Can the GOP be saved from its obsession with the 1950s?

An interesting story in this weekend’s New York Times about how, from technology to social issues, the Republican party is stuck in the past, and it’s hurting them in elections, increasingly so.  This article has been flying around Democratic Netroots-types as a “must read” all weekend.  I’ll walk you through some of the most interesting parts.

A good part of the article focused on how further ahead Democrats were than Republicans in using new technology – the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, for campaigns.  Just look at the blogosphere, or the larger Netroots, really.  Before 2004, I’m told, Republicans were ahead of us in blog power.  Then in 2004 that turned around and it was Democrats in the lead, far in the lead, and we never looked back.

Look at the larger Netroots.  The Republicans never built their own MoveOn.  We never how several MoveOn-style off-shoots on the left. started as a progressive organization, though now it’s apparently changed its mind (the allure of profit does that – sadly, life does often seem more lucrative on the dark side of the force).  And even look at sites like Reddit which, to my eye at least, certainly seem to lean left in terms of the overall community and the kind of stories that make it to the top.

Republican sign via Shutterstock

Republican sign via Shutterstock

Interestingly, the same story seems to replicate itself abroad.  I’ve done a good amount of consulting and public speaking in Europe, and in country after country, from Spain to Greece to Sweden, you hear about how the left has left the right behind in the dust in terms of using technology for politics.

Some of the reason might be that, for whatever reason, young people, today more than ever, tend to lean more to the left to than to the right.  The NYT reporter went with a 28-year-old GOP pollster to Ohio to do a focus group.  The focus group was made up of young, 20-something middle class voters who voted for Obama but don’t consider themselves committed Democrats.

They started with the women, wrote a word on a blackboard, and ask them to free associate:

The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Then they wrote the word “Republican”:

“Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

Then they tried the men:

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

"Why yes, we do vote Republican!" via Shutterstock

“Why yes, we do vote Republican!” (via Shutterstock)

The 1950s.  And isn’t that the point.  The Republicans are trying so hard to get America back to the 1950s, when the number of Americans interested in living in the 1950s continues to dwindle, and most definitely isn’t found among younger voters.

The article then tied this turning-off of young people to the GOP’s problem with using technology.  In a nutshell, if young people don’t like you, they don’t want to work for you.  And guess who understand new technology the best?  Young people.

Several G.O.P. digital specialists told me that, in addition, they found it difficult to recruit talent because of the values espoused by the party. “I know a lot of people who do technology for a living,” Turk said. “And almost universally, there’s a libertarian streak that runs through them — information should be free, do your own thing and leave me alone, that sort of mind-set. That’s very much what the Internet is. And almost to a person that I’ve talked to, they say, ‘Yeah, I would probably vote for Republicans, but I can’t get past the gay-marriage ban, the abortion stance, all of these social causes.’ Almost universally, they see a future where you have more options, not less. So questions about whether you can be married to the person you want to be married to just flies in the face of the future. They don’t want to be part of an organization that puts them squarely on the wrong side of history.”

In another part of the article, they were talking about how to get GOP candidates to talk about social issues in a way that won’t alienate voters.  The part about gay marriage really fascinated me:

Proximus seeks to marginalize the more strident talking heads by offering itself up to — or if necessary, forcing itself upon — the party as a 21st-century mouthpiece. “If I were training a candidate who’s against gay marriage,” Cupp told me, “I’d say: ‘Don’t change your beliefs, just say legislatively this is not a priority, and I’m not going to take away someone’s right. And if abortion or gay marriage is your No. 1 issue, I’m not your guy.’”

So they’re telling Republicans who are against gay marriage to basically give up entirely on the issue. The “spin” they’re teaching the candidates isn’t meant to trick independents into accept the GOP’s conservative views, it’s meant to trick the far right that controls the Republican party into accepting defeat.

It’s an amazing overview of how far the Republican party has fallen.

Having said all of that, you get to a certain age in politics where you’ve heard the doom and gloom story more than enough to know that people’s, and party’s, fortunes change.  The big question is whether this is a momentarily downward glitch the Republicans are facing, or whether their orneriness, and their love of the past, has put them on the cusp of becoming a permanent minority, at least in presidential elections.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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45 Responses to “Can the GOP be saved from its obsession with the 1950s?”

  1. Sandra Taramtamtam says:

    In memories people like good once, anyway ur post is 100% true.

  2. caphillprof says:

    Are you being rhetorical?

    Subject: [americablog] Re: Can the GOP be saved from its obsession with the 1950s?

  3. pappyvet says:

    The 1950’s was great if you happened to be a white heterosexual male. Not so good if you were a black,not so great if you were a woman. It wasn’t until 1993 that N. Carolina became the last state to remove the spousal rape exemption. Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 and “White Citizens Councils” sprang up to …”help.” There are so very many tears in the fabric of this fantasy about the 50’s that it is amazing that anyone could possibly believe that “Happy Days” were all that happy for a goodly portion of our people.

  4. karmanot says:

    OK down arrow, just because you actually drove an Edsel and got multiple wedgies every day.

  5. FatRat says:

    We never how several MoveOn-style off-shoots on the left. Looks like your spell check mangled your words. “never how” should be “now have”.

  6. karmanot says:

    Well, we can be greatful that Miss America is still for world peace!

  7. karmanot says:

    Then there was that delightful McCarthy patriot.

  8. hollywoodstein says:

    If it happens, you’re buying dinner. And I’m warning you I can be spendy.

  9. hollywoodstein says:

    Did I at least make you think about it for two seconds?

  10. hollywoodstein says:

    Perhaps you can be the Republicans next gay outreach director. Bring them into the 21st century and get paid some of that superpac dark money.

  11. indep_in_la says:

    The GOP isn’t stuck in the 1950s; it’s stuck in the 1850s as the Whigs.

  12. wmforr says:

    The 1950s? On social issues, yes. But let Eisenhower suggest using Federal Money to build an Interstate Highway System, and they’d call him a Communist!

  13. lynchie says:

    Why are you afraid of a 1 party system it is what we have now. No new ideas. Only beholden to the 1%. Not prepared to prosecute and make the folks who ruined the economy and profited off it accountable. Having two parties or 30 that kiss the ass of corporate america over the people matters little. Frankly I hope they stay in the 50’s the era of no ideas where they belong.

  14. I’m sure I left out a few of the evils that the ’60s visited upon us. ;)

  15. karmanot says:

    And the cars were boss!

  16. karmanot says:

    So we hope.

  17. karmanot says:

    And when real women wore pearls, cocktail dresses, frilly aprons and spiked heels to bake brownies and tuna casserole. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK!

  18. karmanot says:

    “when patriotism and piety and respect for tradition lost out to selfishness and and libertinism and “relativism”. Groovy!

  19. Houndentenor says:

    It’s not the real 50s, it’s the Hollywood version of the 50s that they love. It’s a past that never existed except on an LA sound stage.

  20. xlrrp says:

    One more thing. We actually manufactured, and sold our products here in the US.

  21. caphillprof says:

    Don’t forget that Jews were restricted, could not stay at certain hotels, join certain country clubs, buy in certain subdivisions, had quota restrictions at major universities, etc.

    Asians and Hispanics also faced barriers.

  22. caphillprof says:

    I am so tired of Republican hate that I very much hope that they become a has been party, like the Whigs. At the same time, I’m not in favor of a one party system either. But my hope is that the future requires one or more new parties and the Republicans are in the cemetery where they belong.

  23. PrahaPartizan says:

    Eisenhower could hardly be accused of going along with everything his military advisors recommended. From the very beginning of his adminstration he exhibited a very healthy skepticism about the military suggestions. For one, his military brass recommended nuking the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 to try to save the French. Eisenhower rejected it. For another, he rejected a massive buiild-up in ballistic missiles to oppose the Soviets, because he knew we were ahead with the force already contemplated. It was Eisenhower’s refusal to expand the ICBM force which enabled Kennedy to accuse Nixon of a “missile gap” during the 1960 campaign. Any missile gap which existed favored the Americans. Finally, Eisenhower refused to fund a bulid-up in conventional forces, rightly or wrongly, because he knew their expense and temptation. Ike wasn’t perfect but he made fewer mistakes than many assign him.

  24. tamarz says:

    This goes along with the psychological studies showing that conservatives are more rigid and less open than liberals. If you’re rigid, the freewheeling internet must look like hell to you. And if you have trouble with new ideas, the constantly changing world of technology is a threatening place.

  25. nicho says:

    A lot of people born after the ’50s have been led to believe it was an Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver world that we could return to — if we would only do away with government regulations and taxes on the rich.

  26. BeccaM says:

    What I’ve found interesting is how it isn’t just that the Republican party has become completely regressive on social issues, but rather how in the scheme of policy and politics, it’s one of the few areas where they are not hypocritical at all. What I mean is, they say they’re against gay rights — and happily pass laws against them. Same thing with abortion rights; according to the stats, the Republicans are passing more anti-choice measures with each passing year, and each measure more radically restrictive than the last. They’re also keen to repeal the Voting Rights Act, Title IX, organized labor, and anti-discrimination laws.

    Yet when it comes to many of the other ‘conservative’ positions they claim to stand for, they’re inconsistent and hypocritical. They claim to be for balanced budgets, yet given their way, the only half of the equation they’re really interested in cutting is revenues — yet, despite claims they don’t want to hurt Social Security and Medicare (which are highly valued by the elderly portion of the GOP base), that’s the one place they’re willing, indeed eager, to cut.

    Even more to the point, they’re incoherent in their messaging, except on social policy. Just consider the flailing and shambling from Romney and his campaign in the last election. He’s for something, then against it, then for it again, but differently than Obama and the Dems, even though it’s the same position, oh no it’s not, it’s the polar opposite. Then there’s the 47% of all Americans are dependent, irresponsible moochers statement — probably the stupidest, most ill-considered words ever to cross a candidate’s lips in a campaign. Yet they were never incoherent or inconsistent in their social policy pronouncements. 100% against same-sex marriage rights. Very nearly 100% against reproductive rights in any context. Totally against organized labor rights. And so on down the line.

  27. ARP says:

    Nobody but the GOP actually thinks that the 50’s were idyllic. But reminding the GOP of the economics of the 50’s is a good way to knock them down a peg (or two).

  28. Naja pallida says:

    Of course, Eisenhower’s gullibility and going along with everything his military advisors told him is largely to blame for the strong roots the military industrial complex managed to lay down. It wasn’t until he was out the door when he realized his own mistake. By then it was too late. Kind of like how Bush set the precedent of vastly overreaching powers of the executive branch, and it continues. It’s a lot easier to start something psychotic than it is to bottle it back up once it’s been given free reign.

  29. I’d go for one piece of the 1950″s: half the country was middle class! The wealth was distributed rather evenly over the economy, so economic growth did raise everyone up. Then we hit stagnation in the 1970’s with slow economic growth because we had switched to a postindustrial society in 1966. To remedy the economy, the god Ronald Reagan became king and started the welfare for the wealthy by borrowing and spending, a downward spiral not yet ended.

  30. When you vote Republican via Shutterstock, you have to pay an extra fee. That’s why I vote Democrat.

  31. nicho says:

    Small correction. It was the marginal tax rate than was over 90%. They didn’t pay 90% on their whole income — which they would like you to think — but only that portion of income over a certain level. The income you received below that level was taxes much lower.

    What they also don’t mention is that segregation was in full swing — officially in the south and de-facto in the north. In many places in the north, blacks were not allowed in a lot of public places. It just wasn’t the law.

    Teen pregnancy was rampant, abortions were done by charlatans in unsanitary facilities, birth control was a criminal offense, husband were free to beat their wives — and sometimes the police would help them. An awful lot of suburban housewives were on mood-altering drugs — uppers and downers, happily supplied by their doctors.

    If you were gay, you kept that to yourself. If you were gay-bashed, you didn’t tell the police because they might pile on.

    Children in public schools were forced to pray Christian prayers.

    I could go on, but it wasn’t the fantasy being peddled by the ’50s nostalgia crowd today.

  32. Jim Olson says:

    Yeah, that part I could get behind.

  33. Gary says:

    RE: “We never how several MoveOn-style off-shoots on the left. ” Do you mean “We now have…?”

  34. ComradeRutherford says:

    Yes, the 1950s, when Union Membership was nearly 50%, income tax on the insanely rich was over 90%, business tax was 38% and CEOs weren’t paid 1000 times their lowest employee’s rates, the middle class was vibrant and growing, people could afford to buy things, and America was on top of the world.

    Let’s go back to that.

  35. ComradeRutherford says:

    Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best are fact-based documentaries about how perfect life used to be when women were property and blacks were slaves.

  36. ComradeRutherford says:

    According to Republican Leaders everywhere, Father Knows Best, Donna Reid and Leave It To Beaver are hard-hitting documentaries that prove America was never a Liberal nation.

  37. TheOriginalLiz says:

    It’s not even the “real” 50s they’re obsessed with – it’s a made-up, “Donna Reed Show”, “Father Knows Best” version. Not only are they terrified of progress, but they can’t even handle past reality.

  38. I guess that Republican worship of the ’50s, or rather a scrubbed and sanitized ideal of the ’50s, is of a piece with their equally strong loathing of the ’60s. The ’60s, we are told, marked the decline of American culture and values, when patriotism and piety and respect for tradition lost out to selfishness and and libertinism and “relativism”. Fifty years on and right-wingers are still obsessed with hippies.

    Mind you, this cuts both ways to a small extent. From the other direction the ’50s are occasionally derided not merely for real reasons but also for being a modern Dark Age when nobody had sex ever and everyone was unhappy. Hell, Sam Mendes put every one of those cliches into a movie not long ago. It’s not like everything was wrong in the ’50s. The civil rights movement really got rolling back then, space exploration was initiated, and Crick and Watson kicked off the modern study of molecular genetics (by pilfering someone else’s work, I’ll grant you.) But, really, scorn of the ’50s has never reached anything like the intensity of the right-wing hatred for the ’60s.

  39. hollywoodstein says:

    The real trick is the users of social media are the youngsters who know pot is just a weed, gays are cool, so are Hispanics, and want to get an abortion if they decide to. So there’s that.

  40. hollywoodstein says:

    On the technology front, the Republicans have the cash to find the talent for the Dark Side, but it was explained to me that the oldsters doing the hiring do not have the expertise to weed out all of the charlatans with a business card saying digital media director and having a spiel about the twitter.

  41. hollywoodstein says:

    Well it gave them a good thirty year run, when they realized that the largest, virgin tract of unharvested votes was evangelicals pissed off at the civil rights era. The gays, and abortion issue was ginned up because it polled well with the fundies. They lost on gay marriage, that’s just a crystal clear as a bell civil rights issue to keep your religion out of government. On access to abortion they’ve done a lot of damage, and are still only one USSC vote away from overturning Roe, but this may be their high watermark. People have figured out that pot is just a weed, but the police state prison state has such a vested interest in customers I will not be surprised to see it still criminal in ten years.
    What worries me is that everyone is so certain of winning now that they do not see that it took a massive GOTV operation, and Mitt Romney being a horrible candidate to win. Even with his mismanagement take away the Paul Ryan VP pick and the 47% video and you would have had a President Romney and a sixth vote on the Court. Are we going to be able to summon up that effort over and over? Many of the people I took to the polls were motivated by the voter suppression efforts. Will that motivation fade?
    I talked to a Republican lobbyist the other day and he thinks once they finesse the social issues they’ll be back. We’ll always have tax cuts he likes to say, but this time he added that We Republicans have won the economic argument. All the deficit/debt brainwashing has taken hold. You see it creep into the assumptions of stories of the young reporters who probably never took an ECON course. Hell even our Democratic President pushed Simpson Bowles and wants to cut the Social Contract, because Austerity now or we may have to adjust programs in the future.
    Put people back to work and get them paying taxes again. Quit war. Raise the minimum wage so people can buy things. Lower the retirement age so people will retire and open up jobs. Raise our measely Social Securtiy Benefits don’t cut them. And admit that our for profit corporate health care system is the reason costs are out of control. We are the greatest country in the world and yet we can’t take care of our citizens basic needs, much less schools, much less super trains. Government isn’t the problem, but it should be part of the solution. But you can’t even get any air time for these ideas. Just look at the shabby treatment Nobel Krugman gets for being right.
    If we don’t business cycle out of this structural unemployment recession then the Republicans will have the house and senate. George Bush broke it, but Obama doesn’t want to fix it.

  42. sunmusing says:

    Maybe we should go back to the tax rates of the ’50’s and let’s re-build our infrastructure…”I Like Ike” and his warning about the “military-industrial complex”…

  43. olandp says:

    If your philosophy is not to change, of course you’s want to stay in the 1950s. Glad I was born at the end of that era and didn’t have to live through it. Rex Reed once said on The Gong Show, “There was nothing fabulous about the fifties.” I couldn’t have agreed more. The last great era of the straight white male.

    Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and all the others are FICTION.

  44. Old Soul says:

    I loved the article and agreed with it entirely. On a humorous note…is the next NY Times Magazine in depth report going to be on the sky being blue or something else we already accept as a fact? :-)

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