Reihan says something that gets the wheels turning:
At the moment, my side, the partisans of going after downscale voters first, is losing the argument to those who recommend going after the voters Michael Petrilli has described as “Whole Foods Republicans.”
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.
These voters, interestingly, are almost the opposite of Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Cons,” the Birkenstocked Burkeans who are more aptly described as evangelical hippies than as affluent cosmopolitans with a libertarian streak a la the voters Petrilli has in mind.
I’m unsure that we can assume with quite as much confidence as we could in, say, 2003 that bike-riding localists who “want diversity” are likely to be upwardly mobile. In fact, I suspect that ‘cosmopolitan’ attitudes about the way humans should relate to nature are quickly coming decoupled from economic class in America. The relationship between class and putatively ‘cosmopolitan’ attitudes about acceptable human-to-human relations is another matte — one that’s harder to think through clearly in some important ways. But ‘crunchy’ lifestyle choices really aren’t luxuries in the fashion of other material goods commonly sought after by the upwardly mobile. Organic food is not that much more expensive, seeming, at least to my unempirical eye, to be getting a bit cheaper all the time. And certainly forsaking that $1799 flatscreen this year, or every 2 years, would allow many otherwise budget-conscious Americans of modest means to get choosier about the quality of their everyday food. Surely a bike is cheaper than a car; surely a diverse public school is cheaper than a private school curated according to specific tastes, interests, and affinities of any sort. And so on.
All of which suggests that shifts in the culture are cutting against the polarity sketched out by Reihan and Petrilli. Specifically, Reihan seems correct to observe that the typical crunchy con isn’t likely to be a small-government yuppie, but wrong to follow Petrilli in assuming that all ‘cosmopolitan’ lifestyle choices line up in the same way with certain economic indicators. The social mores of upwardly-mobile cosmopolitans, in short, have cultural valences with heavy political implications that their environmental mores simply don’t. There’s nothing about a commitment to individual-scale, family-scale, and even community-scale crunchiness, remember, that dooms a person to supporting cap and trade. Although technically there’s no reason a person living out liberal lifestyle choices of, say, a sexual variety has to translate their behavior into a political agenda, many such individuals do. This a trend I expect to continue.
The close link between ‘personal preference’ and politics is what’s loosening when it comes to crunchy or green ‘lifestyle choices’. Bundling socio-sexual and cruncho-environmental behavior under the same category of ‘lifestyle choices’ is increasingly misleading — suggesting that ‘lifestyle choice’ itself is increasingly an underspecified and euphemistic term that impedes, rather than facilitates, our ability to understand who we are today.