A decade or so ago several mid-level-manager types urged me to read Who Moved My Cheese? with the promise that it would change my life. I took their promise as a threat. I like my life just fine as is. And anyhow, diving into a build-a-better-you book would upset my routine of reading histories. Self-help just isn’t my comfort zone.
I apparently remain the only person in the United States who neither eats cheese nor has read Who Moved My Cheese? Nevertheless, I’ve absorbed that the book details the perils of resisting, and the advantages of embracing, change. Dr. Spencer Johnson’s bestseller does this by chronicling the adventures of two adapt-and-overcome mice and a pair of recalcitrant little men stuck in their habits.
Tuesday was the Who Moved My Cheese?-election. Even a mouse could figure out which party adapted to the new nation and which one was trapped in the United States of Yesterday.
Obama didn’t bring change. Change brought Obama.
Last year, for the first time in U.S. history, minority births outnumbered white births. Do you see the future? It’s not black-and-white like the American past. It’s in Technicolor, with browns and yellows and blacks outnumbering whites. Demographics have consequences.
Minority voters, who vote more monolithically if not more enthusiastically than whites, now comprise 28 percent of the electorate. Blacks, who constituted thirteen percent of the body politic, voted 93 to 6 percent for Obama. Hispanics, 1 in 10 voters, opted for Obama by a 71 to 27 margin. Asians (3 percent) similarly broke for Obama 73 to 26. Surely Mitt Romney would have won had he faced George Romney’s electorate.
America doesn’t just look differently. It acts differently.
When Michigan elected George Romney its governor in 1962, seven in ten adult Americans were married. Today, the number is one in two Americans. Marriage in the U.S. has reached its historical nadir. This has electoral consequences. In 2012, the marriage gap actually eclipsed the more discussed gender gap. The married moved toward Romney 56 to 42 while singles supported Obama 62 to 35.
The year Michiganders elected Mitt Romney’s father governor, illegitimate births were an outlier. In the United States less than ten percent of children were born without a father married to their mother. The number of out-of-wedlock births now approaches parity with births within the marital bond. In George Romney’s Detroit, just fifteen percent of children now come into the world with their parents married to one another.
More Americans report a Nothingarian faith and rely on government assistance than a half-century ago. Whereas 5.5 million Americans depended on food stamps in 1962, 2 million Michiganders do so today. Like marriage and race, faithlessness and freeloading influences the vote in the Democrats’ direction. “How often do you attend religious services?” exit pollsters asked. Romney won the “more than once a week” crowd 63 to 36 percent and weekly attendees 58 to 41 percent. He lost the “few times a month” group 55 to 44 percent, “few times a year” 56 to 42 percent, and “never” 62 to 34 percent. Notice the trend line?
Mitt Romney isn’t the only one concluding, “This is not my father’s country.” The era of the all-white Republican presidential ticket appears over — or the party’s over. But conservatism, which wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday, is far from dead.
Tuesday’s defeat demands that conservatives do what their philosophical DNA tells them not to: change, let go of the anchor, and go with the flow. Most conservatives would rather be losers than liberals. Change tactics? Certainly. Abandon core principles? No thanks.
But the politicians representing conservatives, who seek office rather than right, have no problem pivoting. Look at Mitt Romney on gun control, abortion, and immigration. What would conservatives from five decades ago think of a Republican presidential nominee who made saving Medicare a campaign rallying cry? Like most Republican nominees, Mitt Romney wasn’t a conservative but a late liberal — someone out to conserve the projects of past liberals. Fifty years from now, some futuristic version of him will defend ObamaCare from a Democratic president raiding its funding for some other outlandish scheme.
In other words, the politicians representing conservatives have already been evolving — to their own electoral detriment. Republicans would benefit from nominees who resemble the changing face of America. But nominating candidates more liberal than the party faithful isn’t change — it’s Romney, McCain, Bush, Dole, and Bush all over again. Next time try making the distinctions bold not blurry.
“If you do not change,” Who Moved My Cheese? sagely warns, “you can become extinct.” But if you do change, in some sense, you become extinct. Conservatives should come to grips with the America that is rather than grasp at the America that’s long past. But changing their principles along with the times will only leave them more disoriented, and asking, “Who moved my cheese?”