The Stupid Party

When last we checked into David Frum’s advice on how conservatism can come back, he was recommending a more robust nationalism that I found rather nativist. He found statistics suggesting “Democrats are consistently less likely than Republicans to describe themselves as ‘extremely proud’ to be Americans,” and concluded, “Believing in government, but lacking faith in America and Americans Democrats are naturally attracted to institutions of global governance. Mistrusting traditional American culture as racist, violent, and generally defective, Democrats bring little enthusiasm and less perseverance to that culture’s defense.” And so Republicans, he recommended, need to speak more firmly about their natural constituency’s sense of psychological threat to their nation’s sovereignty, to champion “American nationhood”, affirm ours as a land with “a single language and shared culture.” Because, as he put it in the line I found shaded toward nativism, “Democrats…have historically tended to attract those who felt themselves in some way marginal to the American experience…people who identify with the ‘pluribus’ in the nation’s motto, ‘e pluribus unum.’ As the nation weakens, Democrats grow stronger.”

That’s from his book Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again. Elsewhere he argues that the Bush legacy that most damages Republicans “is the legacy of immigration non-enforcement. This has imported a large new community of people who are both economically struggling to the American nation (and who are thus immune to the most potent of of Republican appeals.”

Well and good. But that places Frum in somewhat of a pickle. The anti-cosmopoitans he locates as conservatism’s natural constituency tend to share another trait in common: less education. He even says so in his book: “The moderately educated vote Republican.”

Well, here’s a problem with the “moderately educated.” They correlate, as a group, with those who don’t much value education. Learning. Expertise. The humility to defer to expertise. Cosmopolitan orientation. And a party that relies on them will find itself more and more implicated in the problem that revealed itself in the following online exchange with Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fischer:

I am from Calvert County in Southern Maryland. A traditional “red” county. This year all the candidates that the Democratic Party endorsed for school board won. While changing demographics account for some of this[,] the candidates themselves account for most of the vote. Two-thirds of the candidates endorsed [by] the Republican Party did not have college degrees (one is 19 and the other explained that “life got in the way.[“]) They were less articulate, had committed less time to the schools and seemed more partisan. When I look at this and also see that less educated voters trend Republican, the hint of condescension towards “elites” I begin to wonder if the future of the Republican Party is dependent on a less educated electorate and what that means for the party and the country.

Marc Fisher: It’s a real problem and I think the Republicans will have to confront that in the next few years and find a path that gets them back to appealing to the ever increasing portion of the country that is college-educated and bound up in careers that are brain-powered.”

Thus a thinker like Frum finds himself thrown on the horns of quite a dilemma. Because here, he finds himself absolutely beside himself with frustration that he’s stuck in a Stupid Party.

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