A GOP gaffe, and the hack gap

Lindsay Graham: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business.” If this is the first time you’ve heard of this, ask yourself why.

I’m not sure how I missed this when it came out:

“The demographics race we’re losing badly,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

It ran in the WaPo. It’s a gaffe in Kinsley’s sense: the inadvertent statement of something true. The Republican Party is the party of angry white guys (and their angry wives): not just angry in general, but angry at people who aren’t white (plus atheists, of course). And they are losing the demographic race, both because there are more non-whites and because under-30 whites are, on average, much less racially angry.

Imagine if Dick Durbin had said something equally tin-eared; the whole country would have heard about it. But Kevin Drum is right (as usual): the Red team simply has a better, and more shameless, echo chamber. Yes, every party has to accept the defects that go along with its virtues, and liberals simply don’t get as much of a charge out of agreeing with one another as conservatives do. But that doesn’t make it any less of a disadvantage at this moment of the campaign season.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

33 thoughts on “A GOP gaffe, and the hack gap”

  1. liberals simply don’t get as much of a charge out of agreeing with one another as conservatives do.

    Well, I’m a liberal and this doesn’t seem at all right to me.

    1. I’m a liberal, too, and I disagree. We always like to agree with each other.

      I feel better already.

      1. Thereby demonstrating (yet again) that while angry denunciation is seen predominantly on the far right, irony (sometimes quite subtle) seems to be more prevalent on the left.

  2. pf, I think it’s right. My God what a charge they get from it. We, on the other hand, invented the term politically correct as a way of finding fault with each other.

    1. A nitpick: The term “political correctness” was coined by liberals to *make fun of* liberal self-policing. The conservatives picked it up and stripped the irony off.

      1. Kevin, I swear I remember this, and I’m glad I’m apparently not the only one. I remember my hippie older sister, back in the ’70s, describing people who were Mao-ier-than-thou as being “politically correct.”

        Charley, I was wondering how many people would fail to pick up the ironic intent of my original comment, and reading your comment, I can’t tell whether you did or not! J. Michael clearly gets me, though.

      2. Politically correct was used with no irony by Soviet communists in the 1930s – and it may have had a Marxist usage before that – to mean in conformity with the prevailing political ideology. It was dangerous there not to be politically correct, and one had to be very sensitive sometimes to know what was correct for that purpose, as the rulers might not announce shifts of direction.

        I expect that Kevin Maroney is right that the term was picked up for ironic purposes in the 80s or so, but there was enough institutional abuse of the politically incorrect that the irony lost a good deal of its attraction. Still, the basic principles of what was thought (by liberals anyway) to be politically correct were ‘correct’ by any ‘right-minded’ standard: contrary to discrimination on grounds of race or sex, openness to cultural differences, etc.

      3. I first heard the term in the early ’80s, used as a means for the anarchist Left to mock the communist Left. The Republicans picked it up shortly afterwards.

  3. Coming from Lindsey Graham, I don’t think it’s a gaffe. It’s a sad, ironic, and accurate comment from a guy
    who would like his party to become less crazy. Graham’s a conservative, but he’s not averse to bipartisan
    dealmaking: he has decent views on immigration and climate change, and has a long history of fairly
    constructive dealmaking. And he’s smart enough to see that the extremism of the last few years is going
    to cripple his party in the long term.

      1. I agree. I try to like about 5% of THEM to reassure myself that I am not having derangement syndrome and Lindsey Graham has made my 5%.

    1. That’s Lindsey Graham for you. It’s no shocker to Republicans that a lot of their officeholders think like Democrats. They’re trying to do something about it, and that’s got Lindsey ticked off.

      1. OK, Brett. But what do you think is going to happen to the Republican party in 10 or 20 years
        if they continue to marginalize and force out people like Lugar and Graham, and pursue
        policies which appeal mostly to old “white” people ? You may like those policies yourself,
        but if you don’t have a coalition that’s big enough to win, you’ll lose, and be reduced to
        exploiting the unrepresentative structure of the Senate, and the filibuster rule, to merely
        slow down the other side.

        Personally, I’m glad the GOP is heading over the demographic cliff, and I’m hoping for a
        realignment of US politics along European lines, with a liberal/social democrat party on
        the left, a Blue Dog/Christian Democrat/business-friendly party of the center-right,
        and an explicitly racist far-right party which makes noise but can’t win (except maybe in
        a few parts of the South).

        1. The same thing that will happen to the Democratic party, if it marginalizes people like Lieberman?

          The issue I see here is that there is a distinct political class in America, from which most candidates for both parties come from, and it differs systematically in it’s views from the general American people. Elected Republicans, who come predominantly from this class, tend to disagree with the Republican base on a lot of things, and not so much because disagreement is necessary, as because they have a culture clash with their own base. This culture of the political class tends to align better with the Democratic base’s views, though not entirely. (Which is why you’re so frustrated with Obama on some things, like outsourcing torture.)

          It is not wrong of the Republican base to want candidates who represent them, not a political culture largely in alignment with Democrats. But the Republicans who are members of that culture sure don’t like it.

          1. Well, Brett, it’s just fine with me if people like you want to steer your
            party over a demographic cliff. The rather obvious point is that while
            you can go back and forward about whether Lieberman’s policy and style
            were good or bad, no-one can claim that a sanctimonious hawkish old
            guy from Connecticut was a big vote-winner among young and minority voters.
            Losing him, while tactically inconvenient, won’t hurt in the long run.

            The problem with your analysis is that if “the Republican base” chooses
            the candidates that accurately reflect their views, then they’ll end up
            with about 40% support (e.g. roughly that same 40% that thinks the federal
            government shouldn’t worry about enforcing equal treatment under the law).
            And 40% doesn’t win elections.

            It doesn’t bother *me* that the Republicans are on the wrong side of the
            trends. I look forward to it. But it evidently bothers Lindsey Graham,
            and I’d think it ought to bother you too.

          2. … all of which I guess explains why the current Republican strategy seems to be
            to pursue unpopular policies, but still win elections by a) refusing to discuss
            your policies in any detail (and sometimes just lying), and b) gerrymandering
            Congressional districts so that you can win a majority of seats with a minority
            of votes, c) putting up obstacles to make it hard for the “wrong” kind of people
            to vote.

            Such tactics can be effective in the short term, but won’t work in the long term
            (if Texas – already 49% Hispanic and black – turns Dem, perhaps in 2020, then it’s
            going to be awfully hard to construct a Republican electoral college, see

          3. “The problem with your analysis is that if “the Republican base” chooses
            the candidates that accurately reflect their views, then they’ll end up
            with about 40% support ”

            If that’s the way it goes down, that’s the way it goes down. Democracy in action. But democracy doesn’t work if both parties are fielding candidates who agree with one party’s base. Lindsey doesn’t quite understand that his own party’s voters feel they’re entitled to candidates who agree with them, instead of lecturing them that they should be more like the Democrats. That looks like courage from your position, it looks like arrogance from mine.

          4. It seems to me that your objection to Sen Graham is not really that he
            “thinks like a Democrat”, but just that he *thinks*, period. You want
            candidates who agree with the Republican base, right or wrong. And you’re
            not even arguing that Graham’s analysis is wrong. You just want him to
            shut up and toe the party line, or be replaced.

            I don’t think Sen Graham has many views in common with the Democratic base:
            he favors a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage,
            the NAACP gives him an 11% score, the ACLU gives him 0%, and of course he voted
            against the ACA. I do think that he’s rational, civil, and constructive in
            looking for legislative compromises.

          5. “It seems to me that your objection to Sen Graham is not really that he
            “thinks like a Democrat”, but just that he *thinks*, period.”

            Yes, I’m sure that’s how it looks to somebody invincibly convinced that all thinking people must agree with them.

          6. I just pointed out that there are a whole lot of issues on which Sen Graham
            doesn’t agree with me (or with the Dem base). And yet I do consider him to
            be a thinking person. So you’re way off-target.

            I also think he has a certain fundamental decency and respect for the rule
            of law, as shown by his efforts to end torture and bring detainee treatment
            back under some kind of legal framework, when Bush (and sadly, many others
            of both parties) were engaged in quite horrific abuses, in violation of laws
            and treaties.

          7. There aren’t “people like Lieberman,” there’s Lieberman. He is not a demographic unit unless you consider assholes a demographic unit. Then again…..

  4. I will assert that if the Republicans were more open about racial hostility, in the form of opposing affirmative action, then they would pick up enough white people that they would be able to stay in business for the long-term. That would have the down-side of transforming American politics to some weird African or Middle Eastern model of an ethnic spoils system, but whatever.

    1. I suppose I should point out that I realize that for much of American history there was an ethnic spoils system with the oppression of non-whites by whites, and that racism against non-whites continues to exist in today’s America and that complaints about affirmative-action are often grotesquely overstated (although I am still not convinced that it is a good idea, especially anti-disparate impact measures, which are like a kind of affirmative action).

    2. No, the numbers don’t support that approach. Firstly, the “white” percentage of the
      electorate is shrinking quite rapidly; and secondly, attitudes amongst the younger
      cohorts of voters – say those under 35, born after 1977 – are mostly different. Not
      to say that there aren’t *any* young bigots, but there aren’t *enough* younger bigots
      to make it a winning proposition.

      Bush and Rove had the smart idea of winning over the rapidly-growing Hispanic population
      with immigration reform together with social conservatism. And that might have been a
      successful long-term strategy, but he couldn’t get the party to go along with it.
      If Romney loses, maybe Rubio 2016 will try to make it happen …

      1. There must be some research on this topic, but I rather suspect that there’s
        a generation of time lag between establishing the legal framework for
        equality, and actually producing a big change in people’s attitudes. The
        biggest civil rights battles were won in the 1970s – but that doesn’t mean
        everyone changed their minds overnight. Instead we now have a lot of voters
        who have grown up in an environment where overt racism is no longer an
        acceptable norm; if you work in a big corporation, you’re probably subject
        to stringent anti-discriminatory and anti-sexual-harrassment policies,
        accompanied with training. That doesn’t mean that we’ve achieved full
        equality, but it does mean that an overtly-racist political strategy is
        going to be viewed very negatively by a whole lot of voters.

        1. See this link: http://blairrockefellerpoll.uark.edu/6107.php

          As a very rough summary, an agenda of keeping the federal government out
          of housing and job discrimination looks as though it might get the support
          of 60% of whites – but of course would be very unpopular with minorities,
          and possibly also with the the other 40% of whites.

          I speculate that a more explicitly racist position would struggle to get
          even 50% of whites.

          The way the demographic trends are going, if minorities stay firmly Dem,
          then Republicans need something like 65% of whites. Attitudes have already
          moved too far for explicit racism to achieve that. I think – and hope –
          that the dog-whistle approach of the current Republican/TeaParty is on its last
          legs as well – it appeals only to a segment of the electorate which shrinks
          with each cycle.

          1. One detail I hadn’t noticed: 57.8% of whites think the federal government
            should act to ensure equal treatment of minorities by courts and police,
            only 40.7% disagree. I think explicitly racist tactics would appeal to no
            more than that 40% of whites (and I hope considerably less).

        2. I can attest that a lot of people DO change their minds when a law is passed. I job hunted several times in the early 70’s. The differences were amazing. I recall one early interview when I told them my professor husband could handle most emergencies they simply did not believe me. I spent most of the time reassuring them that my babysitter was enormously responsible, healthy and energetic. I expected them to hire her.

          The next year (post law change) everything was different. ]t wasn’t just that they did not ask the questions; the whole attitude had changed.

  5. Liberals like to nit pick each other. I am a liberal. I point out that, while Kevin Drum is indeed right as usual, he neither claimed nor had any reason to claim to be the discoverer of the hack gap or the coiner of “hack gap.”

    Matthew Yglesias has been writing about the hack gap for over 8 years (that would be since he was in junior high if my calculations are correct)

    (irony detected ? Am I a habitually angry White Guy ? (hint I am white and male)).

  6. I would just like to say, that while these angry white men are, naturally, taking it out on the wrong people, they do in fact have a legitimate beef.

    Both parties have failed to look out for the long term economic interests of the ordinary people in this country. Don’t even get me started on Pres. Clinton, who seems like a good person, but was a little too in love with all this globalization. We seem to have no industrial policy to speak of, after 4 years of hell. (Okay, a smattering of green job investment here and there. Whatever.) So, I’m angry too. Mad as hell in fact.

    The really smart countries, like China and South Korea? They look out for their own people first. Not us.

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