There are a couple of stories that I saw recently, in which a Republican threw the term “Marxist” when trying to smear their opponents. The first was a while back, where Rep. Allen West called the Progressive Caucus “communists.” More recently, Eric Hovde, who is running for the Senate in Wisconsin, called Representative Baldwin a Marxist. Besides not being correct, and demonstrating a complete cluelessness about communism in the first place, it’s a good indicator of who the Republican base really are: White people over the age of 40.
Why would I say that? I’m old enough that I grew up during the Cold War era. The fear that at any moment, the original “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union, would unleash nuclear armageddon. We all knew that their goal was to destoy us, or if not that, conquer us and turn us to their particular version of communism, also known as “Marxist-Leninist.”
But, if you were born after 1980, well, you have a different memory. The “big scary Soviets” are just a distant memory. “Communism” isn’t a scare word anymore, and while China is nominally communist, no one thinks they’re going to unleash nuclear armageddon on us, and, to be honest, they’re among our biggest trading partners/competitors. So the “fear” reaction that used to be be linked to the terms “Marxist,” “Communist” or even “Socialist” in my generation doesn’t have any resonance for the younger generation.
Throwing around the terms may help scare the Republican base, and get them to turn out to vote, but here’s the big problem for Republican candidates: The people that works on are getting older by the moment. The younger generation of voters has no idea of why it’s supposed to scare them. It’s an indicator that the Republicans have no idea of how to handle demographic change. Their message isn’t selling to the younger generation, because “what worked in the past” isn’t going to work now.
It’s the same thing when it comes to a host of other things they’ve been using to gin up their base. “Marriage equality,” “immigration,” and so on. It works when they’re playing to their base, the problem for them is that their base is shrinking. The “oooh, scary!” code words which were guaranteed to produce a reaction, don’t work with the newest generation, and the Republicans don’t seem to grasp that. It may work in the short term, but in the long term it’s a path to irrelevancy – and it couldn’t happen to a better group of people.