As referenced in my post below, David Frum cites as one of the reasons that the GOP lost a lot of members last election – members who had been on the wagon 20+ years – was that the party has become too extreme (in a sampling from the state of PA; excuse me, Commonwealth of PA). Not only were these longtime GOP voters; they were affluent and educated. So what gives?
I don’t know what the study actually said, and Frum doesn’t dive any deeper on the point, but I do have a clue, and it comes from my own state – Indiana. Indiana has voted Republican every election since WWII (with the exception of the 64′ landslide for Johnson), even when the rest of the Midwest went blue – as my picture attests; and we even voted against FDR in 40′ and 44′. But this year we voted Democrat – the first time in 44 years, and the second in 72 years. And further, our 5-term Senator, Richard Lugar, came out in support of Obama. Why this divergence? I’d venture to say that the people here are “conservatives,” that is, they want to keep their safe way of life, their rights, and especially their earnings. While they surely didn’t feel safe about Obama’s plans (which we can bash all we want, the writing is on the wall), they felt even less safe about the GOP running this country.
My dad and my grandpa are surely both in the category of GOP voters of 20+ years, and are educated and affluent (more like middle class with stable professional jobs) – as are most of the people that I grew up with. I don’t know who any of them voted for (there’s an unwritten gag-rule in Indiana about who you voted for…), but I know that they don’t care too much about ideological issues. And I should note that Ft. Wayne is no small town that simply fears the real world (we have 300,000 people within the city limits and more in the greater metro). I think it’s safe to at least hypothetically use it as a gage of the opinions of the group of people Frum was talking about. Here’s how they see a few of the “extreme” issues, as far as I can tell:
When they hear about the war in Iraq, they don’t think about protecting America from foreign terrorists, and they don’t care about spreading democracy. They think about their sons dying and the government deficit going through the roof. And for what? For benefits that are hypothetical to them, and they think in the back of their minds that it’s all about Bush finishing his dad’s folly, or looking out for oil interests. I’m not saying that these opinions are right, but this is how they see it, and they vote.
And when they hear about gun rights, they don’t think freedom to hunt, or freedom to protect ourselves from trespassers or assailants; and they certainly don’t think of the real Constitutional reason for the 2nd Amendment – to protect ourselves from government gone totalitarian (you should have seen the looks I got when I was defending the Heller decision to them this summer). They think of guns being brought into our peaceful Midwest cities, and guns do one thing: kill people. Once again, I’m not saying that this opinion is right – you can debate it til your blue in the face. What I’m saying is that this is how these people see it. And these people aren’t going to listen to rhetoric or ideas. You have to bring it home to them. So when they see the GOP touting semi-automatic assault rifle rights, and laughing and making jokes at NRA meetings, saying in not so many words, “guns are cool, kids!” the conversation is over. They think: “#$%&, anyone can have one of those? That is crazy.” But then again, gun rights are a staple of the GOP…
And lastly, most of them are just deflated and desperate because they lost half their 401k and they aren’t going to be able to retire for another 5 years. So much for trust in the market without regulation… Emotions just kick in at this point. Principles of economic freedom and freedom of contract just don’t mean a thing to a 50-something man who just lost $100,000 of his 401K. That means losing everything he’s put toward retirement in the last 10 years. Imagine how that feels: “I wasted 10 years of my life.” Again, it’s not absolutely logical (especially when these men are small business owners). But people are not just thinking beings, they are thinking, feeling, moving, desiring, talking, loving, hating, working beings. And it’s people that vote.
So is conservatism too extreme? It depends on your measuring stick. But if your measuring stick is votes and the congruence of the party with the opinions of long time GOP members, then the answer is, in lawyer language “probably yes.”