Monday, March 26, 2012

Romney, Republicans, and the young

by Jeff Jacoby

"I don't mean to be flip with this," said Mitt Romney during a Q-and-A with students at the University of Chicago last week. "But I don't see how a young American can vote for a Democrat." He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment "offensive," but went on to explain why he was in earnest.

The Democratic Party "is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for," Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating "the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind," Republicans are "consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you."

The government's record-breaking debts "are not frightening to people my age, because we'll be gone," Romney argued, but "they ought to be frightening to death to people your age!" He regretted not doing a better job of getting that message across to younger voters. "You guys ought to be out," Romney insisted, "working like crazy for me and for people like me: conservatives, who want to keep the cost of government down and give you a brighter future."

About one thing Romney is surely correct: Washington's staggering spending binge is entailing a burden of fearsome proportions on the millennial generation -- voters in their late teens and 20s. With the government more than $15.5 trillion in debt and continuing to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends, Generation Y is in for a prolonged economic beating. The national debt now exceeds the entire annual output of the US economy. Millennials will be paying for it through higher taxes, slower growth, reduced public services, fewer jobs, lower incomes, and a more uncertain future than their parents or grandparents confronted.

But that debt wasn't piled up without plenty of Republican help. During George W. Bush's presidency, annual federal spending skyrocketed from $1.8 trillion to $3.4 trillion, and $4.9 trillion was added to the national debt. Bush left the White House, in fact, as the biggest spender since LBJ. Granted, the profligacy of Barack Obama has outstripped even Bush's bacchanal: CBS reports that Obama has added more to the national debt in just three years and two months than Bush did in his entire eight years. Still, younger voters can hardly be blamed if they haven't noticed that Republicans are "consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down."

In any case, even persuasive economic arguments don't always sway voters. Romney's lament that twentysomethings aren't "working like crazy" for Republicans like him mirrors the frustration of liberals like Thomas Frank, whose best-selling "What's the Matter With Kansas?" made the case that heartland Americans hurt their own interests by not supporting Democrats. It takes more to win voters' loyalty than just appealing to their pocketbooks. Romney may be right about millennials' economic interests, but so far they've been voting like lockstep Democrats. They went two-to-one for Obama over John McCain, and backed John Kerry over Bush in 2004. Their enchantment with Obama may have fallen off -- according to the Pew Research Center, just 49 percent of young voters approve the president's job performance, a sharp drop since 2009 -- but they are still more likely than any other age group to describe themselves as Democrats.

It is common for voters to lean leftward when young and incline to the right with age. In a major report on "The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election," Pew notes that members of the "Silent Generation" -- those born before 1945 -- were once one of the most Democratic cohorts, but today are the most Republican. Baby Boomers, too, are moving rightward. Of voters born between 1946 and 1964, Pew finds, far more identify themselves as conservative than as liberal: "A majority of Boomers now favors a smaller government that provides fewer services. When they were in their 20s and 30s, Boomers were more supportive of big government."

But while "young = liberal" may be a familiar equation, it isn't chiseled in granite. Indeed, it wasn't all that long ago that the nation's youngest voters solidly backed the most influential conservative in modern American politics. In 1984, voters under 30 supported Ronald Reagan by a whopping 20-point margin. Not until Obama's election 24 years later would young voters so strongly line up behind any presidential candidate.



A Bad Economy's Silver Lining

The Economist hits the nail on the head - albeit a nail that has been well hit by many in the free market movement already. In the latest issue, they correctly observe that an ailing economy presents a golden opportunity to roll back economic restrictions and increase liberty. Whether it's gambling, alcohol, or another "sin" product or service, the case for easing restrictions on the sale and consumption of these "vices" is very tempting, in particular if the case can be made that such changes will increase potential tax revenue and/or create jobs.

As those who follow my weekly "Alcohol Regulation Roundup" series may have noticed, the "good" news has increased with each passing month. Southern states are trying to make it easier for brewers to operate, Northeastern states are increasing the hours and days liquor stores can operate, and dozens of states are considering privatizing state-run alcohol distribution or sales. It isn't just alcohol; gambling is a booming industry in more and more states. Some are increasing the places allowed to offer slots and another dozen states are considering legislation to legalize online gambling, casinos, or slots. We've even seen some smoking bans overturned! But with the economy heading towards a much needed recovery, there's still a lot more work to do. As noted in the Economist article:

.despite all these initiatives, many parts of America are still lumbered with a bizarre and complex array of restrictions on drinking, gambling and the like that seem entirely out of keeping with a country that proudly calls itself the land of the free. Even after Washington leaves the club, 17 states will still maintain a government monopoly on either the sale or distribution of spirits, or both .There are over 4,000 state and federal laws concerning alcohol, says Mr Coleman of DISCUS, and another 1,900 were proposed in 2008 alone. Rules about gambling are an equally perverse mix. Only 12 states have no casinos of any sort. But several more allow them only on boats or at racetracks. Another 12 limit gambling to Indian reservations. And four states still ban fireworks of all kinds.

Yes, this expansion of liberty is the silver lining of a terribly rough economic depression. And it's a silver lining that very likely will last into the economic recovery. Sure, with more people back to work and fewer complaining there will be a smaller number of legislators keen on expanding alcohol or gambling in their state. However, the work done by state-based and national groups such as DISCUS, The Brewers Association, Free The Hops, OpenTheTaps, CEI, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, The Commonwealth Foundation, the Washington Policy Center, and many others will not be forgotten. We have shown that people want more freedom, choices, and better service. We have shown that liberty really does increase wealth, and enlightened many lawmakers to the idea of free market enterprise. So long as we keep chipping away at the roadblocks, we can continue to increase consumer and business freedom - regardless of the economic atmosphere.



GOP Will Lose the Future by Dissing College Grads

The angry, populist tone of the seemingly endless battle for the GOP presidential nomination may cripple the Republican Party in building a long-term connection with the fastest growing group of swing voters in the overall electorate: college graduates.

While the candidates focus their attention on the white working class as the key battle ground in their frantic struggle for advantage within the GOP, it’s actually more privileged voters who’ve earned four year college degrees who will play the key role in defeating or re-electing Barack Obama.

In 2008, an unprecedented 44 percent of all voters held bachelor degrees or higher, compared to just 28 percent of the electorate in Ronald Reagan’s landmark victory of 1980.

The Gipper, however, crushed Jimmy Carter among college grads (52 to 35 percent) while John McCain lost this segment of the population to Barack Obama (45 to 53 percent). In other words, the Republican candidate went from a seventeen point advantage (in both ’80 and ’84, as it turns out) to an eight point loss among those who completed college—a crippling swing of 25 full percentage points. George W. Bush represented something of a mid-point in this alarming decline in Republican appeal to the most educated element of the electorate, splitting college grads evenly with both Al Gore (2000) and John Kerry (2004).

Projections indicate that the segment of the population with undergraduate and advanced degrees will continue to rise sharply in 2012, and could conceivably represent a majority of all voters in 2016. This growth in the proportion of university-educated adults extends to every ethnic group in the country and represents inarguable good news for the American economy, but bad news for clumsy and misguided Republicans who seem determined to hand Democrats the advantage when it comes to educational issues.

Rick Santorum provided only the most egregious example when he went out of his way to insult college educated voters by questioning the value of their university experience and attacking President Obama as a “snob” for seeking to open higher education to more of our fellow citizens. No wonder Mitt Romney soundly defeated Righteous Rick among college graduates in hotly contested Ohio, winning their votes 43 to 35 percent. And even in the famously blue collar Buckeye State, college grads represented a full 45 percent of the GOP primary electorate.

Those with postgraduate study also amounted to a surprisingly significant voting bloc in Ohio – 18 percent of all Republican voters. And this nearly one-fifth of the electorate tilted even more decisively against Santorum – preferring Romney by a margin of 46 to 36 percent.

Appealing more successfully to the most educated segment of the population need not undermine the efforts of Rick Santorum or any other candidate to rally support among blue collar urbanites, ethnic minorities, farmers or anyone else. More than half of American adults may currently lack college degrees but virtually all of them want such credentials for their children.

In his stump speech, Romney has been trying out a good line about seeing the success of others as a spur to “ambition, not envy” and that formulation should apply to educational as well as economic success. After all, achievement in higher education correlates powerfully with performance in the workplace. Recent numbers indicate that those with university degrees face only one-fourth the unemployment rate of those with no high school diploma (4 percent to 16 percent).

Ironically, this field of Republican contenders amounts to the best educated crop of major candidates in the history of American politics: each of the Final Four holds at least one prestigious post-graduate degree. Dr. Ron Paul earned his MD from Duke and Dr. Newt Gingrich won a PhD from Tulane; Mitt Romney holds both law and business degrees (JD and MBA) from Harvard, while Rick Santorum got the same two degrees from Dickinson School of Law and University of Pittsburgh, respectively.

What’s more, Santorum’s family background shows the profound value of education in lifting the disadvantaged into the middle class and beyond. Contrary to the deliberately misleading impression that he grew up in the “coal fields of Pennsylvania,” young Rick actually came of age as the son of a father who earned a PhD and worked as a clinical psychologist while his mother toiled outside the home as well-credentialed administrative nurse; it was his immigrant grandfather who worked the coal mines.

It makes no sense for the former Senator to downplay or denigrate his own family’s success story because his parents’ progress exemplifies the sort of achievement that all mothers and fathers want for their children. Sure, it’s important to talk about protecting and growing manufacturing jobs because so many hard-pressed people depend on them, but those same workers dream that the next generation can do even better than industrial employment.

By the same token, when Newt Gingrich rails endlessly about malevolent “elites” he seems to deny his own elite educational background as a college professor and historian. It’s neither an accident nor an embarrassment that an America eagerly embracing meritocracy has elected four presidents in a row with degrees from either Yale or Harvard (or, in the case of George W. Bush, from both venerable institutions).

The American people instinctively respect elite achievement in academia at the same time they admire elite achievement in the world of business. Just as wealth creation by corporate leaders harms no one and promotes prosperity for the nation at large, so too advanced learning at top universities serves to open, rather than close off, opportunities for the populace. Republicans rightly slam Democrats for “class-warfare”--spreading resentment rather than respect for those Americans who achieve economic success. It makes no sense for those same GOPers to turn around and promote “anti-intellectualism” – encouraging similar spite for those who compile enviable educational records.

The GOP can’t possibly build a winning coalition by appealing only to the rich, but Republicans can definitely prevail by connecting with all those who want to get rich. Those who earn over $100,000 a year represented only 26 percent of the electorate in 2008 but those who intend to earn at that level at some point in the future could easily comprise a majority.

On a similar note, people with their own college degrees don’t yet dominate the voting public, but families willing to save and sacrifice to provide such credentials for their children surely constitute an overwhelming majority.

Appealing to such aspirations, rather than ignoring or dismissing them, will enable conservatives to honor the best American traditions of upward mobility and self-improvement. And with more and more of our fellow citizens seeking and completing college degrees, it’s also the only way that Republicans can win.




Could the JOBS Bill Make Matters Worse for Job Creation? "You’ve probably seen the headlines - the J.O.B.S. bill passed in the Senate. So that means more “jobs” in the American economy, right? As President Obama and a large portion of the Congress run for re-election, Washington is obsessed with this rather illusory concept of “job creation.” And the “J.O.B.S.” Act, named with an acronym that stands for “Jumpstart Our Business Startups,” is the latest legislative effort to stimulate business startups, and thus, to entice job creation. The bill actually resembles a hodgepodge of several different legislative agendas. And even if the bill accomplishes what its supporters claim, it is probably still several steps removed from actual “job creation.” It may also be yet another governmental wet blanket thrown on top of an economy that is ready to catch fire."

TN: Bill protects teachers allowing evolution debate: "The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Monday that would encourage teachers and students to debate evolution in the classroom, setting aside complaints that the measure would drag the state back onto the battleground over the teaching of creationism. Senators voted 24-8 to pass a bill that says schoolteachers cannot be punished for 'helping students to understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories' taught in public schools."

Good Samaritan laws in a stranger danger society: "Via Radley Balko comes the news story of a father of three who, so he claims, attempted to be a good samaritan and offer two teenage girls caught out walking in a snowstorm without protection a lift home only to be charged with disorderly conduct for his trouble. The girls, you see, were 'alarmed and disturbed' by the offer."

MN: Man arrested for siding code violation: "A Burnsville man on his way to work was arrested and thrown in jail without bond, and then subjected to electronic home monitoring. But it wasn’t for drugs or a DWI or some other major crime. Burnsville city leaders say Mitch Faber’s dealings with the law all stem from his failure to properly put up siding on his house.”



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