Eighteen years ago, as I sat on the City Council dais with eight other petty elected officials, one of the City Hall regulars came forward to speak on whatever issue was before us at the time. We were used to him, and to the dozen or so aging know-it-alls who had nothing better to do than harangue us.
But that didn’t mean we liked it. That particular afternoon, a female colleague turned to me, rolled her eyes, and whispered softly.
“Old white men!” she said. “Don’t you just hate them?”
Couldn’t agree — that would have meant hating myself! But I knew what she meant. There’s a certain smug stupidity that characterizes white men of a certain age. Many of us born after 1930 were too young to fight in the Second World War or Korea and managed to miss Vietnam. We benefited from the great postwar boom, lived comfortable lives, made plenty of money and continue to believe that our good fortune is entirely of our own making.
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were born in 1946, Mitt Romney in 1947. Had Romney been elected, our generation of entitled Baby Boomers might have held on to the White House for another eight years. With Obama’s reelection, the torch may have been permanently snatched away from the geezers.
In Typhoon, an account of a terrifying storm at sea, Joseph Conrad describes the ship’s captain.
“Captain MacWhirr had sailed over the surface of the oceans as some men go skimming over the years of existence to sink gently into a placid grave, ignorant of life to the last, without ever having been made to see all it may contain of perfidy, of violence, and of terror. There are on sea and land such men thus fortunate — or thus disdained by destiny or by the sea.”
Look at the placid, unlined faces of Mitt Romney now and of George W. Bush prior to assuming the presidency. Both had “skimmed over the years of existence,” untroubled by the chaos and uncertainty that defines so many American lives.
Thanks to social changes, two recent wars and the Great Recession, many younger Americans have had direct experience with hardship and uncertainty, and even with violence and terror. So whom will they choose next to lead them in 2016 and beyond?
Hillary Clinton? Maybe so — but look at all the feisty young Democrats in the House and Senate. How about New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, or Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet?
The Republicans aren’t stupid — they know that votes from Latinos and women won the election for Obama. Can they toss the angry white men to the curb, and try to reshape the party to appeal to a broader demographic? To do so, they’ll have to move away from the “Paulsie Twins” (Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Rand Paul) and look for leaders with broader demographic appeal.
It’ll be a tough job, if results from Tuesday’s election are any guide.
In El Paso County, the beating heart of the state Republican Party, voters gave Romney 59.6 percent to Obama’s 38 percent. But voters in Denver went for Obama 73.5 to 24.4, while Boulder County gave Obama a 69.6 to 28 margin. Obama also won Larimer County and the Denver suburbs. Only Weld County (Greeley), of the urbanized Front Range counties, joined El Paso in the Romney column.
The electoral map of Colorado is simple — a blue spine down the center, flanked by deep red, sparsely populated counties to the east and west. Colorado Springs is both an outlier and a harbinger on this demographic map.
For Republicans to win statewide, the party needs massive majorities in El Paso County. Just like four years ago when Obama was first elected, 59-38 doesn’t cut it — the margin here should be closer to 75-25.
Those majorities have slowly eroded in recent years, as the county’s population becomes more diverse, and as local Democrats have become better at turning out their voters (not to mention appealing to Independents). A decade ago, Democrats didn’t have a single seat in El Paso County’s state legislative delegation — and now they have three. Hardly any Republicans represent the Denver-Boulder area.
As Colorado Springs moves slowly toward the center, Republicans will rely even more heavily on their base. They’ll win many local elections, but it may be a long time until the Republican flag flies again at the state Capitol.
That flag, by the way, features a bull elephant carrying a cane, with a long white beard.