Memo to the Titanic

Nate Silver has picked up on my generational political “imprinting” hypothesis, which says that at the point a new generation becomes old enough to be aware of politics, it is “imprinted” with whatever narrative is playing out in politics at the time. That imprinting carries with it political memes and values that will stick with most people of that generation the rest of their lives, no matter what.

My hypothesis was based on pure observation, but Nate, bless him, has real data. And he says that much voter behavior hinges on the question “Who was president when you turned 18?”

Nate has a chart that shows people who turned 18 during the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations are more likely to identify themselves as “Republican” than people who turned 18 during any other recent administration. And if this trend continues, the GOP had better be worried. The crop of young folks who turned 18 during the G.W. Bush administration is the least Republican generation ever.

Nate says this political partisan imprinting can be “quite persistent as the voter moves through her lifecourse.” In other words, once imprinted, the imprinting tends to stick, even if political reality changes. The imprinting going on now will impact politics for the next half century.


Along the same lines, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais write for the Los Angeles Times that “The Republican Party ignores young ‘millennials’ at its peril.”

The “millennials” — the generation of Americans born between 1982 and 2003 — now identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. …

…Only 9% of millennials polled expressed a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Only 7% were positive about the GOP’s congressional leaders. By contrast, 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and a majority also approved of congressional Democrats.

The authors attribute this shift to how the millennials were raised, but I think the real difference is George W. Bush and the current Republican Party. These young folks came of age during a national train wreck.

For the first time in living memory, young people do not assume their lives will be as financially blessed as their parents were. Even those who go to college and who get “better” jobs spend much of their early adulthood paying off college loans instead of saving for the first house. “Job security” has become an oxymoron. Once they’re too old to be carried on their parents’ health insurance, vast numbers of young people are cut off from receiving medical care.

And the GOP is utterly oblivious to this. Republicans are not addressing these issues at all except to call for continuing the failed policies that created the current reality. This is not to say Democrats will do a better job of addressing these issues, but at least Democrats seem to have a clue.

Millennials tend to be more knowledgeable about environmental issues and more accepting that global climate change is real than previous generations. They also are less homophobic. The current GOP is laissez faire on economics and business, but authoritarian on social issues. But millennials tend to be laissez faire on social issues and want to see government play a more pro-active role in steering the economy. They feel locked out and want the nation’s wealth to be “redistributed,” dammit!

Two other op eds at the Los Angeles Times deserve mention. Mickey Edwards, who appears to be a conservative, argues that “The Nation Needs a Better GOP.”

If Democrats control the legislative and executive branches without meaningful opposition, the country will be the weaker for it. Some of President Obama’s initiatives would dramatically shift the boundaries between public and private, reshape the relationship between citizens and government and alter the lens through which America views its international commitments. These are serious matters and deserve serious, and constructive, engagement.

In the long run it is far better for the country if a broad range of views — or, at least, as broad a range of views as one finds in American politics, which generally isn’t that broad — is represented in government. It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority. If nothing else, it keeps the majority on its toes and goads them into thinking through their proposals more clearly. However,

Today, the Republican belief system has degenerated into an embarrassing hodgepodge that worships political victory more than ideas; supports massive deficits; plunges the nation into “just-in-case” wars without adequate troops, supplies or armor; dismisses constitutional strictures; and campaigns on a platform of turning national problem-solving over to “Joe the Plumber.” It’s hard to see how all that points the way to a reawakening of voters to trust in the GOP. …

… Merely attacking administration proposals and labeling Obama a “socialist” will only ensure that instead of rebounding, as the GOP did in 1968, the party will slip even further into irrelevance. And that will not be good for America.

Finally, one other op ed says “What Republicans need is a mutiny.” To take the party away from the troglodytes, yes? Alas, this op ed was written by Richard A. Viguerie, a troglodyte’s troglodyte.

Democrats have nothing to fear from today’s Republican Party leaders. That’s why Democrats have taken to targeting Rush Limbaugh and others who aren’t in formal leadership positions in the GOP but who forcefully articulate a conservative vision.

To paraphrase the Gipper, anyone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is forcefully articulating “a conservative vision” is the problem, not the solution.

Fred Barnes actually wrote this for next week’s Weekly Standard:

Improving the party’s image is a worthy cause, but it isn’t what Republicans ought to be emphasizing right now. They have a more important mission: to be the party of no. And not just a party that bucks Obama and Democrats on easy issues like releasing Gitmo terrorists in this country, but one committed to aggressive, attention-grabbing opposition to the entire Obama agenda.

I hope all Republicans read this and pay close attention to what Fred says.

If Republicans scan their history, they’ll discover unbridled opposition to bad Democratic policies pays off. Those two factors, unattractive policies plus strong opposition, were responsible for the Republican landslides in 1938, 1946, 1966, 1980, and 1994. A similar blowout may be beyond the reach of Republicans in 2010, but stranger things have happened in electoral politics. They’ll lose nothing by trying.

GOP: Barnes is a wise man, and you should do what he says. Please.

22 thoughts on “Memo to the Titanic

  1. We do indeed need a better GOP, but meanwhile, I have to say the Democratic Party can probably handle the nation’s needs for diversity of opinion and debate all by itself, at least in the near term. Speaking of my imprinting, there’s a whole spectrum of what would have been moderate Republicans in the ’60s and ’70s who are nominally Democrats now. Plus there’s the Will Rogers quip about it not being an ‘organized political party’ that’s just as true today.

    In the fullness of time, we need more that one party, but there’s certainly no need to attend to the rantings of the children running the GOP, just because they are a different party. Especially while they cling to the Gingrichs, Limbaughs, and Vigueries, not to mention their even-more-hateful companions.

  2. “Republicans need the political equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.”


  3. The strength of FDR’s New Deal had as much to do with having a principled opposition as it did with innovative programs meeting political/economic needs. The quality possessed by opponents should never be underestimated or derided, but used to improve your own answers.

    Take mighty great care of the enemies you choose, you become like them.

  4. …but meanwhile, I have to say the Democratic Party can probably handle the nation’s needs for diversity of opinion and debate all by itself, at least in the near term.

    Biggerbox, I’ve been thinking the same thing. The Democratic Party runs the gamut of Flaming Left to the conservative Blue Dogs who were probably Regan Democrats (if not outright Reganites) back in the day. We have a significant range of reasoned opinion and constructive criticism in place, without listening to the 20% howl at the wind. “No” and “Do it my way or else” is not the other side of a rational debate. Ignore ’em.

  5. Nate Silver has an interesting take, but his question “Who was president when you were 18?” is too precise for a phenomenon that’s both more complex and more simple than that. For example, Nixon was president when I was 18, but politically I came of age earlier, mostly by growing up in the 1960s.

    I subscribe to the idea that each generation is a reaction to the one that came before it. I further believe that there is a pattern of generations and reactions, that’s well explained in works by Strauss and Howe, notably The Fourth Turning.

    I look at GWB’s reign as the ultimate expression of the Reagan revolution, of the generation that came of age worshipping The Gipper, its full flowering, the we-own-all-three-branches-of-government-and-will-do-damn-well-what-we-please-and-to-hell-with-you. They had full reign, and look what they did with it. If anyone needs to see how bankrupt Republican ideas truly are, this is Exhibit A.

    I still remember meeting my first college conservative, back in 1978. Pasty faced, combed greasy hair, black shoes and a suit (a suit!!!!), and a mean and angry disposition that would soon be recognized as the hallmark of this age cohort. The guy was a total freak compared to those of still blissed out in our jeans and long hair from the 60s. Little did I know this was the first, barest taste that summer just might be over, the first taste of cold air, that would soon be sweeping the land in full autumnal force for the next 20-30 years. Little did I know then how weirdly at odds I would feel next to these Gen-Xers and their strangely constricted ways, and how my life would entwine with them in mostly painful – but growthful – ways, of the next 20 or 30 years. And just as they hate my generation, the Baby Boomers, and just as the entire world has gotten sick of the wreckage from their political pathologies, I am finally cheered that they are having to yield the stage to the Millenials.

  6. I know, what has that got to do with Maha’s post? Nothing, but it’s pretty funny, and it IS mother’s day………….

  7. ” It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority.”

    I think you could substitute ‘essential’ for ‘good’. Alas, few surviving Republicans qualify as ‘intelligent’. Colin Powell called for the kind of change the GOP needs, and Rush is calling for his head. So it falls to the Democrats to provide their own critical opposition.

    On specific issues, the Obama administration could hardly go too far left to suit me. But like Laws of Physics, there are immutable laws of political theory, one of which is that any unopposed political group will self-destruct on their own unregulated power. So I look to the ‘red dogs’ to serve an essential function.

  8. I think my political imprinting occurred when I was 16 when Kennedy ran for President and my Dad (who voted for Richard Nixon every chance he got) railed against Kennedy because he was Catholic. Also, in those days, a person could not vote until they were 21; collecting all the knowledge you need to vote wasn’t essential at 18. However, when I was 18, Kennedy was assassinated; and, that is what imprinted on my mind poltically. Addidtionally, it was the Viet Nam generation that worked to get the voting age changed because it was a horrible fact that 18 year old men could be drafted by the Government but not vote for that Government that was drafting them. If you were old enough to die for your country, why weren’t you old enough to vote? From then on, it was the Civil Rights struggles (which included the feminist movement) and two more assassinations that formed my political imprint. I was a bleeding heart liberal and proud of it–still am. BTW, my Dad was still voting for Richard Nixon.

    As for now, I think the political imprint hypothesis is probably viable now. However, the train wreck we just went through was not solely the responsibility of the Republicans. Maha said: “It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority.” I don’t believe that happened in the last 8 years. I saw the Democrats with some ideas; but, in the end, rolled over and played dead for GWB. So, America is still looking for that. I believe that if the Republicans remain the party of no; they will be no party by 2010.

  9. Nixon was president when I turned 18, so Nate’s theory doesn’t work for me. But those were special times, I think: we had the anti-war movement, Woodstock, the draft, Watergate was just on the horizon, hippies and freaks were everywhere you looked… and I was terribly caught up in it all. It wasn’t “Nixon” that affected me politically so much as the times. Barbara’s generational imprinting theory as stated above is spot on in my case.

  10. Most Gen Xers I know do not and did not when they were teenagers/20s, assume that folks would be better off than their parents. Or rather, they assumed that the average folk would be worse off than their parents, but believed they personally might buck the trend. They were right about the first, and usually wrong about the second, of course.

  11. Carter then Reagan was president when I was 18. I saw the Religious Right swing full fledged into politics and was aghast, it still sticks in my craw. I went to a friends evangelical church one sunday and they had a booth registering people, in the sanctuary. We do need a functioning opposition, like a useful Republican party. What they have now can just be ignored. They are on the wrong side of almost every issue in terms of demographics. Abortion, majority believe it should be legal. Gay Marriage, majority in many recent polls, an absolute majority amongst the youth. Socialized medicine, youth especially see European models and think they work just fine. And not to mention that just about everyone is Green anymore. If the Reps. move to the middle on these issues they will split their party. They have definitely gotten themselves into quite a pickle. They cannot win elections where they are now but if they move center they will lose a large portion of their base. Can anyone say, “How ’bout them Whigs?”

  12. The Richard Viguerie article emphasizes GOP heroes Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich as opposed to non-conservatives Nixon, Bush I and Bush II. Those of you old enough to remember Goldwater help me with some things. First of all, he went down to resounding defeat, which Viguerie seems to forget.

    Second, I know conservatives revere Goldwater by saying yes, he lost, but he was vindicated later. How? As I understand it, Goldwater’s most distinctive positions in 1964, the ones that convinced people he was a total wingnut (or whatever they called wingnuts back then) were (1) opposition to Civil Rights legislation, (2) the wish to escalate in Vietnam, and (3) willingness to at least thing about using nuclear weapons. So what was vindicated? Definitely not (1) or (3). As for escalating in Vietnam, yeah, we tried that and it didn’t go so well. The GOP resurgence beginning 1980 was not about any of these issues, so much as the rise of the Religious Right, and Goldwater was their harshest critic.

    So what is so great about Goldwater?

  13. So what is so great about Goldwater?

    The same thing that is great about Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, John Gault, or Ronald Reagan..Nothing aside from their elevated stature in the conservative narrative and imagination. A movement needs a focal point to embody its message, and Goldwater justed served that purpose.

  14. Reagan was President when I was 18, and his policies and actions while in office are why I doubt I shall ever be a member of his party.

  15. Enlightened Layperson asks the opinions of those old enough to remember Goldwater. Since that’s the first Republican I ever voted against, I can confirm that the description is right on target.

    We should mention his forthright opposition to Social Security, another position that has not succeeded, and in fact was presented in its most recent incarnation in a form that the events of 2008 make hilariously impossible to be taken seriously for the next 70 years or so.

    One difference from the current Conservative crew: cojones. He did not run as a compassionate conservative, but as the right-wing case he was, and no shilly-shallying. He talked against Social Security to aging audiences, and denounced the TVA in Tennessee. (The TVA reference will draw a blank with those not old enough to remember Goldwater — Huh? That’s an issue? What’s the TVA? Which is in fact essential to my case.) Allo of this was good practice for when he had to start telling off Republicans, and has left him in better odor with his old adversaries than just about anybody else I can think of.

  16. Goldwater was so conservative that a portion of the electorate thought he might purposely provoke a nuclear war with the Soviets. But he was considerably more honest and forthright than today’s “conservatives”. viz. :

    All good Christians should kick Jerry Falwell right in the ass. — Barry Goldwater

    About this, at least, Goldwater was correct.

  17. Ford was President when I turned 18. BTW – he was the only man to ever hold the office who was not voted in as President or VP.
    I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe that’s why I’m the rebel I am…

  18. Gulag and I are close in age. I have to claim Jerry “Whip Inflation Now” Ford as well. In fact, Nixon resigned the day before my 17th birthday. What a gift! Of course, that meant I came of age at a time when everyone was cynical.

    I remember being a 19-year-old college freshman, and meeting my first atheist, politically-active liberal contemporaries. Quelle culture shock! We organized for Eugene McCarthy in the 1976 election. We were horribly naive, but we sure were having a lot more fun than the Phyllis Schlafly Juniors running around on campus.

    For me, the big awakening came when I read Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, and realized I was a feminist. That and Watergate were the biggest influences on me.

  19. LBJ was president when I turned 18..But I was so ate up with patriotism* at the time that I wasn’t capable of thinking straight. It wasn’t until that asshole Bush II started messing things up big time that I finally got wise to how easily I was politically manipulated. I was a prisoner of the “God Bless America” fantasy.

    * I needed something to attach myself emotionally to because I was insecure.

  20. For those who worry about what the Democratic Party will become without a substantial opposition, I have a few comments:

    1) There’s lots of money opposing liberalism, and it can buy lots of opposition.
    2) There’re a lot of Democratic politicians (particularly senators) who’ll be glad
    to be an internal opposition.
    3) If the GOP loses a couple more Senate seats in 2010, and then a few more in 2012 (with Obama’s re-election), they’ll d*mn well change. As the saying goes, they might hate change, but they’ll hate irrelevance even more.

  21. I turned 18 during Reagan’s Acting-Presidency, AND I was 100% in opposition to the GOP. I was raised by anti-Vietnam war parents, and I listened to punk rock, especially the Dead Kennedys. They summed up my feelings about Reagan perfectly:

    Welcome to 1984 / Are you ready for the Third World War?!?
    You too will meet the secret police / They’ll draft you and they’ll jail your niece
    You’ll go quietly to boot camp / They’ll shoot you dead, make you a man
    Don’t you worry, it’s for a cause / Feeding global corporations’ claws
    Die on our brand new poison gas / El Salvador or Afghanistan
    Making money for President Reagan / And all the friends of President Reagan

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