by Charles Lemos, Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 07:05:18 AM EST
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Michael Petrilli of Hoover Institution has an op-ed encouraging the Republican party to pursue a class of voters he calls "Whole Foods Republicans" in an effort to build a winning electoral coalition. He defines these as "independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics."
His concern is that the GOP is losing ground among voters with a college education, a demographic that votes in high numbers (at least 80% or more since 1980) and is growing in size. He notes that "about 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%."
His distress is that a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008 adding that is "the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s." I was curious and so I went back and found that not to be true. Bush and Kerry split the college vote 49% to 49% and Clinton in 1996 won 47% of those with a college degree compared to just 44% for the GOP standard bearer Bob Dole.
Still Mr. Petrilli presses on:
Some in the GOP see this trend as an opportunity rather than a problem. Let the Democrats have the Starbucks set, goes the thinking, and we'll grab working-class families. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, wants to embrace "Sam's Club" Republicans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pitched himself in 2008 as the guy who "looks like your co-worker, not your boss." Even Mitt Romney blasted "Eastern elites." And of course there's Sarah Palin, whose entire brand is anti-intellectual.
To be sure, playing to personal identity is hardly novel, nor is it crazy. Bill Bishop and other political analysts have noted that people's politics are as much about their lifestyle choices as their policy positions. Republicans live in exurbs and small towns, drive pick-up trucks or SUVs, go to church every Sunday, and listen to country music. Well-heeled Democrats live in cities and close-in suburbs, drive hybrids or Volvos, hang out at bookshops, and frequent farmers' markets. These are stereotypes, of course, but they also contain some truth.
Widening this cultural divide has long been part of the GOP playbook, going back to Nixon's attacks on "East Coast intellectuals" and forward to candidate Obama's arugula-eating tendencies. But with the white working class shrinking and the educated "creative class" growing, playing the populism card looks like a strategy of subtraction rather than addition. A more enlightened approach would be to go after college-educated voters, to make the GOP safe for smarties again.
What's needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate "Whole Foods Republicans"--independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated indiividuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)
What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.
So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education.
Oh the comedy. Former Alaska Governor and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin has questioned the wisdom of fruit fly research and dismissed the science of climate change as "snake-oil science." And when asked by Bill O'Reilly of Fox News if she deemed herself "smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world," she gave this less than erudite response:
I believe that I am because I have common sense and I have I believe the values that I think are reflective of so many other American values, and I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the uhm, the ah, a kind of spineless, spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite, Ivy league education and, and a fat resume that is based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership, I'm not saying that that has to be me.
But really you have to listen to it for yourself.
Then there was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal griping back in January about "$140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' " The GOP war on science is so pervasive that Chris Mooney wrote a 300 page book on the subject in 2005. It was a book that made the New York Times bestseller list and was updated earlier this year with a paperback edition.
And then there's Senator James Inhofe who is at least in the United States is the face of global warming denialism dismissing it as "cooked science." Yesterday, Senator Inhofe was on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace and again was utterly and totally dismissive. Here's the relevant part of the transcript:
WALLACE: Whatever you want to say about the e-mails, Senator Inhofe, the fact is that just this week, the World Meteorological Organization said that this decade is the warmest on record and that 2009 is the fifth warmest year on record. Does that mean nothing? INHOFE: It well, it means it means very little because that was based on the same flawed science, the IPC science, that we have been looking at. Now, we have to say on the science thing that this is something that - - we saw this coming years ago, and for those individuals who doubt the fact that it's flawed science, listen to what the U.K. Daily Telegraph said. They said it's the worst scientific scandal of our generation. Publications all over have looked at this and decided that. But let me say this, Chris, because I know we're running out of time. Four years ago on the Senate floor, I gave a speech it's in my Web site, inhofe.senate.gov you can look it up and at that time I outlined what all these scientists had come to me saying how they were denied the opportunity to give their view to the IPCC. It's all cooked science. And now when this "climategate" came out, all that did is just verify everything I said four years ago. Look it up. It's there.
While hope springs eternal for Mr. Petrilli, let me point to the work of Dr. Benjamin Bergen of the University of Hawaii at Man'oa who looked at the characteristics of states that voted for Bush in 2004. His analysis of voting patterns revealed that their populations tend to :1) lack a college education 2) be white 3) be obese and 4) shop at Wal-Mart.