Times Columnist David Brooks Reflects Upon Election 2012

November 16, 2012
by Doug Gavel, Harvard Kennedy School Communications

New York Times columnist David Brooks reflected upon the changing nature of the American political landscape during the annual Theodore H. White Lecture delivered Thursday night (Nov. 15) at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

"The big takeaway from the election was that it marks a social transition," Brooks said. "The 2012 election was a shift from one demographic picture of America to another," Brooks said, noting the significant levels of support President Obama and Democrats received from young people and ethnic minorities.

Brooks also noted how the shifting family structure in America is affecting campaigns and elections. The traditional two-parent two-child family model is becoming less prominent he pointed out, as 28 percent of Americans now live alone.

"Now there are more households in America with dogs than there are with kids," Brooks commented. "This translates into [changing] political alliances."

Public support for the Republican Party is also being eroded, Brooks argued, by what he called the "end of the rising tide era," in which people within all socioeconomic classes would benefit when the economy was doing well. "I think a lot of Americans no longer believe that -- with good reason," he said.

Brooks argued that Mitt Romney ran a "pretty decent" campaign, but that his presidential aspirations were compromised by the GOP's inability to grasp the significance of the nation's changing demographics. "At a moment of historical transition...the Republicans got caught on the wrong side of these trends," he said.

For the party to improve its standing, Brooks said, Republicans must begin nominating stronger candidates, speaking to Latino voters, arrive at consensus on immigration policy, and better frame the argument around economic values.

"It's a big mistake to make big government the opposite of small government, and that is the core debate, because for a lot people some parts of government are good, and some are not," he said. "To me it's about the Republican Party being the party of creative destruction, of social mobility, of anything that will get people to work harder, and making the Democrats the party of economic security and equality. That's a normal debate to have."

Brooks' lecture was co-sponsored by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The program was moderated by Shorenstein Center Director Alex Jones, who earlier in the evening presented the annual David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism to Cynthia Tucker, the acclaimed columnist with Universal Press Syndicate.

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David Brook at a podium

David Brooks, New York Times columnist

"The 2012 election was a shift from one demographic picture of America to another," Brooks said.