Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight
by Chris Bowers, Wed Jun 06, 2007 at 09:01:21 AM EDT
Bill O'Reilly: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you've got to cap with a number.This quote neatly supports a point I have argued extensively over the past two and a half years (see here, here and here). Conservatism is, at its core, a defense of powerful, status-quo or backward leaning institutions. The primary driving force of contemporary American conservatism is a defense of a type of white Christian identity that is an institution unto itself. Still, it is one thing for me to make that argument, and it is quite another thing for one of the most prominent conservative pundits in America to make the point plain.
With less than 40% of Americans age 40 and under self-identifying as both white and Christian, many of those who support this institutional identity perceive it to be under attack, or at least in imminent danger or losing its dominance. (Then again, supporters of the institutionally dominant identity have always viewed that identity, whatever it may be, as under attack. See modern era, backlash against, 1775-current, worldwide.) Looking at the most recent poll data from Pew on the 2008 Presidential election, this demographic shift also holds the potential for groundbreaking ideological shifts within American government. Here are the percentages of Americans, ages 18-49, who indicated there is a "good chance" they will vote for any of the current and potentially leading Presidential candidates, whether Democratic or Republican:
These are not just teenagers and young kids fresh out of college. These are the standings among all Americans under the age of fifty. Combined, the four Democrats hold a 28% lead over the five Republicans (76%-44%). Further, the five Republicans combined could not even manage 50%, despite the fact that poll respondents could choose more than one candidate. Further, the two Republicans who perform best among Americans under the age of 50 are Giuliani and McCain, who are often lambasted by conservatives for not being conservative enough. There isn't a conservative champion in the double digits in this poll, and neither of the two leaders are white men. In another twenty-five years, the people who were included in this crosstab will make up virtually the entire American electorate.
Consider Fred Thompson entry into the race as the supposed "conservative savior" in the context of contemporary conservative identity politics and the voting predilections of Americans born after 1964. Now, consider that the same Pew poll shows that 70% of his potential supporters are male, and 65% are over the age of 50. In this context, it seems quite reasonable to draw the conclusion that those people urging Fred Thompson into the campaign view him as the savior of what Bill O'Reilly calls "the white, Christian, male power structure." His strongest potential supporters are by far the oldest and most male of any other currently major candidate, even when compared to other Republican candidates. Fred Thompson is the old, male white knight for conservatives in 2008. Among major candidates, he is the ultimate identity politics throwback in this campaign. I'm sure it helps that he is currently best known for portraying a district attorney, and that he recently served as an extended substitute host on Paul Harvey's radio program.
Fortunately, I think it also means he has virtually no chance to become president. If he can't even excite Republican women, then we could be talking about a candidacy that serves as a nice coda on the 44-year electoral run of the conservative movement that started with Barry Goldwater in 1964. I doubt he has any chance to exceed 45% in a general election, no matter who we match up against him.