Myopia and the Angry Old Party

Republicans are always the ones pushing those wholly unnecessary English-as-official-language efforts, doing everything possible to make immigrants feel unwelcome here. Apparently few in the Angry Old Party see this as politically short-sighted, a way to guarantee that Democrats keep and even broaden their anticipated demographic advantage for years to come.

You'd think a young Republican such as Blaine Young (Frostburg State '93) might want to take a new, fresh approach by opening up the "big tent" that members of his party talked about just a few years ago.

Mr. Young is chairman of the all-Republican Frederick County Commissioners and a radio talk show host. He pushed the recent effort to declare English the county's official language, a move that has no real effect — the county already does all its business in English — except to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Frederick. Nothing says, "Stay away" like an English-only edict.

In the moment, I suppose, it sounds like a winner for Republicans. But, in the long run, it's politically foolish for Republicans to be associated with this kind of nativist gesture.

Democrats already have an advantage among minorities, including immigrants. Unless Republicans find a way of taking their big tent out of storage and opening it up, their political opponents will win the numbers game for years to come.

That's particularly true in Maryland, where Democrats have enjoyed 2-to-1 domination for years and where Republicans have done little to gain in voter registration, even during the four years (2003-2007) when one of their own served as governor.

Among the many who have looked at the demographics to see what's coming is one-time Baltimore Sun reporter and long-time Washington Post national correspondent Thomas Edsall. Now a professor of journalism at Columbia, Mr. Edsall has distilled census data, political reporting and analysis into a book ("The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics") about the nation's bitter partisanship and what's driving it.

Mainly, he says, the economic collapse of 2008 animates everything today — in an age of austerity, Republicans and Democrats engage in zero-sum battles over scarce resources, deficit reduction and taxation. A dynamic in this, Mr. Edsall says, is a Republican consensus that they are in the last campaign to undo the so-called welfare state, which they perceive as mainly benefiting minorities; to this end, the party continues to pander to their white working class and affluent constituencies.

But, Mr. Edsall writes, that particular Republican base is getting smaller "while Democratic voting blocs — Hispanics, [blacks], other minorities, and single women — are expanding as a share of the electorate."

Part of the growing Democratic advantage — lower-income voters who are disproportionately black and Hispanic — will happen just as a matter of population growth. Four states — Hawaii, New Mexico, California and Texas — already are majority minority while traditional white populations (meaning, non-Hispanic, European ancestry) in Maryland and eight other states are below 60 percent. Minority births now rival births of whites. The Census Bureau predicted the U.S could become a majority minority nation by 2040. According to Mr. Edsall, calculations based on exit polling and census data point to a majority minority Democratic Party around 2020.

Maybe Republicans know all this and believe they can do little about it, so they just fight the culture wars and work on sharpening the wedge issues. Still, it makes no sense for the future of the party to be conceding large masses of the population of the Next America to the Democrats, which is what those wholly unnecessary and insulting English-as-official-language efforts guarantee.

Republicans seem blind to what's happening around them. In Anne Arundel County there was an official-English bill in the county council until its Republican sponsor had the good sense to yank it. But where was the good sense in filing the bill, to begin with, in a county where the minority population has grown to 25 percent?

You add the gender equation to all this — the predicted shift of centrist Republican women to the Obama 2012 side as Republican men raise hell about health insurance and reproductive rights — and you start to wonder if anyone in the Angry Old Party is looking ahead. You'd think a new generation of Republicans would want to recruit some new members instead of telling them, in so many words — all in English — to stay away.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on WYPR-FM. His email is Twitter: @DanRodricks.

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