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When we were recording the weekly podcast just now, somebody–James Lileks? Rob?–asked our guest, Tucker Carlson, if the Republicans could beat Obama in 2012. Tucker replied with his usual aplomb and good cheer.
Tucker named a couple of reasons with which we’re all distressingly familiar. Too many Americans, Tucker said, like getting stuff from the federal government. Give up goodies right now to stave off collapse in 10 or 20 years? Don’t be silly. Immigrants? They vote overwhelmingly Democratic. “Even immigrant groups that might surprise you,” Tucker said. ”Indians, for example.”
Then Tucker named a reason that was a new one on me–or almost new: Even the most solid part of the Republican base, rural white voters, who have voted Republican ever since the election of Lincoln, are drifting toward the Democrats. Why? Illegitimacy. The traditional family is breaking down among rural whites with astonishing speed. Unmarried mothers vote Democratic–they need the welfare state. And they raise their children in an atmosphere of dependency, teaching them, if only by example, to rely on government handouts.
How bad is the problem? When we finished recording, I did a little research. Here’s Nick Eberstadt, writing for the American Enterprise Institute:
Forty years after the Moynihan report, the tragic saga of the modern black family is common knowledge. But the tale of family breakdown in modern America is no longer a story delimited to a single ethnic minority. Today the family is also in crisis for this country’s ethnic majority: the so-called white American population….
Consider trends in out-of-wedlock births. By 2002, 28.5 percent of babies of white mothers were born outside marriage in this country. Over the past generation, the white illegitimacy rate has exploded, quadrupling since 1975, when the level was 7.1 percent. The overall illegitimacy rate for whites is higher than it was for black mothers (23.6 percent) when the Moynihan report sounded its alarm….
Today no state in the Union has an Anglo illegitimacy ratio as low as 10 percent. Even in predominantly Mormon Utah, every eighth non-Hispanic white infant is born out of wedlock.
I’d been vaguely aware of this, but hadn’t considered the political impact–the collapse of a big part of the traditional GOP base. When Tucker mentioned this, the idea was, as I say, almost new to me. As it happens, I’d heard it exactly a week ago today over dinner with Mark Steyn.
Mark had picked me up at the Hanover Inn, then driven 40 minutes into the woods, crossing a covered bridge and making so many turns and switchbacks that it occurred to me that I’d surely starve before being able to find my way back on my own. At last Mark turned onto a dirt road, bouncing along the ruts–it’s mud season up there–until at last we reached our destination: An impeccably restored farmhouse dating back to colonial times, now a wonderful little restaurant.
Dinner with Mark is about what you’d expect: The conversation proves warm, brilliant, erudite, and hilarious, but the recurring theme is, as Mark himself puts it often enough, “the decline of the Republic.” Mark Steyn, tap-dancing at the edge of the abyss.
For miles in every direction, Mark noted, lay country that until just a few decades ago represented the heartland, so to speak, of the flinty, resourceful, independent Yankee spirit. Now? ”You’ll see lovely girls in the local high schools,” Mark said. ”When you come across them again five years later, they’ll each have three children by three different fathers.” Then Mark told a story.
In colonial times, it was against crown law to cut down any pine that exceeded a certain girth–twenty-some inches, as I recall–because all such trees were reserved for the use of the Royal Navy, which required a ready supply of masts. Every time you see a colonial house with floorboards more than two feet wide, you’re witnessing an artifact of the American spirit–an act of rebellion. Mark pointed to the floorboards in the restaurant, some of which were certainly more than two feet wide. ”Two centuries ago,” he said, “the families in these parts were felling trees in defiance of the crown. Today they’re raising their children on welfare checks.”
Woe to us all.