Building Red America

George Will

9/17/2006 12:01:00 AM - George Will

WASHINGTON -- In this autumn of their discontent, Republicans tremble as November nears. But now comes yet another book by a gloomy liberal anticipating permanent Republican dominance. Thomas B. Edsall of The New Republic, in ``Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power,'' argues that inexorable social forces, augmented by the conservatives' superior reservoirs of anger, ruthlessness and cynicism -- he neglects only the word ``wickedness'' -- favor Republicans, ``the party of the socially and economically dominant.''

The parties are almost at numerical parity, but Edsall, who until recently was a Washington Post political reporter, says Republicans represent people ``more broadly skilled in economic combat'' and ``more accustomed to the rigors of the market.'' Hence Republicans can maintain ``a thin but durable margin of victory.'' Their technique is ``the symbolic manipulation of controversial sociocultural issues touching upon national security, patriotism, race, sex, and religion.''

``The GOP,'' Edsall laments, ``has achieved a gradual erosion of the popular consensus behind the major progressive and social-egalitarian movements of the twentieth century.'' But what actually ``achieved'' that? Edsall says the principal Republican objective has been to break ``the trust ... between the government and millions of its less advantaged citizens.'' But he acknowledges that Republicans have been helped ``inestimably'' by ``the daily inefficiencies of government'': ``The monopoly nature of government guarantees that the public services will often lag in quality behind those delivered in the competitive private sector.'' Hence ``the declining credibility of non-market solutions to economic problems'' and the demoralization of ``backers of a redistributive agenda.''

Edsall complains that conservatives pursue an agenda that does not have the public's ``decisive support.'' Whatever that means, liberals like Edsall are ineligible to make that complaint. They increasingly have abandoned persuasion and legislation and resorted to litigation and judicial fiats to advance an agenda the public finds unpersuasive.

If Edsall is symptomatic, liberalism is lost in a time warp, thinking in antiquated categories. Edsall approvingly quotes a Democratic activist's opinion that there are twice as many angry conservatives as there are angry liberals: ``Liberals by their very nature don't get as angry as conservatives do.'' Edsall, who evidently has not noticed the vitriol of the liberal blogosphere, is so blinded by his own anger he misperceives Republican realities.

The GOP, he says, courts whites ``whose interests are overwhelmingly focused on tempering, if not altogether rolling back, the civil rights movement.'' Please. Who favors rolling back guarantees of voting rights and equal access to public accommodations?

If Edsall really thinks Republicans are marching efficiently in lock step, he has missed bitter intraparty arguments about spending, immigration and nation-building. Edsall says the conservative agenda is ``to dismantle the welfare state.'' Oh? With a prescription drug entitlement that is the largest expansion of the welfare state since enactment of Medicare in 1965? With a 38 percent increase in discretionary domestic spending unrelated to homeland security -- including a 135 percent increase in the Education Department's budget -- since 2001?

When Edsall says middle- and working-class cultural conservatives vote for Republicans who then use their power ``for noncultural objectives,'' he is voicing a familiar liberal lament: All would be well if voters would vote based on important issues -- material, economic concerns; their wallets -- rather than unimportant ones such as abortion, the definition of marriage, the coarsening of the culture and other moral anxieties. But if those issues are unimportant, why is it that liberals, adamantly supporting partial-birth abortion and celebrating judicial redefinitions of marriage, are so uncompromising about them? As Edsall says, liberalism has become bifurcated. The largest faction looks to government for material help. But the socially liberal ``post-materialist'' cadre ``overwhelmingly sets'' the party's agenda.

Edsall notes that one-third of American children -- and almost 70 percent of African-American children -- are born to unmarried mothers. Then, in an astonishing passage about this phenomenon, which is the cause of most social pathologies, from crime to schools that cannot teach, he explains how Americans differ concerning what he calls ``freedom from the need to maintain the marital or procreative bond.''

``To social conservatives,'' he writes, ``these developments have signaled an irretrievable and tragic loss. Their reaction has fueled, on the right, a powerful traditionalist movement and a groundswell of support for the Republican Party. To modernists, these developments constitute, at worst, the unfortunate costs of progress, and, at best -- and this is very much the view on the political left as well as of Democratic Party loyalists -- they constitute a triumph over unconscionable obstacles to the liberation and self-realization of much of the human race.''

Looking for the real reason for the rise of ``Red America''? Read that paragraph again.