I'm sure you've already seen David Frum's New York Times Magazine piece, "The Vanishing Republican Voter", but permit me few observations. The first is: Republicans don't care about the poor. To be sure, Frum doesn't put it just that way, but the point is the same. He says:
My fellow conservatives and Republicans have tended not to worry very much about the widening of income inequalities. As long as there exists equality of opportunity — as long as everybody’s income is rising — who cares if some people get rich faster than others? Societies that try too hard to enforce equality deny important freedoms and inhibit wealth-creating enterprise. Individuals who worry overmuch about inequality can succumb to life-distorting envy and resentment."
Now, he may have meant to make a distinction between not worrying about income inequality (pah! tant pis!) and not worrying about the poor, but is there really a line there? After all, worrying about the poor without worrying about how and why they're trapped in poverty wouldn't make any sense, would it? Give a man a fish, Dave… Besides is he really going to pretend that the opportunities for kids in Anacostia are the same as those his children enjoy:
Four miles to the southeast there stretches a different Washington. More than one-third of the people live in poverty. Close to half the young children are overweight. Fewer than half the adults work. The rate of violent crime is more than 10 times that of the leafy streets of my neighborhood."
I don't think they are, and I don't think he could possibly believe they are. Maybe he can fool himself into believing that adults enjoy roughly fair opportunities, but let's not pretend that kids born into the lowest income environments are starting out where our kids do. This not caring about the poor stuff seems like quite the admission to me. Topping it off with a soupcon of righteousness about "important freedoms" and the danger of "resentment" is just gilding the lily. The Republicans have spent the last eight years showing us how much they value our most precious freedoms, while they spent all of last week alone currying resentment at their convention.
Next observation: Liberals have values! And, finally, someone on the right is admitting it:
By returning to the center on economic matters in the 1990s, the Democrats emancipated higher-income and socially moderate voters to vote with their values rather than with their pocketbooks."
Too late for the pundits of 2004, we find out we're values voters. Democrats, even the richest ones, care about the poor and the inequalities in our system that keep too many of them that way. Boo-yah! A little credit at long last. It turns out we're wealthy, well-educated and we care about the poor. I'd date us!
Finally, it would seem that conservatives – well, David Frum, anyway – are not as immune to reality as I thought:
Conservatives need to stop denying reality. The stagnation of the incomes of middle-class Americans is a fact. And only by acknowledging facts can we respond effectively to the genuine difficulties of voters in the middle. We keep offering them cuts in their federal personal income taxes — even though two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes, and even though a majority of Americans now describe their federal income tax burden as reasonable.
What the middle class needs most is not lower income taxes but a slowdown in the soaring inflation of health-care costs. If health-insurance costs had risen 50 percent rather than 100 percent over the Bush years, middle-income voters would have enjoyed a pay raise instead of enduring wage stagnation."
That's right, we're not making more money than we were eight years ago. Yet we're paying more for our necessities. It's not our imaginations, we're not whiners, we're just barely treading water. Where was Frum last week? Why is the Republican party running on the promise of four more years? Why are they trying to distract us with their lame-ass tax cuts and crappy health plan? Why are we talking about a woman's place and one teen's pregnancy and impending marriage? Do they really not have any ideas at all about what's going on out there? To be fair to David Frum (whose further thoughts on this piece can be found here), he's trying to start a conversation, though it's way too late. The doomsday scenario is that we're all stuck, again, with the party that doesn't care about the poor, has let good health care become a privilege, and ignores the needs and struggles of the middle class. Yay. Thanks to Frum for making it all so clear.