who have to pay for the bad investments that the banksters made in the run-up to the global financial collapse.

As we saw in Greece in 2011 with the deposing of Prime Minister George Papandreou, and all across the state of Michigan over the last few years with financial managers laws, when democratic governments are unwilling to do the bidding of the rich, they’re immediately replaced by corporate lackeys who will.

The Taggerts and the Reardens are holding the reins of government today.

Which explains why Corporate America paid an average tax rate of just 12% in 2011 – the lowest rate in 40 years. It explains why 400 billionaires in America now own more wealth than 150 million other Americans combined. And it explains why fewer impoverished Americans are getting less federal assistance than at any time in the last half-century.

Ayn Rand envisioned a world without governments – a world where the super-rich are free to do as they wish.

We tried that during the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th Century – before Ayn Rand was alive. If she’d watched the ruthlessness of the Robber Barons like she did the Bolsheviks, she may have reached different conclusions.

She may have realized that American Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were right when they made sure that wealth was more evenly distributed and the Billionaire Class was held in check.

Or she may have come to understand that corporations and billionaires owe their wealth to the state and not the other way around. Without favorable patent and copyright laws, a court system, an educated workforce, and an infrastructure to move goods about the country, then no one would be able to get rich in America.  We’d be like the Libertarian paradise of Somalia.

As Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative,argued [3] in The Economist, “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

Sadly, this understanding of how democratic republics work – and why – has been lost this generation.

And Ayn Rand’s disciples are making sure the next generation never finds it again.

Idaho State Senator John Goedde, who chairs that state Senate’s Education Committee, introduced a bill this week that would require all students to read Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” before they can graduate. Goedde explained that the book made his son a Republican and that it “certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility.”

Between stupidity like this, and the re-birth of Ayn Rand through corporate-funded think tanks and Hollywood movies, the Billionaire Class wants to make sure the next generation buys into a toxic ideology that’s quite literally destroying the world as we know it.

They don’t want the 21st Century to be “America’s Century.” They want it to be the “Billionaire’s Century.” And if they succeed, then the middle class in America – and through most of the developed world – will go extinct.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/ayn-rands-gospel-selfishness-and-billionaire-empowerment-plaguing-america

America Is Far from #1

AlterNet [1] / By Eric Zuesse [2] February 7, 2013

Excerpt

“The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” [3] by the World Economic Forum, is the latest annual ranking of 144 countries, on a wide range of factors related to global economic competitiveness…Gross Domestic Product is the only factor where the U.S. ranks as #1…Health Care has the U.S. ranking #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and #41 on “Infant Mortality.” Education in the U.S. is also mediocre….The U.S, overall, is very far from being #1 – not really in contention, at all, for the top spot. The rankings suggest instead that this nation is sinking toward the Third World…

Full text

“The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” [3] by the World Economic Forum, is the latest annual ranking of 144 countries, on a wide range of factors related to global economic competitiveness.

On each of their many rankings, #1 represents the best nation, and #144 represents the worst nation.

Gross Domestic Product is the only factor where the U.S. ranks as #1, which we do both on “GDP” and on “GDP as a Share of World GDP.”

Health Care has the U.S. ranking #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and #41 on “Infant Mortality.”

Education in the U.S. is also mediocre. On “Quality of Primary Education,” we are #38. On “Primary Education Enrollment Rate,” we are #58. On “Quality of the Educational System,” we are #28. On “Quality of Math and Science Education,” we are #47. On “Quality of Scientific Research Institutions,” we are #6. On “PCT [Patent Cooperation Treaty] Patent Applications [per-capita],” we are #12. On “Firm-Level Technology Absorption” (which is an indicator of business-acceptance of inventions), we are #14.

Trust is likewise only moderately high in the U.S. We rank #10 on “Willingness to Delegate Authority,” #42 on “Cooperation in Labor-Management Relations,” and #18 in “Degree of Customer Orientation” of firms.

Corruption is apparently a rather pervasive problem in the U.S.

On “Diversion of Public Funds [due to corruption],” the U.S. ranks #34. On “Public Trust in Politicians,” we are #54. On “Irregular Payments and Bribes,” we are #42. On “Judicial Independence,” we are #38. On “Favoritism in Decisions of Government Officials” (otherwise known as governmental cronyism), we are #59.

On “Organized Crime,” we are #87. On “Ethical Behavior of Firms,” we are #29. On “Reliability of Police Services,” we are #30. On “Transparency of Governmental Policymaking,” we are #56. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Challenging Regulations,” we are #37. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Settling Disputes,” we are #35. On “Burden of Government Regulation,” we are #76. On “Wastefulness of Government Spending,” we are also #76. On “Property Rights” protection (the basic law-and-order measure), we are #42.

Investors find somewhat shaky ground in the U.S.

On “Strength of Investor Protection,” we are #5. On “Protection of Minority Shareholders’ Interests,” we are #33. On “Efficacy of Corporate Boards,” we are #23. On “Reliance on Professional Management,” we are #19. On “Strength of Auditing and Reporting Standards,” we are #37. On “Venture Capital Availability,” we are #10. On “Intellectual Property Protection,” we are #29. On “Soundness of Banks,” we are #80. On “Regulation of Securities Exchanges,” we are #39. On “Country Credit Rating,” we are #11. On “Government Debt [as a % of GDP],” we are #136. On “Effectiveness of Anti-Monopoly Policy,” we are #17. On “Extent of Market Dominance,” we are #9.

Technology is moderately good here. The U.S. ranks #14 on “Availability of Latest Technologies,” #24 on “Internet Access in Schools,” #20 on “Internet Users [%],” #33 on “Internet Bandwidth [per user],” and #8 on “Mobile Broadband Subscriptions [%].”

Infrastructure is fairly good in the U.S. We rank #25 on “Quality of Overall Infrastructure,” #33 on “Quality of Electricity Supply,” #30 on “Quality of Air Transport Infrastructure,” #19 on “Quality of Port Infrastructure,” and #20 on “Quality of Roads.”

Taxes also definitely don’t qualify as being good in the U.S. We rank #69 on “Extent and Effect of Taxation,” in which the “Effect” that’s considered is reducing the “incentives to work or invest.” We are #103 on “Total Tax Rate,” #47 on “Number of Procedures Required to Start a Business” (which is an indirect tax), and #50 on “Prevalence of Trade Barriers” (both tariff and non-tariff).

The U.S, overall, is very far from being #1 – not really in contention, at all, for the top spot. The rankings suggest instead that this nation is sinking toward the Third World. The nations that stand high on most of these lists are Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Canada, Qatar, Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, and Hong Kong.

The nations that generally rank in the bottom half of these rankings are the ones that are typically cited as being “Third World,” or poor.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/america-far-1

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/eric-zuesse
[3] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2012-13.pdf
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/united-states
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ranking
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/global-competitiveness-report
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

2012 or Never

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, Feb 26, 2012

Republicans are worried this election could be their last chance to stop history. This is fear talking. But not paranoia.

Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.

“America is approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course,” announces the dark, old-timey preamble to Paul Ryan’s “The Roadmap Plan,” a statement of fiscal principles that shaped the budget outline approved last spring by 98 percent of the House Republican caucus. Rick Santorum warns his audiences, “We are reaching a tipping point, folks, when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority.” Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

Obama’s victory carried out the blueprint. Campaign reporters cast the election as a triumph of Obama’s inspirational message and cutting-edge organization, but above all his sweeping win reflected simple demography. Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country. One measure of how thoroughly the electorate had changed by the time of Obama’s election was that, if college-­educated whites, working-class whites, and minorities had cast the same proportion of the votes in 1988 as they did in 2008, Michael Dukakis would have, just barely, won. By 2020—just eight years away—nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.

Now, there are two points to keep in mind about the emerging Democratic majority. The first is that no coalition is permanent. One party can build a majority, but eventually the minority learns to adapt to an altered landscape, and parity returns. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-­administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP. Bill Clinton appropriated some elements of this conservative coalition by rehabilitating his party’s image on welfare and crime (though he had a little help from Ross Perot, too). But it wasn’t until Obama was elected that a Democratic president could claim to be the leader of a true majority party.

The second point is that short-term shocks, like war, recession, or scandal, can exert a far more powerful influence than a long-term trend: The Watergate scandal, for instance, interrupted the Republican majority at its zenith, helping elect a huge raft of Democratic congressmen in 1974, followed two years later by Jimmy Carter.

But the dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades. Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head. In the aftermath of George McGovern’s 1972 defeat, neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirk­patrick disdainfully identified his voters as “intellectuals enamored with righteousness and possibility, college students, for whom perfectionism is an occupational hazard; portions of the upper classes freed from concern with economic self-interest,” and so on, curiously neglecting to include racial minorities. All of them were, in essence, people who heard a term like “real American” and understood that in some way it did not apply to them. Today, cosmopolitan liberals may still feel like an embattled sect—they certainly describe their political fights in those terms—but time has transformed their rump minority into a collective majority. As conservative strategists will tell you, there are now more of “them” than “us.” What’s more, the disparity will continue to grow indefinitely. Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.

Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.

In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a high-profile presence on the Republican intellectual scene, wrote a 2010 book titled The Battle, urging conservatives to treat the struggle for economic libertarianism as a “culture war” between capitalism and socialism, in which compromise was impossible. Time was running short, Brooks pleaded in apocalyptic tones. The “real core” of what he called Obama’s socialistic supporters was voters under 30. “It is the future of our country,” he wrote. “And this group has exhibited a frightening openness to statism in the age of Obama.”

The same panic courses through a new tome by James DeMint, who has made himself probably the most influential member of the Senate by relentlessly pushing his colleagues to the right and organizing primary challenges to snuff out any hint of moderation among his co-partisans. ­DeMint’s book, titled Now or Never, paints a haunting picture: “Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt. The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.”

That apocalyptic rhetoric is just as common among voters as among conservative eggheads and party elites. Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of tea-party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. “Along with illegal immigrants,” she wrote, “low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.”

It’s easy for liberals to ­dismiss these fears as simple racism—and surely racism, to some degree, sways the tea party. But it is not just conservative white people who react fearfully when they ­see themselves ­outnumbered by an influx of people unlike themselves. Minorities do it. White hipsters do it. Recall the embarrassing spectacle of liberal panic, in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s reelection, when Kerry voters believed their country had been taken over by gay-bashing Evangelical Christians.

That the struggles over the economic policies of the last few years have taken on the style of a culture war should come as no surprise, since conservatives believe Obama has pulled together an ascendant coalition of voters intent on expropriating their money. Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget chairman, has, like many Republicans, cast the fight as pitting “makers” against “takers,” with the latter in danger of irrevocably gaining the upper hand. “The tipping point represents two dangers,” he announced in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “first, long-term economic decline as the number of makers diminishes [and] the number of takers grows … Second, gradual moral-political decline as dependency and passivity weaken the nation’s character.”

Of course, both parties make use of end-times rhetoric, especially in election season. What’s novel about the current spate of Republican millennialism is that it’s not a mere rhetorical device to rally the faithful, nor even simply an expression of free-­floating terror, but the premise of an electoral strategy.

In that light, the most surprising response to the election of 2008 is what did not happen. Following Obama’s win, all sorts of loose talk concerning the Republican predicament filled the air. How would the party recast itself? Where would it move left, how would it find common ground with Obama, what new constituencies would it court?

The most widely agreed-upon component of any such undertaking was a concerted effort to win back the Hispanic vote. It seemed like a pure political no-brainer, a vital outreach to an exploding electoral segment that could conceivably be weaned from its Democratic leanings, as had previous generations of Irish and Italian immigrants, without altering the party’s general right-wing thrust on other issues. George W. Bush had tried to cobble together a comprehensive immigration-reform policy only to see it collapse underneath a conservative grassroots revolt, and John McCain, who had initially co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, had to withdraw his support for it in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination.

In the wake of his defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, “a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.”

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

And to what end? The Republicans’ most audacious choice is the hyperaggressive position they’ve adopted against Obama to sabotage his chances for a second term. Frustrated liberals, assessing the methods of the Republicans in Congress, see a devious brilliance at work in the GOP strategy of legislative obstruction. And indeed, Republicans very skillfully ground the legislative gears to a halt for months on end, weakening or killing large chunks of Obama’s agenda, and nurturing public discontent with Washington that they rode to a sweeping victory in 2010. At the same time, their inability to waver from desperate, all-or-nothing opposition often meant conservatives willingly suffered policy defeats for perceived political gain, and failed to minimize the scale of those defeats.

Take the fight over health-care reform. Yes, Republicans played the politics about as well as possible. But it was their hard line on compromise allowed the bill to pass: The Democrats only managed to cobble together 60 votes to pass it in the Senate because conservatives drove Arlen Specter out of the GOP, forcing him to switch to the Democratic Party. Without him, Democrats never could have broken a filibuster. When Scott Brown surprisingly won the 2010 race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats were utterly despondent, and many proposed abandoning comprehensive health-care reform to cut a deal for some meager expansion of children’s health insurance. But Republicans refused to offer even an olive branch. Presented with a choice between passing the comprehensive bill they had spent a year cobbling together or collapsing in total ignominious defeat, the Democrats passed the bill.

Last summer, Obama was again desperate to reach compromise, this time on legislation to reduce the budget deficit, which had come to dominate the political agenda and symbolize, in the eyes of Establishment opinion, Obama’s failure to fulfill his campaign goal of winning bipartisan cooperation. In extended closed-door negotiations, Obama offered Republicans hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts and a permanent extension of Bush-era tax rates in return for just $800 billion in higher revenue over a decade. This was less than half the new revenue proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. Republicans spurned this deal, too.

Instead the party has bet everything on 2012, preferring a Hail Mary strategy to the slow march of legislative progress. That is the basis of the House Republicans’ otherwise inexplicable choice to vote last spring for a sweeping budget plan that would lock in low taxes, slash spending, and transform Medicare into ­private vouchers—none of which was popular with voters. Majority parties are known to hold unpopular votes occasionally, but holding an ­unpopular vote that Republicans knew full well stood zero chance of enactment (with Obama casting a certain veto) broke new ground in the realm of foolhardiness.

The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.

Will the gamble work? Grim though the long-term demography may be, it became apparent to Republicans almost immediately after Obama took office that political fate had handed them an impossibly lucky opportunity. Democrats had come to power almost concurrently with the deepest economic crisis in 80 years, and Republicans quickly seized the tactical advantage, in an effort to leverage the crisis to rewrite their own political fortunes. The Lesser Depression could be an economic Watergate, the Republicans understood, an exogenous political shock that would, at least temporarily, overwhelm any deeper trend, and possibly afford the party a chance to permanently associate the Democrats with the painful aftermath of the crisis.

During the last midterm elections, the strategy succeeded brilliantly. Republicans moved further right and won a gigantic victory. In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too. In the long run, though, the GOP has done nothing at all to rehabilitate its deep unpopularity with the public as a whole, and has only further poisoned its standing with Hispanics. But by forswearing compromise, it opened the door to a single shot. The Republicans have gained the House and stand poised to win control of the Senate. If they can claw out a presidential win and hold on to Congress, they will have a glorious two-year window to restore the America they knew and loved, to lock in transformational change, or at least to wrench the status quo so far rightward that it will take Democrats a generation to wrench it back. The cost of any foregone legislative compromises on health care or the deficit would be trivial compared to the enormous gains available to a party in control of all three federal branches.

On the other hand, if they lose their bid to unseat Obama, they will have mortgaged their future for nothing at all. And over the last several months, it has appeared increasingly likely that the party’s great all-or-nothing bet may land, ultimately, on nothing. In which case, the Republicans will have turned an unfavorable outlook into a truly bleak one in a fit of panic. The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them.

http://nymag.com/news/features/gop-primary-chait-2012-3/