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Republicans were already destined for piecemeal decimation due to the declining numbers of their core constituency. But they don’t just have a demographic problem anymore; they have a stylistic one. The conservative strategy of outrage upon outrage upon outrage bumps up against the policy preferences and the attitudes of millennials in perfect discord.
The fire-with-fire attitude of hardline conservatives has its roots in the petulant cultural defensiveness adopted by the GOP – especially the Christian right – during the culture wars of the 90s. Their siege mentality bred an attitude toward liberals that saw every instance of social liberalization as proof of their own apocalyptic predictions and conspiracy theories. Gay marriage will lead to acceptance of bestiality and pedophilia. “Socialized medicine” will lead to euthanizing Grandma. Access to birth control will lead to orgies in the streets.
Then came Obama’s election – a moment in history that both explained and exacerbated America’s supposed decline.
The GOP has long staked a claim on The Disappearing Angry White Man, but they have apparently ever-narrowing odds of getting a bite at millennials. This generation is racially diverse, pro-pot, and pro-marriage equality. They are troubled by the deficit, but believe in the social safety net: 74% of millennials, according to a recent article in Reason, want the government to guarantee food and housing to all Americans. A Pew Study found that 59% of Americans under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems, while majorities in all other age groups thought it should do less.
Millennials don’t want to change things, apparently – they want everyone to get along.
But liberals can’t be complacent about their demographic advantage. Their challenge is to resist the impulse to copycat the hysteria that has worked so well for the right historically.
Right now, Democrats benefit from both the form and content of the conservative message: this next generation is not just inclusive, but conflict-adverse. Millennials cringe at the old-man-yelling-at-gay-clouds spectacle of the Tea Party. If this generation does have a political philosophy, it’s this: “First, do no harm.” If it has a guiding moral principle, it’s simpler: “Don’t be embarrassing.”
To read Ana Marie Cox’s complete column in The Guardian, click here.