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Friday, May 01, 2009

Is This The End Of The Yankee Republican?

The impending retirement of Justice David Souter, the party-switching of Arlen Spector, and the curious courting of Olympia Snowe all, by varying degrees, suggests a decline of the once magisterial Yankee Republican. In 2008, Representative Christopher Shays, a well-known centrist and the last Republican member of the House from New England, was defeated by political novice Jim Himes. Significant?

Before it became an endangered species, Yankee Republicans roamed the Green Mountains to the Adirondacks to the Brandywine territory proudly. Armed with one part gumption and a New England-Mid Atlantic frugality -- a respect for hard work and the power of money -- Yankee Republicans represented a moderating influence over the more hot-blooded and doctrinaire Southern and Western evangelicals; they were the elder brother to the hot-blooded new religions on the American democratic landscape. New England Yankees are fiscally conservative, generally -- though they allow for fiscal liberality in moments of national exigency, with, to be sure, the typical Yankee skepticism -- as well as socially liberal. Until the Evangelical takeover of the Republican party this wasn't much of an issue. Yankee Republicans generally regarded Democrats as fiscally irresponsible and, in matters of foreign policy, dangerously naive.

The pendulum swings. Religiously, Yankees are intellectual, almost Deist. Deism is, for all intents and purposes, a single-degree removed from agnosticism. They render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and, generally, live and let live with regards to race or gender or sexual orientation. New England Yankees -- New Hamshire-ites in particularly -- are acutely aware of the delicate balance between liberty and the intrusion of religious morality in the realm of legislation that may compromise that hard-won freedom. Yankee philosophy, more or less, is not much changed from that of the New England merchants and small farmers of the 19th Century.

That time appears to have passed. Old Yankee Republican legacies, like the Chafees of Rhode Island and the Bush's of Connecticut carry about them the aroma of yesteryear, quaint as a New England Autumn sunset from the Hudson River school of painting. Christine Todd Whitman, who once seemed a lock for the Vice Presidency, is no longer even a significant player. Curiously -- symbolically? -- the Rockefeller Drug Laws, that lasting legacy of legendary Yankee Republican Nelson Rockefeller, are taking their final bow. Chafee the Younger endorsed Obama in '08; Maine's entire Senate delegation voted for President Obama's stimulus package; and, finally, Arlen Spector, who appeared to be the last standing Yankee Republican in the Pocono valley, is now a Democrat.

Ironically, George Bush the Younger -- of the aforementioned Bushes of Connecticut -- is largely to blame for this near-extinction of the old Yankee Republicans. His consciousness was scarred with the terrible image of his weepy father's electoral defeat to Arkansan upstart Bill Clinton in 1992. Bush the Younger strategically retreated in the aftermath of Clinton's rise, marshaling his forces in Texas, rebranding himself an Evangelical man of the right, ultimately running for and winning the Oval Office with white evangelical Protestants in 2000. President Bush's 2004 vote tally four years later "increased markedly from its 2000 level," according to the Pew Research Center. Therein lies the difficulty. White Evangelical Protestants and Yankee Republicans, this blogger cannot fail to stress, do not play well together.

Let's face it, the Northeast is becoming a Republican graveyard of sorts. As the Republican party regionalized, becoming identified with the increasingly ultra-conservative South and Southwest, it became inhospitable to the cooler-minded Yankee Republicans. A Yankee Republican couldn't give a damn about prayer in school. Evangelicals, by contrast, are by their nature more emotionally-oriented (Have you ever attended an over-wrought Protestant church? Have you ever seen Gibson's "Passion of the Christ"), while Yankee Republicans are more intellectually libertarian. President Bush led with his "gut," often sealed deals with a handshake, prized loyalty above all other virtues among his courtiers and dealt with Putin's Russia by looking into his soul.

Yankees and Democrats found much in common while out in the political wilderness. While Yankees have deep fiscal differences with the Democrats, their alliance during the Bush regime -- based on social liberalism, the majesty of Science, the power of Reason and realism in international affairs -- was quite amiable. Yankee Republicans and Democrats became strange bedfellows during the darkest days of the Bush Presidency in the same way that neglected spouses tend to stray when taken for granted and then find themselves courted by someone of similar disappointments. Elective affinities.

What does this alliance mean? This means, in the near-future, that people -- particularly the young -- of Centrist philosophical cast in the Northeast will probably identify themselves with the Democrat party. Will it last? Who knows. The Republicans are at present becoming more and more marginalized as a South and Southwestern party with an aging, white, evangelical male demographic. This does not augur well for the future of the GOP nationally.

Is this the twilight of the Yankee Republicans?

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