12.17.2009

"make the GOP safe for smarties again"

Are you a "Whole Foods Republican" - or might you be?

I have to say this is a demographic I can identify with in a number of respects:

...independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated individuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.

Although it's not exactly spot on (and it makes me think I might be used like a "soccer mom" or "NASCAR dad" if I sign on), I think the stereotype definitely covers a core demographic the GOP needs to pursue.  It has the potential for outsize influence moving forward.  And it's one of the few hopes for the GOP to reposition itself in a way that's electorally viable in the long run.  It's one way for the GOP to loosen some of its dogmatic stances on social issues that will become increasingly unrealistic while maintaining a critical mass of core principles to rally a bigger tent around.  And the party is decidedly in need of greater intellectual firepower.

The concept seems roughly analogous to the earlier "Crunchy Cons" categorization from a few years ago.  At the University of Wisconsin, I saw what I could now call a crew of prototypical "Whole Foods Republicans" emerge in the staff of The Mendota Beacon - a group of vaguely conservative individuals who knew they were certainly not progressive liberals, especially by campus standards.  And yet all valued culture, intelligence, and open discussion.  They could stand life in an urban setting.

Will the GOP ever be able to contort itself from its present position to avoid turning this segment of the electorate off?  Perhaps.  About nine months ago, I would've said "no" based on Obama's "Obamacon" crossover appeal.  But much has changed since then.  And now, even if the Republican Party doesn't pursue Whole Foods Republicans, I'd wager that Whole Foods Republicans might begin figuring out how to influence the GOP to a greater extent, seeing no viable alternatives.

The next thing I need to ponder: how does this demographic fit into the current Tea Party-ascendant landscape on the right side of the spectrum?