Can someone please explain to me why the New York Times' top story from this past Sunday hasn't provoked nationwide outrage?
Allow me to provide a handy summary: Having spent the last several years trumping up unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud in order to justify new laws and regulations making it more burdensome to vote in poor and minority (read: Democratic-leaning) districts around the country, the Republican Party has now changed tactics. In the name of enforcing the "uniformity" of voting rules, Republican governors and legislatures in a number of swing states have begun to increase the obstacles to voting still further. Some states are requiring that would-be voters show birth certificates or passports (which many poor people don't possess), while others are curtailing the days, times, and places available to vote (which is particularly onerous for poor people who have little workplace flexibility and often lack transportation).
Let's leave aside the spectacle of Republicans, usually our most fulsome champions of local control, suddenly banging on about the need for statewide uniformity in voting rules.
What's far more noteworthy (and frankly pathetic) about these moves is that they're a tacit acknowledgement by the Republican Party that it's in dire demographic straits — and that one of the key pillars of its ideology over the last half-century is crumbling right before our eyes.
Ever since Richard Nixon claimed to speak for the "silent American majority," the GOP has identified itself with the real America, the true America, the America of morals and faith and common sense, as opposed to the ersatz America of secular liberalism made up of judges, professors, journalists, and other elites who control the commanding heights of culture from decadent enclaves in New York and Hollywood. These elites have a pernicious influence and do a lot of damage, Republicans have maintained, but they're vastly outnumbered by the real Americans who find their natural home in the GOP.
This ideology of righteous majoritarianism received intellectual validation from the first generation of neoconservatives, who wrote during the 1970s about the emergence of a "new class" of liberal professionals whose moral outlook differed from that of the rest of the country. Then, the ideology contributed to the rhetorical populism of the Reagan Revolution. Later, in a purer, high-octane form, it fueled the rise of right-wing talk radio, Fox News, and the rest of a conservative media infrastructure that exists to continually feed the flames of partisan fury through a potent mixture of flattery, demonization, and identity politics. "YOU are the real and righteous Americans," these outlets tell their loyal listeners and viewers day after day, year after year, "and THEY are illegitimate, immoral imposters who have usurped political power."
The story was always an exaggeration, but it once had a certain plausibility. Reagan won re-election in 1984 with 58.8 percent of the vote. Millions of his supporters were lifelong New Deal and Great Society liberals who jumped parties to become the fabled "Reagan Democrats." It seemed for a time like the silent American majority had finally found its voice.
But then the numbers started heading south. George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan with a softer 53.4 percent of the vote, and then went on to lose his bid for re-election in 1992. His son notoriously made it to the White House in 2000 despite losing the popular vote; four years later he won a majority — though, with only 50.7 percent of the vote, just barely. And it's been downhill ever since.
The grassroots of the GOP and its media cheerleaders like to attribute the party's losses in 2008 (McCain, 45.7 percent) and 2012 (Romney, 47.2 percent) to the party's foolish decision to go with presidential candidates who were compromised conservatives. If only they'd chosen real Republicans!
But this is a self-serving fantasy. As John Judis and Ruy Teixeira have been arguing for years, with each election cycle providing confirmation of their thesis, the Republican Party faces a possibly intractable demographic problem — with its core voters (older white men) becoming an ever-smaller proportion of the electorate. This means that in the country's only national election contest (the presidential vote), the popular margin is likely to swing increasingly in the direction of the Democratic Party. Unless, of course, Republicans can keep Democrats from voting.
But what about the GOP's success at holding on to the House of Representatives in recent years? That, too, is a product of anti-democratic manipulation. The Democrats actually received more overall votes in House races in 2012 but failed to win control of the chamber because the GOP has used state-level redistricting to cram ever-greater numbers of Democrats into smaller numbers of districts, effectively decreasing their political power relative to their raw numbers.
Charming, isn't it?
But also pitiable. Having built an ideology around the conviction that it speaks axiomatically for the real American majority, the Republican Party has become incapable of coping with evidence to the contrary — and willing to do just about anything, including subverting democracy, to maintain that fiction.
Republicans should be ashamed of themselves — and the rest of us should be disgusted.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How the brides of ISIS are attracting Western women
- Sorry, we will not all be having sex with robots in the future
- How to live a long life, according to science
- The real lesson of the looming Martha Coakley disaster
- The secret advantages of great penmanship
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
Subscribe to the Week