Thursday, September 23, 2004

Is the Right Outbreeding the Left?

Is the right outbreeding the left?
By Ellen Goodman, Globe Columnist | September 19, 2004

JUST THINK of all the time we wasted worrying about the culture gap, the
religious gap, the class gap, and even the gender gap. Now we are told that
the political future will rest in the fertility gap.

This is the latest bulletin from the demography-is-destiny crowd. The fate
of red and blue America will come down to who is filling those pink and blue
nurseries.

These tidings were brought to us recently by Phillip Longman, who worried in
The Washington Post that liberals aren't having enough little liberals:
"Conservative, religiously minded Americans are putting far more of their
genes into the future than their liberal, secular counterparts."

I never knew there was a conservative gene. If so, can it be tweaked? Is
that another reason to support stem cell research?

Longman went on to say, "When secular-minded Americans decide to have few,
if any, children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to
the other side of the culture divide." Imagine giving an evolutionary
advantage to folks who don't believe in evolution.

Longman is the author of "The Empty Cradle," a book warning that the empty
cradle won't be able to support a full rocking chair. But he isn't the only
one saying that the right is out-breeding the left.

James Pinkerton agreed archly in a recent Newsday column that "the left has
birth-controlled, aborted, and maybe also gay-libbed itself into a smaller
role in American society." Last winter, The Wall Street Journal's James
Taranto explained the "Roe effect": "It's almost a truism that women who
have abortions are more prochoice . . . so that if liberal women are having
abortions, the next generation will be more conservative." Apparently good
liberal women should give up their right to choose in order to protect it.

We now have a number of, um, fertile male minds from left, right, and
center -- talk about your strange wombmates -- agreeing that the political
future belongs to the fecund female.

This idea hinges on some numbers from 2000. High fertility states such as
Utah went red. Low fertility states such as Massachusetts went blue. As
Longman figured it, women in Gore states were having 12 percent fewer babies
than women in Bush states. Presumably that doesn't include Florida, where
the hanging chads were post-menopausal.

I confess to a certain weakness for statistics. I love to correlate things
like, say, sushi eating and support for the Global Warming Treaty. (I made
that up.) One of my all-time favorites was Pete du Pont's post-2000
correlation between porn-watchers and Gore voters. And what to make of the
fact that Bush won in most states with the highest percentage of teenage
mothers?

But I'm wary of numbers that may be, in the statisticians' terms "true,
true, but unrelated." We live in a world that's been through tremendous
technological and social change. The average woman in the world had 4.48
children in 1970 and has 2.69 now. Anyone who thinks that a low birth rate
produces a conservative takeover hasn't been to Italy lately.

I am even far more dubious of the claim that political labels are handed
down through the DNA or even around the dinner table. In our own swiftly
changing country, parents who dutifully plant one ideological seed get some
pretty different sprouts. Yet only Pinkerton suggested that persuasion could
be a match for procreation.

There's a long history of Americans worrying about right and wrong wombs.

A century ago, there was a nativist panic over the fact that the first
generation of college-educated women weren't reproducing while immigrants
were. Theodore Roosevelt was so worried that he put a line in his State of
the Union address accusing them of "willful sterility -- the one sin for
which the penalty is national death, race suicide." And that man was a
progressive.

But as immigrants went up the economic ladder, their fertility rates
dropped. Meanwhile, those college-educated women found other ways of
spreading the word and leaving a legacy. Anyone who thinks the first
generation of feminists lost the evolutionary struggle hasn't been watching
the Title IX soccer players.

Are we supposed to worry about right and left wombs? I hear a rather odd
echo in all this. Remember when liberals were told to be "Clean for Gene"?
(If so, you are beyond your reproducing years anyway.) Are women now
supposed to be Fertile for John?

In the last presidential election nearly 9 million women in those fertile
years between 18 and 25 didn't vote. Let's not worry about getting them to
the maternity wards. Let's just get them to the polling booths.