A year ago, Saint Leo University’s inaugural International Business Conference began with a speech by a fellow rumored to harbor White House ambitions. Covering the gamut from immigration to education to reviving America’s stagnant economy, Jeb Bush’s hourlong talk was in every way an important one.
When the second IBC kicked off Wednesday, a media personality who aspires only to living “an interesting life” might have done Florida’s former governor one better. In a seamless 50-minute talk delivered without prompts — if you don’t count Nicorette lozenges — Tucker Carlson, whose resume includes hosting “Firing Line” and competing in the ridiculous “Dancing With The Stars,” balanced humor against troubling facts to cut to the heart of what ails the nation someone — maybe Bush — will be summoned to treat. (Despite his best intentions — which Carlson took pains not to impugn — the current chief executive, he said, is not up to the task.)
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In short, Carlson sounded like everybody’s favorite college professor, which was appropriate, because he arrived looking the part: a startling abundance of unruly dark hair, sport coat, checked button-down shirt, nubby tie and tan narrow-wale cords that stopped above his loafers, as though he’d recently experienced a growing spurt.
By appearances you’d never guess he works weekends as an anchor on “Fox & Friends,” or that he is the editor-in-chief of the lively DailyCaller.com, sometimes billed as the conservative alternative to the Huffington Post. OK, maybe the second one you would figure on. But, for a professor/editor, the guy is a regular mold-breaker.
“I’m literally this close to stockpiling food and weapons and moving to Idaho,” he said by way of self-introduction, explaining his political bent. “You are welcome to join me in my compound in Coeur d’Alene when this is over.” He was joking. We think.
After all, this is a man who has concluded his countrymen no longer embrace the twin pillars of the American ideal: Free market capitalism and liberal (small “d”) democracy. “We have entered a head-spinning, bewildering moment,” Carlson said. “Americans no longer know what works, and they don’t know what to believe.”
Yes, the United States known and beloved by traditionalists not only is changing, Carlson said, but is doing so at a rate that is both breathtaking and accelerating, with culture taking the whip hand.
For instance, for the first time in American history, the number of single adult women outnumbers married women. This is significant because single women vote differently than married women, and those votes skew heavily toward candidates who promise a broad range of government activism.
Moreover, the percentage of foreign-born citizens is near historic highs, and they tend to vote in lockstep with single women. Carlson noted that of all the designated immigrant groups, Mitt Romney carried just one — Cuban-Americans — and even then prevailed only by an eyelash as U.S.-born Cuban-Americans rejected their parents’ abiding devotion to the GOP.
It’s not just other Latino-Americans, either. South Asians and immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, despite almost preternatural financial success, twice voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.
We’ve even lost faith in faith. Twenty years ago when he was a newspaperman in Arkansas, there were five atheists in the entire state, and “they were all in the witness protection program.” In November 2012, exit polls indicated 20 percent of voters were “without religion.”
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So there’s that. Democrats have figured out how to tap into those groups’ anxieties and aspirations, and Republicans have managed only to throw off the impression that they are hostile to them. That’s a problem for the GOP, Carlson said, because, in an instant of revealed truth during a cross-country flight, James Carville, the longtime Democratic operative and Carlson’s friend, said, “If people think you hate them, they won’t vote for you.”
The larger problem, Carlson said, was reflected in that epiphanic “47 percent” moment with donors in Boca Raton during the 2012 campaign, in which Romney was both ineloquent and inaccurate. Let’s grant the speaker the former, but his latter claim — those not paying income tax is closer to 51 percent — also is not entirely on the button. In fact, the number fluctuates within a handful of points year by year. It was 51 percent in 2009; as the Great Recession slowly abated and certain tax credits expired, it dipped to 43 percent in 2012.
But here, he said, was the greatest threat to America’s essential worth. Owners take care of things. They feel invested. “Nobody changes the oil in a rental car,” he said, “and renters don’t take care of the places where they live. Why should we?”
The danger, then, is figuring out how to make the republic envisioned by the Founders work when, at any moment, close to half the potential voters are, essentially, tenants of the country. And, worse, have figured out they can vote themselves favors from their landlords.
For this conundrum, the good visiting professor had no easy solutions. Maybe the next guy, or gal, who occupies the Oval Office can figure it out. Whoever it is, the next President can’t say he/she wasn’t warned.