Suddenly Left Behind

Cultural shifts happen when no one is looking, and when no one expects them. Out here in Hollywood this drives many a young promoter crazy – their hot club is suddenly no longer hot. No one goes there anymore – they go someplace else, even if nothing has changed. The young Hollywood elite, trailed by paparazzi, there every night, are now nowhere to be seen, and then the place fills up with tourists, who read about what was hip and hot in that Parade magazine inserted in their Sunday newspaper, and then they go elsewhere too, and the place has to be shut down. Even if you create the rage – hookah lounges with country music or whatever – the next new thing popped up last week. You were already behind the curve.

It’s not just Hollywood, and pop culture. Disco was cool and then it was dead – that was the seventies and a minor matter. The auto industry faces something more serious, as it rolls out rather fantastic new cars in its effort to recover from disaster of the epic economic collapse at the end of the Bush years and the bailouts and bankruptcies that barely saved them. The new cars are cool, and folks have the money, or access to credit, to buy them, but they may not. At ThinkProgress, Justin Horner points out that Americans are continuing to drive less and less. Vehicle miles traveled per person leveled off in 2005 and then started declining dramatically in 2008, and on average, Americans drove about 700 miles per year less in 2012 than they did in 2007 – perhaps because of the recession, or saturation, where car ownership reached a natural limit. Or perhaps cars aren’t cool anymore. There are now car-sharing services and driverless cars coming soon, and Kevin Drum sees this:

Sure, lots of people buy cars as status symbols. But lots of people don’t. Honest. At a guess, I’d say that at least half of all drivers basically just buy transportation and don’t actually care much about cars as status symbols. And half is a lot.

Even among the status obsessed – or, more accurately, especially among the status obsessed – time is the most precious commodity. Driverless cars will appeal to the well-off because they’ll allow them to be workaholics for an hour or two a day formerly dedicated to driving. And I suspect that once you stop actively driving a car, you’ll start to view it as much less of a status symbol.

Then there’s the hip-factor meeting convenience:

This may be a generational thing. Young people already have a different attitude toward cars than the boomer generation, and they’re also more tech savvy. I suspect the idea of using a smartphone to call up a car and get ferried around will be pretty appealing and, in some circles, a status symbol in its own right.

Subscribing to a car service that’s fast and efficient will be a lot cheaper than owning a car too, and different companies will offer plenty of different service levels (think gypsy taxi vs. yellow cab vs. limo service). When you add up all the things that will conspire to make cars less of a status symbol, those savings will loom very large for all but the very richest folks.

The latest sports sedan might be the best ever – snazzy and fast and solid and reliable, and packed with all the electronic gizmos that do everything and work flawlessly, and priced right – but no one will buy one. That soon will be neither sensible nor cool, or is neither sensible nor cool in some places now. Kids are also less eager to get their driver’s license right away now. That too is no longer part of being cool. Losers – real dorks – drive around in their hot cars, impressing no one. That’s kind of pathetic. Get a life. American Graffiti is ancient history. Yes, the whole culture shifted when no one was looking.

This too just happened in politics. Republicans had finally honed their message to a sharp edge, to match how the country was feeling – but after Katrina and then Sandy, the idea that the government was evil and should do less and less wasn’t what people were feeling. They’d paid their taxes and felt the big federal government could and should do useful things to help those who had lost everything. After the economic collapse they also seemed to feel that the big federal government could and should regulate the markets and the banks at least a bit more, and maybe bump up the taxes on the rich back to what they used to be. All the polling showed that. And any Republican who stood up and shouted that we should go to war over there, or that other place over there, was met with a shrug, or ridicule. America had had enough of that, and the same happened with gay marriage – scream about how evil that is and folks will walk away. The majority is now fine with gay folks – the polling shifted when no one was looking. And as for abortion, forty years after the Roe decision seventy percent of Americans want that decision to stand as is – so forget shouting about that, or about the evils of contraception and access to contraception that creates sluts. Rick Santorum wasn’t in the mainstream with the former and Rush Limbaugh wasn’t in the mainstream with the later. Needless to say, comments about legitimate rape, as opposed to fake rape or something – to prove some point or other about the sanctity of life – will ruin your political career. And by the way, threatening to shut down the government, or even better, destroy the world economy, unless you get your way on every single thing about fiscal policy and tax policy, doesn’t make you seem heroic. You seem like the kid in the big tricked-out Dodge with the giant chrome wheels, gunning the engine, trying to impress the girls and intimidate the other guys. It doesn’t work. The whole culture shifted when you weren’t looking.

There’s something in the air. Heck, Fox News cut Sarah Palin loose and Marc Ambinder sees no chance for her to do much now:

Simply put, Palin simply did not do the work. She crested and rolled on the waves of resentment, which are now channeled elsewhere.

Paul Waldman puts it more colorfully:

She luxuriated in her grievances – against the establishment, against the media, against everyone from the mightiest politician to the lowliest teenager who happened to knock up her daughter (as Levi Johnston put it at one point, “It’s almost funny, that she’s like, 46 years old, and she’s battling a 19-year-old, and I’m winning”). Resentment was her instrument, her tool, her vehicle and her purpose.

The market for resentment dried up, people went elsewhere, and at ThinkProgress, you’ll find this:

The Palin family as a whole seems to hope for careers in show business, but this is only the latest in a string of failures for them. The TLC show Sarah Palin’s Alaska saw declining ratings and wasn’t renewed for a second season. Bristol Palin’s Lifetime show was yanked from the network for lower viewership, but not before landing $354,348 in tax subsidies from the state of Alaska. Todd Palin was reduced to appearing as one of many celebrities on NBC’s military reality show Stars Earned Stripes.

Maybe now that Fox News has cut ties with Palin, the rest of the television industry will follow suit.

Yeah, in Hollywood you have the hot club – the young Hollywood elite, trailed by paparazzi, are there every night – and then they’re not. It happens.

It even happens at Fox News:

Fox News was down -6% in total viewers and -22% in the key adults 25-54 demo in total day in January, the lowest demo numbers since July 2008. In primetime, the network was down -17% in total viewers and -40% in the demo, posting its lowest demo numbers since May 2006. …

In primetime, 8 PM’s “The O’Reilly factor” was down only -2% in total viewers, though it was down -25% in the demo. At 9 PM “Hannity” was down -3% in total viewers, and down -19% in the demo. At 10 PM, “On the Record” was down -18% in total viewers and -38% in the demo.

Andrew Sullivan has this comment:

I suppose I should know this, but Fox’s prime-time really does skew old. A remarkable 1.6 million watched on average in primetime in January, but only 267,000 of them were between the ages of 25 and 54. That’s the lowest number of that demo since 2001. The culture has moved on, hasn’t it?

Yes it has, but there was that recent New Republic interview where Obama did say this:

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.

Those are fighting words, and Fox News had its in-house “Democrat” of sorts, Kirsten Powers, write a opinion piece claiming that the Obama White House is engaged in a “war on Fox News” and wants to “shut down” Fox completely:

Alas, the president loves to whine about the media meanies at Fox News. To him, these are not people trying to do their jobs. No, they are out to get him. What other motive could a journalist have in holding a president accountable?

It was rather hysterical, however you wish to use that word, and then Sean Hannity’s show had a segment that featured Peter Johnson, the personal lawyer of Roger Ailes:

Reacting to President Barack Obama’s criticism of the role the conservative Fox News Channel plays in U.S. politics, network contributor Peter Johnson, Jr. said Monday night that the president might just find a way to ban watching Fox News. …

“In other words, forget about that little thing called freedom of speech, differing views,” Hannity said. “Instead, he wants any, all opposing voices to be, what, silenced? That includes the opinions that you hear on this program and watch every single night.” …

“So, to say, ‘oh, you know what’s happened here is that we have an institutional barrier, according to the president, that stops the will of the people,'” Johnson said. “Sean, you know what the institutional barrier is? The United States Constitution. And so, people at home should be afraid because, they say, ‘Am I not allowed to watch Fox anymore? Am I not allowed to listen to Rush or Sean? Am I doing something that’s un-American?’ You’re not.”

It went on and on, but yes, Powers had said this in her column:

Recently, the White House has kept Fox News off of conference calls dealing with the Benghazi attack, despite Fox News being the only outlet that was regularly reporting on it and despite Fox having top notch foreign policy reporters.

The folks at Wonkette counter that:

Gosh, that is incredibly damning! We wonder if maybe Fox’s repeatedly lying about Benghazi might have anything to do with that. For instance, the claim that Obama and his staff “watched a live feed” of the attack, which is kind of not what actually happened at all – as Media Matters clarifies the factual report – the administration received regular reports from Benghazi on Sept. 11 2012 – quickly morphed into Sean Hannity’s insistence that Obama was “watching in real time” (and perhaps munching popcorn while cheering for the attackers), a claim which Hannity continues to make despite repeated debunking.

Ah well, the world moved on, they didn’t, even if Powers says this:

It’s not okay – or presidential – to continue smearing an entire network of hard working journalists because you are mad at Sean Hannity.

Andrew Sullivan isn’t so sure about that:

And why not, pray? If Fox wants to regain some semblance of respect for their viewers, they need not have that partisan fanatic on every night. Was he not exposed as a complete fraud and a total fool on election night? Every time he opens his mouth, he delegitimizes Fox News as a journalistic enterprise and when he’s on in prime time that reflects on the whole enterprise.

Are some Foxies better than others? Sure. Shep Smith is an entertaining, talented newsman. Megyn Kelly is razor-sharp. They belong on a real news network, not Fox.

Of course, the White House cannot and should not do anything to restrain Fox’s freedom of speech – including untruths and propaganda designed entirely for political rather than journalistic purposes. If it did, I’d be the first to go after them. But you don’t have to cooperate with non-journalists and well-paid “liberals” at Fox to be some dreadful threat to free discourse.

Kirsten Powers got it backwards:

Fox is the threat to free discourse and to journalism. Because it has turned journalism into partisan opposition research. And revels in it.

Yeah, but fewer folks are watching. Things change when you’re not looking. Just before Obama was elected to his first term, John Meacham gave us that now-famous column warning Obama that America was really a center-right nation and he’d better be careful – and everyone believed Meacham, or at least cited him. That became the conventional wisdom. But now it could be that he was wrong. It took more than four years, and the Republicans still don’t believe it, but the last election and all the polling shows America likes to call itself rather conservative, but supports liberal positions. The right lost the culture wars long ago. In fact, in a Washington Post op-ed, Hoover Institution fellow and former informal adviser to the McCain campaign, Tod Lindberg, admits as much:

Here’s the stark reality: It is now harder for the Republican presidential candidate to get to 50.1 percent than for the Democrat. My Hoover Institution colleague David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the research firm YouGovPolimetrix have been analyzing data from online interviews with 12,000 people in both 2004 and 2008. It shows an overall shift to the Democrats of six percentage points. As they write in the forthcoming edition of Policy Review, “The decline of Republican strength occurs by having strong Republicans become weak Republicans, weak Republicans becoming independents, and independents leaning more Democratic or even becoming Democrats.” This is a portrait of an electorate moving from center-right to center-left.

The change happened some time back and folks are just noticing now, but at least they are noticing that the world has truly changed, completely. Only a few months ago Mitt Romney had been speaking of the wonders of self-deportation, the idea we should make it so excruciatingly uncomfortable for Hispanics in America that any of them who were here illegally would howl in despair and scurry home to wherever. There was talk of sealing the border with something like the Berlin Wall, but more high-tech and far more lethal. And now they are is suggesting almost exactly what Obama suggested more than a year ago, comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for all the workers here, working, but here illegally. Even Sean Hannity said this:

We’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple, to me, to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don’t say, “You’ve got to go home.” And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it’s first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, but then it’s done.

David Weigel calls this part terror-panic, part culture-panic:

He wanted Republicans to win elections, and immigration made it harder. That could be proven by two sets of numbers. In 1980, when he defeated Jimmy Carter and destroyed the Democratic Party’s national coalition, Ronald Reagan won the white vote by 20 points. In 2012, when famed car-elevator enthusiast Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, he also won the white vote. He won it by 20 points. But in 32 years, the Hispanic share of the electorate quintupled from 2 percent to 10 percent.

The reason, as any demographics-obsessed conservative could tell you, was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Passed by a Democratic House, signed by Reagan, it legalized 2.8 million mostly-Hispanic border-crossers. The new Americans brought their families up from Mexico. They had kids. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state’s Hispanic birthrate rose from 3.2 children per woman in 1987 to 4.4 in 1991. And 21 years later, Reagan’s own California had become a Democratic landslide state. John McCain’s Arizona gave Democrats five of nine available House seats. Sen. Jeff Flake only barely won his 2012 race, because 18 percent of voters were Hispanic, and they went for the Democrat by 46 points.

The new America is here, helped by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but it was going to happen anyway, as it had already happened. These things can sneak up on you, and you need to adapt:

This week, the most prominent Republicans are the ones saying yes. “Regardless of the political benefits to one party or another,” said Sen. Flake in a statement, “moving ahead on immigration reform is good policy.” He’s a member of the Senate “Group of Eight,” and he can envision a near future where Hispanic voters don’t see a Republican and immediately think “show me your papers” or “Joe Arpaio.” If that happens, they can win them again. Win enough of them, anyway.

“I’ve heard a lot of conservatives say, ‘Hispanics are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and they should be Republicans,’ ” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a longtime pro-reform conduit between business groups and Republicans. “That’s good. But you can’t go to someone’s house, knock on the door, and say: ‘I want to talk to you about all the things we agree on. While we talk, you won’t mind if Igor here grabs your grandmother, who’s 87 years old and has lived here forever, and drags her across the border 1,000 miles away? Oh, and we’ll grab your friends from school and drag them out, too, because we have such a great time together.’ If you remove the threat of self-deportation, it becomes a completely different conversation.”

This isn’t going to be easy for the Republicans – they might not get the Hispanic vote for a generation or two – but they have to start somewhere.

What happened? Things changed. The Republicans can’t keep their exclusive hip club open anymore – not even tourists show up now. A cool paint job and a new sound system, and ads in all the cool magazines saying the place is hip, won’t help. Anyone who keeps saying they’re cutting-edge cool isn’t. Disco is dead too, by the way.

The Republicans have been left behind, surprised. This wasn’t the rapture they expected. It was just a cultural shift that finally became obvious. It happens all the time.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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