Even a glance at the electoral map from Tuesday night shows that the Republican are in trouble for the future. But it also reveals a simple strategy for working back toward majority status.
For the last 20 years the red-and-blue map has been neatly divided, with the East and West Coasts and states around Chicago going solidly Democratic while the "flyover" portions of the country go Republican. Even in the blue states it's urban versus rural. I've seen electoral maps of New York and Pennsylvania where every rural county goes for the GOP while the cities go solidly Democratic.
The in-between battleground has been the affluent suburbs where urban and rural cultures intersect. These are areas increasingly dominated by upper-middle-class professionals with college degrees. In the 1960s and 1970s they usually voted Republican. Urban couples moving to the suburbs would forsake their urban machines and ethnic identities and switch their registration to Republican. Places such as Westchester County, New York, and Orange County, California, were bastions of Republican strength. Now these areas are voting Democratic. Suburban states such as New Jersey that used to be up for grabs are almost completely lost to the GOP.
Look at the states that went for Obama Tuesday night: New Hampshire, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada! All were once centers of rural conservatism. Now they have been invaded by affluent, college-educated people tied to technical industries or educational institutions who are changing the culture. New Hampshire has become a suburb of Boston. Virginia is a suburb of Washington. North Carolina has Research Triangle Park. Colorado and Nevada have become refuges for expatriates from California.
In Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks satirized these people as "bourgeois bohemians," lampooning "latte towns" where these upper-educated newcomers sip at Starbucks while listening to National Public Radio. But it doesn't do any good to satirize these people anymore. They are becoming a majority -- or at least enough of a constituency to play the crucial swing vote between urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Educated people cannot be moved by appealing to lower-middle-class resentments. They must be confronted in an intelligent way.
What this means is that the Sarah Palin strategy isn't going to work very long. Rural folk who shop at Wal-Mart and send their sons off to the military may be the "real America," but they are no longer enough to carry an election. Dropping "g's" and talking about high school sports may corral a solid 40 percent of the electorate but after that it's a dead end. Palin may be smart enough to broaden her appeal and run on her intelligence, but it will be a mid-course correction.
The reason John McCain lost and Barack Obama won is not that McCain was too old or Obama was making an emotional appeal for racial harmony. The reason Obama won is that he appeared the smarter candidate. Even the Wall Street Journal (echoing Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s evaluation of Franklin D. Roosevelt) admitted he has a "first class temperament." On the other hand, McCain's helter-skelter approach left the impression of a very uneven temperament. His crucial mistake came when he suspended his campaign and tried to call off the first debate saying he had to go to Washington to deal with the financial crisis. Whatever his intentions, McCain created the appearance that he was afraid to debate. Obama easily dismissed him with the remark, "It's going to be part of the President's job to deal with more than one thing at a time." From there McCain went into a slide from which he never recovered. After eight years of listening to George Bush Jr. struggling to frame an idea and express himself, a huge chunk of America was simply not in the mood for another round of fuzzy logic and bumbled syntax.
SO DOES THIS MEAN the conservative cause is lost? Not at all. It simply means that conservatives are going to have to stop appealing to the frustrations of the inarticulate and start making a more intelligent case. The Democratic alliance that has won this election is bound to stumble over its own contradictions. One of the most disappointing developments of recent years has been the decision of West Coast entrepreneurs to think of themselves as bobos rather than businessmen. Silicon Valley has become a Democratic stronghold and tech money was one of the major sources of Obama's millions. Tucked into that Democratic coalition, however, is Organized Labor, now essentially a legion of government employees that is anxious to break back into the high-tech economy. Wait until Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Yahoo find themselves being "organized" by the United Auto Workers on the "Freedom of Choice" check-off system. Then Silicon Valley may find that Republican ideas have a little more virtue.
David Brooks brings the devastating news that the educated professions are becoming overwhelmingly Democratic. Lawyers now contribute 4-to-1 to liberal candidates, tech executives 5-to-1. Even investment bankers go 2-to-1 against the GOP. Part of this is because the ranks are filled with young people educated in colleges where left-wing radicalism is the air they breathe. But conservatives cannot completely escape responsibility. Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute like to characterize themselves as "college faculties without the student body," but if you don't have a student body then who is there to educate?
Liberalism must be attacked with reasoned arguments rather than vague resentments. Nowhere is this more obvious than in energy. Liberals are now leading the country into a paroxysm of canceling coal plants and putting up windmills under the delusion that all this will some day provide us with useful energy. (Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, calls renewables "the energy equivalent of sub-prime mortgages.") Within a few years we are going to be where California was in 2000, with lots of "alternate sources" and not enough electricity to power traffic lights. All the while, as Boone Pickens rightly points out, we continue to bleed $700 billion a year on foreign oil. Meanwhile, Russia just signed a deal to provide Brazil with a nuclear economy. The rest of the world is embracing nuclear power while we continue to play with pinwheels. Such a situations begs for intelligent analysis.
Last Tuesday was a high-water mark of liberal resurgence. Yet the conservative perspective on issues remains intact. They won't come across, however, if cloaked in mockery and resentment. We have to be a little less shrill and a little more intelligent in making the case.