Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Your minority status: Political Edition

Over two months ago, I started writing about the fear of the long-time majority (in the US, it's whites) at becoming a minority. I really liked addressing the issue, because it's something visceral  in several ways. It's a thread that's underneath some of the surface issues, such as immigration. But it's also a powerful gut issue that's raw and emotional and not directly discussed.

This post was slated to be the political complement, focusing on how to behave civilly as a no-longer-majority. I thought it would be easy to write. After all, I'd figured out what I wanted to say about being a minority in the social sphere. Could it be that much harder to figure out how to be a minority in the political sphere?

As it turns out, YES, it is much harder. My rules for being a minority boiled down to:
  • Don't act like you own it (the town, the city, the country).
  • Live and let live.
This is good advice for political minorities, but it's not enough. Political groups need more operational guidance. For example, what does live and let live mean to political parties? Does it mean don't shoot your opponents or don't argue with them?

Live and let live isn't a rule that works in a zero-sum game, and some aspects of politics are zero-sum: I win the election and you lose. My group defeats the legislation your group wants.

So I failed to come up a set of rules for being a well-behaved political minority. But I had some interesting thoughts on the way to ultimate failure:
  • Pre-1994, Republicans had been the minority party in Congress for decades. They were used to it, and knew how to be a well-behaved minority. They could carp at Democrats, embarrass them, try to score points, try to block them, convert a few to their side, but it wasn't all out war.
  • Republicans have been in power more often than out of power over the past 30 years. However, it has been a tenuous hold. When they lose an election, it may feel like they're losing on two fronts--politically and demographically. This is probably partially mistaken, since the GOP is in no danger of slipping into permanent political minority status.
  • Don't picket the homes of political actors. Everyone, even a politician, deserves a quiet, unbesieged home. 
  • Elsewhere, making your voice heard is an important right. Progress doesn't usually come from excessive politeness. That's part of the reason I failed to formulate a set of rules. Too polite equals no results.
Not the homes... or funerals

What we want to say to political minorities: 
"If we want to fire Obama, then you social cons need to get in the back seat where you belong, stay quiet and don’t mess things up for us between now and election day. Just show up to vote…you had your day in the sun and it gave the Dimocrats a Senate super-majority. Maybe this time you’ll learn your lesson and in exchange Romney will nominate a pro-life HHS guy. Deal?" - Wall Street Journal comment

Update 2/9/12.  I remember some other tenets for political minorities.
  • Don't be the tail wagging the dog. If your views are in the minority, grow your cause. Don't try to prematurely force your views upon the group or the country. That doesn't mean you have to keep quiet (don't keep quiet), but don't hijack the organization, every discussion, or take hostages to force your issue.


A Political Junkie said...

Back to the racial component of minority. I can recall reading a very interesting article in the Village Voice during a visit to NYC in 2000. The premise of the article was that, in three generations, the average skin tone of an American would be coffee-colored as more and more marital integration took place. I found that a most fascinating idea since, taken to its ultimate end, there would be no minority race.

Unfortunately, in the case of politics, the chasm between the left and the right grows ever wider. As is typical, politics is way behind the curve.

Anonymous said...

Not being the "majority", meaning more than 50% of the population, is not nearly the same as being a "minority". Certainly, "whites" -- those individuals of substantially Causasian and European descent -- will remain the plurality in the U.S. for quite some time. This isn't South Africa where "whites" were a real minority for a long time, albeit a ruling class minority.

America would be well-served politically by the lack of a majority of any particular bloc that politicians could manipulate to earn electoral victories by stoking fear of others. That works for many, many generations but now risks alienating competing blocs that together no longer constitute a minority.

ModeratePoli said...

@Political Junkie,

Contra what the Village Voice writes, I don't see the US mingling that quickly (3 generations). The pace is faster now than before the 1960's, so I might be wrong. I'll have to check back in another 30 years to measure against that prediction.

About the chasm between left and right, the comment got me thinking: the left isn't becoming more leftist. In fact, they've adopted some formerly right-tinged ideas, particularly using market forces in cap-and-trade and health insurance exchanges. If the chasm is growing, is it because the right keeps moving? But perhaps I'm generalizing from too few issues.

ModeratePoli said...


Some whites have been very blunt in their fears about growing minority populations. They don't seem reassured by the idea that they'll be a plurality, even the ruling plurality. I tried to address this fear in my other post.

But this post isn't about white political power, but how to act when your party or group isn't in power. I think I missed the mark, because 2 out of 2 commenters didn't read it that way. Oops. Perhaps I'll rewrite it sometime, but it was difficult enough before, so it won't be soon.