Species go extinct – cataclysmic events do happen, or things slowly change and the physical characteristics of the critter, once a perfect match for the environment, are now somewhat unsuitable for the new hotter or colder, or wetter or drier conditions. Or a new predator emerges and there’s no good defense. Or a new microbe or virus turns up, slipping past developed immunities. And somehow no amount of adaptive behavior or long migration to friendlier territory is enough – it’s good-bye. Darwin and those who followed documented changes in the physical characteristics of plants and animals that seemed to keep things going. But that sort of change – where those with favorable traits reproduce and survive, and those without pretty much don’t – takes a long time. It’s called evolution, not extreme makeover – too slow for some species. Conditions change faster than biological configurations can. It’s a tough world.
Okay – if you’re a certain type of religious person absolutely none of that is true. After all, Bishop Ussher did his close reading of the Bible – the earth is a bit over six thousand years old, having been created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. As he might have said, you could look it up. And, if so, everything we see was created as it is, and has always been so. All the fossil evidence, all the geological evidence – all put there by God to test our faith, God’s challenge to us to believe in his Word, not in mere empirical evidence of this, that or the other thing.
Some buy that. Consider this year in America (year 6013 or so):
And a brand-new Gallup poll tied to Darwin’s birthday finds that just 39% of Americans believe in evolution.
As expected, Gallup notes, education plays a big role here: 74% of those with post-graduate degrees believe in evolution. That’s compared with only 21% of high school grads (or those with less education) who believe in the theory.
Ditto religion: 55% who don’t attend church believe in evolution, versus 24% of weekly churchgoers who believe in it.
In short, large numbers of Americans, while they might find that scholarly Irish bishop a little tedious, have no problem with the general idea.
And there’s the other obvious breakdown:
The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.
Well, they nominated McCain, who really didn’t want to discuss evolution, and that didn’t go well.
But he was like most Republicans. The whole Darwinian idea – adapt or die, or slowly evolve and hope how you change keeps up with changing conditions – was foreign to him, and to the party. In matters of foreign policy it was more of the same – wars to change the world – only done in more places with more intensity, and somehow smarter. Pour it on. We haven’t gone whole hog, really. In domestic matters, it was cut taxes and end regulation of most everything. That had led to disaster, but because we didn’t do enough of it. And our dependence on oil might be absurd, and the ice caps melting, but that meant we should Drill, Baby, Drill. All in all it was an array of more of the same. The change he promised was to do the same stuff with far greater enthusiasm and fervor, and greater pride and more righteous anger, and more competence – and to do much more of it, and in more places. Not enough people thought that was the way to go. Perhaps they thought of the dinosaurs.
Of course the symbol of the Republican Party is not one of those. It’s an elephant:
The traditional mascot of the party is the elephant. A political cartoon by Thomas Nast, published in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874, is considered the first important use of the symbol. In the early 20th century, the usual symbol of the Republican Party in Midwestern states such as Indiana and Ohio was the eagle, as opposed to the Democratic rooster. This symbol still appears on Indiana, New York, and West Virginia ballots.
Yep, not a noble and proud eagle, unlike the rooster that is always trying to wake up everyone for no good reason, but for a reason:
In a cartoon that appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion’s skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That’s all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party.
Democrats today say the donkey is smart and brave, while Republicans say the elephant is strong and dignified.
Maybe so, but these days this logo is everywhere – the Republican elephant turned into a slow moving, pea-brained brontosaurus.
Hell, even some Republicans understand – adapt, evolve, or die out. Take Bill Greener, a founding partner of the political consultancy Greener and Hook – a guy who served in both the Ford and Reagan administrations and as convention manager for the 1996 Republican National Convention.
It’s his party:
In the 1986 election cycle, Greener was the Deputy Chief of Staff for political operations at the Republican National Committee (RNC), where he was responsible for directing the communications and political divisions, the operating arms of the RNC. Prior to holding this position, he spent three years as Communications Director for the RNC.
At the outset of the Reagan Administration, Greener held the post of Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Energy (DOE). In addition, he has been Director of Media Operations for the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corporation and served in the communications offices of both the Treasury Department and the Ford White House. Other political posts include Director of Media Operations for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Communications Director for the Illinois Republican State Party, and a similar job for the state’s U.S. Senate candidate in 1980.
And he’s not happy, as shown in My GOP: Too Old, Too White To Win – all about adapting to changing conditions.
And this is all about the math:
In 1976, 90 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election came from non-Hispanic whites. In 2008, John McCain won this vote by a 56-43 margin. Had John McCain run in 1976 instead of 2008, not only would he have won, but he would have won the popular vote before a single non-white vote was cast. So, despite all the chatter about the impact of Sarah Palin, despite the unpopularity of President Bush, despite the difficulty of the same party winning a third consecutive national election, despite the charisma of Barack Obama (and the love shown to him by the mainstream media), despite the financial meltdown of September, despite any other factor anyone can cite, if John McCain had been the candidate at a time when non-Hispanic whites were the overwhelming majority of the voters, he would be president now.
And if, long ago, those glaciers hadn’t pushed down the Hudson River Valley, mastodons would still rule Manhattan. (Insert your own joke about New York here, if you wish.)
But in this case, facts are facts:
By 1988, the non-Hispanic white vote had shrunk to 85 percent; by 2004, it was about 77 percent; and in 2008, it had shrunk to 75 percent. Last November 13 percent of the electorate was black. Barack Obama won almost all this vote (97 percent). Between 8 and 9 percent of the electorate was Hispanic, a demographic Obama won by a 2-to-1 margin (compared to the 40 percent Bush had won in 2004). That means before the first non-Hispanic white vote was counted, the score was 19-3 for Obama. When you think about the numbers, it’s not that surprising that this past Thursday the first black president addressed the centennial convention of the NAACP. A signal achievement, certainly, an unprecedented event, but not a mathematical shock.
Well, that’s just minority stuff. But Greener says when you look at age as a factor, things are just as dismal:
Just about 18 percent of the vote was cast by voters between the ages of 18 and 30. As a percentage of the overall vote, this did not constitute any sort of meaningful increase – despite what the pundits were saying. However, since total turnout was up, it did mean more young voters went to the polls. Worse, for Republicans, these voters went to Obama by a margin of 2-to-1. Chances are that now they’ve got the voting habit, a lot of them will keep turning up on Election Day, and keep voting Democratic.
Now you’re probably imagining the dinosaurs looking up at the sky. The giant meteor is about to hit the Yucatán Peninsula.
But Greener has more, the increased support for Obama and other Democrats from cities and close-in suburbs:
So, in the major metropolitan areas – where diversity is nearly a religion – you have strong support for Obama from virtually every quarter. Guess what else is located in these urban locations? For starters, you have the major media outlets. Is it any wonder that coverage of the election took on the tone of Obama’s election being a virtual certainty? In these locations, Obama was running so strong it was hard for those observing to see how he could lose. John McCain’s strength came from locations that generally were not the subject of much attention by the national media.
So it’s adapt, evolve, arrange a quick mass migration – or die out. But Greener is at heart a marketing consultant, so he addresses his fellow Republicans as one:
How about we actually look at ourselves as an ordinary, non-political business, selling a commercial product? Who would ever start down a path that essentially said that we will be strong in all the declining markets while we let our only significant competition be strong among the emerging and growing markets? Unless North Dakota suddenly gets 54 electoral votes, would someone please show me another way for Republicans to realistically conclude we can compete at the national level?
Maybe this one Republican has read and understands Darwin. Extinct species were extremely strong in declining markets, and then that market collapsed entirely.
Greener does add a final point about redistricting, where “minority voters tend to be jammed into congressional districts where they are the overwhelming majority” and white conservative districts get even more conservative:
What this means is that when it comes to an issue like immigration reform, the pressure on Republicans who actually have been elected to office is more often to favor a position that is unattractive to minority voters. If they were to take a different position, they might find themselves facing a primary challenger supported by the party’s activist base. So, at the expense of any long-term perspective, the Republican Party is likely to be responsive to the sentiment of the people responsible for them serving at this very moment.
He does point out how this killed his party out here:
California is a textbook example of the pitfalls of this kind of short-term political thinking. For many years, California had been good territory for Republicans. After all, it was the home state of not only Richard Nixon but also of Ronald Reagan. Then, in order to secure reelection in the 1990s to the office of governor, Pete Wilson decided to take a strong stand on the issue of immigration. Yes, he won that year. However, after that point in time, Hispanics in the state overwhelmingly supported Democrats, and Republicans have suffered ever since.
So now all you have to do is satisfy your base and also win back Hispanics and blacks and the young and those in the suburbs and cities and so forth – or die. Greener watched the Sotomayor confirmation hearings and notes that the Republican committee members were respectful enough – but not enough of anything else to change things. And he adds this:
…it seems to this die-hard Republican that we are kidding ourselves if we think the 2008 election was just a speed bump on our road to a lasting majority. Looking at nothing more than the math, it appears to me our challenge is far more daunting.
He just doesn’t have an answer, yet. There may be no answer, but becoming what they’re not now.
And that will be hard. There is the curious case of Pat Buchanan, all over MSNBC regarding Sotomayor, and here in an extended interview with Rachel Maddow:
Maddow: Why do you think it is that of the 110 Supreme Court Justices we’ve had in this country, 108 of them have been white?
Buchanan: Well, I think white men were 100% of the people who wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built, basically, by white folks in this country, who were 90% of the entire nation in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel. And the other 10% were African Americans who had been discriminated against. That’s why.
Ah, you don’t adapt – you dig in. That worked for the dinosaurs after all. Just ask one. Green must have been in despair when he saw that, but it got even more interesting:
Buchanan: Affirmative action is basically reverse discrimination against white males, and it’s as wrong as discrimination against black females, and Hispanics and others, and that’s why I oppose it.
Maddow: Obviously I have a different view of it. But I want to give you a chance to explain what you…
Buchanan: But why do you have a different view?
David Waldman finds that telling:
That’s something he appears to have left out of the analysis entirely, right up until the point where someone has the temerity to announce to him that they disagree with him on the importance of opening up the elite institutions of society to a broader slice of America. He’s largely uninterested in the question of why 100% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were white. They just were. Liberals, of course, are interested in the why. For conservatives, facts are facts, and that’s that. They don’t ask the question of “Why?” until you tell them you’re interested in why the facts are what they are, and how they came to be. Then they’re interested. “Why would you want to know that? It is what it is. It’s not my fault. Don’t look backwards. Look to the future. That’s the only thing we can do anything about, anyway.”
Well, it seems that you actually can talk to dinosaurs. They still roam the earth, for now.
Of course that is all rather abstract. You can take this down to the operational level, to the debate about healthcare reform, as Dan Miller at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen does here:
There’s a vast policy apparatus on the progressive side of the aisle built around health care, with industrious wonks digging into every nook and cranny. Meanwhile, the right has…nothing. The right has basically abdicated its role in the conversation. It has not and as far as I can tell will not treat health care reform as any kind of priority – every major player on the right is sitting on the sidelines. If we’re lucky, we’ll get two GOP Senate votes. And this after not one but two elections in which the right was beaten by historic margins.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wonders about this, and says it is worth looking at the fundamentals:
And we have two fundamentally incompatible desires here: the American public supports universal healthcare. Conservatives support a free market approach to healthcare. Unfortunately, the free market doesn’t do universal. That’s why, for things like roads, national defense, the postal service, and old-age pensions – all of which we’ve decided ought to be available to everyone – we let the government do the job.
So if you want universal coverage, the government has to be involved. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean the government literally has to provide healthcare to everyone. If you want a more limited government solution you could instead fund healthcare only to the 47 million uninsured. Since everyone else is already covered, that would effectively make healthcare universal.
But that won’t work:
Let’s take an analogous case: food stamps. The government doesn’t try to provide food to everyone, only to those poor enough that they can’t get it on their own. But what’s to stop everyone from lazily quitting their jobs and living off food stamps? Answer: you’d have to accept being poor. There are some people willing to do that, but most of us aren’t. So it’s a manageable problem.
But healthcare is different because most of us don’t buy it directly out of our own pockets. We get healthcare insurance from our employers. So suppose the government stepped in to help out just the uninsured. What would happen?
Well, for starters, the program could be limited just to the poor. But that wouldn’t make it universal since there are plenty of non-poor who don’t have health insurance and can’t get it through the private market.
So you’d have to offer it “to anyone who was uninsured, subsidizing the poor and charging full price to everyone else.” But that won’t work either, as employers would start dropping health coverage for their employees:
Why wouldn’t they, after all? Unlike the food example, where there are personal incentives against being lazy and living off the government dole, employers have no reason to hold back. As long as a decent alternative is available, their incentive is to get out of the healthcare business, hand over the money they save to their employees, and tell them to sign up for the government program. Before long, the government would be funding a huge portion of the private insurance market.
But then you’d need rules in place to prevent companies from dropping their healthcare plans, and for those who now don’t offer it, new rules that those employers would now have to provide it – rule, rules, new rules. The Republicans would go nuts. And if you do say everyone should have coverage, then there’s the insurance companies:
Well, if we’re relying on them to insure the people who aren’t covered by their employers, they need to take all comers. Coverage is supposed to be universal, after all. This means that even people with expensive pre-existing conditions need to be included, and they need to be included at a reasonable price. That’s yet more regulation.
If you say nice things about how everyone should have coverage, then you get trapped:
The only way to make healthcare universal is either to have the government fund it or to turn private insurers into little more than regulated utilities. Either way, it’s not a free market solution.
This, then, is the fundamental conservative problem: you can either have universal coverage or you can have a quasi-free market. There’s no way to have both, but no one is willing to say publicly that it’s okay to leave millions of people without healthcare. So instead conservatives hem and haw and nibble around the edges with things like Health Savings Accounts and tax exclusions, even though these ideas don’t do anything to make healthcare coverage more widely and securely available. No free market solution can do that.
But that’s what the public wants. And so conservatives are stuck.
And not only that, they hate the idea of evolution, or even adaptation. That leaves mass migration, to a more favorable environment – but they like it here.
But who wants to hang around with dinosaurs?