Monday, November 30, 2009

Ross Douthat Understands....

Very little.

Douthat attempts to hold on to hope that his generation of young people will be Republicans. He cites a study showing that recessions make people less confident in the federal government; thus, even though recessions also make people distrust capitalism, that if the Republicans grind the government to a halt, they can then claim young people.

I don't think so, and for several reasons. First, young people are Democrats for many reasons. Even before the economy went south, young voters rejected Republicans. See the 2006 elections for an example. They rejected the Republicans because of Iraq, because of attacks of civil liberties, because they were embarrassed for their country. Young people are increasingly international. Many travel, many have friends from other nations. And it's hard to defend your country from your friends when you are invading nations for no reason. The economy adds to this, but it's not all of it.

Second, Douthat holds to Reagan's rise as evidence in his failure. But this takes a facile view of the 70s at best. Stagflation was bipartisan--Nixon handled it no better than Carter. Moreover, the rise of Reagan was at for at least as many cultural reasons as economics. Douthat points out that the generation who grew up under Reagan is the most Republican demographic out there. Sadly, I am part of that generation. But I think much of this can be explained in a reaction to the excesses of the 1960s and 70s and the sense that our parents had done some really stupid things and acted in really irresponsible ways. I'm sure it's more complex than this, but it also gets closer to the answer than Douthat. Moreover, he totally ignores Reagan's own recession which doesn't seem to fit into his paradigm.

Finally, I'm not sure that generations really switch allegiances much after they are made. Whether it's the Republicans of the Civil War years, the Democrats of the New Deal, or the conservatives of the 1980s, political identity seems pretty stable over time. Perhaps the one exception is the southern switch to the Republicans during the civil rights movement--but that makes sense when you think that the real political allegiance of the white South was to white supremacy. Even the Reagan Democrats weren't the New Deal generation--it was their kids. So given the massive shift to the Democrats among young voters, it's unlikely they are going to experience an equally massive shift back to the Republicans. Perhaps one can poke some holes in all of this--I only thought of it when I was walking to campus this morning. But I think it's pretty solid for an overgeneralization.