STIRRETT: Eastwood Gives Meaning to 'Grand Old Party'
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 00:09
The United States is at a political tipping point. As Jonathan Chait argued in New York Magazine, the 2012 presidential election will be the last in which one political party’s strategy will be almost completely reliant on the non-Hispanic white vote, which is estimated by Pew Research Group to shrink in size to 47 percent by 2050.
This is the number that scares many Republicans. In 2008, 80 percent of all minority votes went toward the Democratic Party. This means that if the GOP does not diversify its voter base, it will need to win ever-higher percentages of the white vote.
Moreover, whether voters like it or not, Americans are becoming more socially liberal on issues such as gay marriage. Since 2005, the ratio of Americans who identify as religious has dropped from 73 percent to 60 percent.
With these rapid demographic changes likely to accelerate, the GOP is either going to become a distant second , or it is going to have to gradually adopt more of the policies of the left to broaden its electoral tent. In the meantime, at least for these upcoming elections, the Republican Party can compete nationally while appealing to relatively homogeneous sections of the population.
In many ways, Clint Eastwood, who spoke at the Republican National Convention last week, is a fitting embodiment of what Democrats say the Republican Party has become. He is an 82-year-old white male who is fabulously wealthy and grew up in an America that was radically different than what it is today or what it will most likely become. And, while Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention was rambling and, at some points, bizarre, he stated what was arguably the most important subtext of the convention: “We own this country.”
This subtext was underscored by the near constant mentions of the need to “take back” America, presumably from Democrats, or, more broadly, progressives.
Much of the vitriol against President Obama is motivated by instinctive feelings that his administration has been taking the country in a direction away from the “real Americans” — people who own guns, go to church and live in suburbs, small towns or rural areas. Jon Stewart made the astute observation that a common theme among the speakers at the Republican convention was an idealization of 1950s America, which ignores the systemic discrimination that all but straight, white and Protestant Americans faced on a daily basis.
More perplexing, however, is the fact that the Romney campaign chose to give the Hollywood star such a prominent place at the convention in the first place.
Many conservatives already distrust Romney, and selecting the relatively socially liberal Clint Eastwood as one of the leading speakers at the convention was a risky choice. Moreover, giving Eastwood a mostly unrestrained platform to speak in front of an audience of millions is surprising from a candidate who has been known for his intense discipline and love of control.
The night should have been all about Romney and why he should be president. Instead, we are left trying to make sense of Clint Eastwood’s bizarre speech.
For us observers on the sidelines, the speech was great, adding some intrigue to what was otherwise a convention scripted down to the minute. Political ramifications aside, Eastwood’s speech gave interesting insight into the current state of the GOP, and how the party will need to undertake important changes in the future for it to remain electorally viable.
Scott Stirrett is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.