David Brooks writes:
|Hipster Reagan. From FunnyJunk.|
The American colonies were first settled by religious dissenters in search of a place where they could exercise their liberty of conscience, at least if they were Pennsylvania; or where they could exercise their liberty of conscience and also order everybody else to exercise it in the same way, in the case of Massachusetts. I guess New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were similarly settled by exiles fleeing in the same way from the tyranny of Massachusetts, and you could say Maryland was settled by religious dissenters searching for a place where they could obey the Pope without fear of contradiction, so that's nearly half.
And then when they could no longer fix the horizons in an unobstructed flinty gaze, they moved on toward Buffalo and Cleveland, where they invented Seymour Martin Lipset (the founder of cleavage theory) and his American Creed of liberty, non-fraternity or only-childism, equality of opportunity (but not of outcomes), populism for landlords, and regulation for tenants (also known as laissez-faire economics). And out in the great West they had their own version of the Creed, developed by the great ranchers like Theodore Roosevelt, Gene Autry, and Ralph Lauren; even George W. Bush turned his flinty eyes from Greenwich to go to high school in West Texas (his eyes went flinty at an unusually early age), where he eventually purchased a property for hobbyist brush cutting, which was his own way of thinking individual, great thoughts.
This was no radical Ayn Rand type of individualism. Such men often went to church, took good care of their families, made private and tax-deductible contributions to the needs of the less fortunate, and helped out with school soccer. But they did not feel very comfortable around government, even when they were running it themselves out of a sense of ancestral duty and to make sure the railroad company bought this certain otherwise useless spot of land and other housekeeping details of the sort which you could hardly trust to a bunch of hired attorneys. Left to itself, government might start doling out favors to trade unions, ballet companies, and what Representative Steve King once referred to as the "very, very urban"—to people who did not subscribe to the American Creed at all!
Such people, they argued, really need to be governed, whereas if you try to govern us, with our precious individual initiative, you will just be bleeding out the veins of what made this country great. And that was the pitch on which the general election of 2012 was fought. I wasn't going to mention it—the pain is still too vivid—but there it is. And in places still inhabited by the dissenting Protestants of Old Massachusetts—the Latter-Day Saints, Conference of Southern Baptists (Retired), American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Conference of Catholic Bishops—this approach was just right. But elsewhere, in communities dominated by Congregationalists and Unitarians, Methodists and Presbyterians, Quakers and contraceptionist-schismatic Catholics, it fell flat on its face. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Ah, yes—I forgot about immigrants. Willard Mitt Romney himself comes from an old Mexican ranchero family, but many immigrants do not share that heritage. I'm referring to people not from England, who did not come here to exercise their liberty of conscience, but rather to escape from joblessness, starvation, pogroms, lunatic dictators, and military conscription. These do not necessarily believe in the American Creed; and yet, strangely enough, they do believe in working and getting as rich as they possibly can.
If conservatives are to recover from the current malaise, we will have to do something to get these people to vote for us. When Asian-American and Hispanic voters look at our country and try to figure out what's stopping them from working and getting rich, government isn't the first thing they think of, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. They have more exotic problems, like not being able to afford college, or never getting a raise from their employer, or living in neighborhoods where there is literally not enough government, as in police, trash collection, and parks maintenance. In their world, government is actually a kind of Good Thing.
I know, people that different from you and me are going to be hard to communicate with. What we need is more social scientists, people who can penetrate these neighborhoods and find out what we can offer to get them on our side. If letting all their sisters and their cousins and their aunts across our borders isn't going to be enough, what is? Our survival as a Creed may depend on it.