TCS Daily

South Park Rising

By Stephen W. Stanton - November 14, 2002 12:00 AM

A recent column titled "South Park Republicans" challenged conservative stereotypes by suggesting that a many Republican voters are more inclined to watch Comedy Central than the Christian Broadcasting Network. The piece struck a chord. Actually, it struck several. You can read the reaction for yourself by doing a Google search for "South Park Republicans." Responses range from enthusiastic support to outright ridicule.

A few clarifications are in order. First, not all viewers of "South Park" are Republicans. Certainly, not all of Barbara Streisand's listeners are steadfast Democrats. And the concept of South Park Republicans is not new. Back in 2000, an article was published detailing The Inherent Conservatism of "South Park". The term "South Park Republicans" was first coined by Andrew Sullivan.

Some readers rightly noted that there is not necessarily a dichotomy between South Park Republicans and the Christian right. According to the official South Park website, "members of the Christian right have condemned the show for being bad for practically anyone who wants to go to heaven." However, many Christian conservatives agree with their more secular brethren on the issues of smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and personal responsibility. Indeed, many conservative Christians responded favorably to the article. One reader began her supportive email, "As a twenty-something, conservative, Christian who appreciates the humor of South Park..."

Many readers tried to debunk the existence of South Park Republicans based on a simple equation: Republican minus religion equals libertarian (they insist on a lowercase "L"). The logic is reminiscent of those demanding that "Jews for Jesus" call themselves plain old Christians. (Too many "J" words, evidently.) More importantly, not all South Park Republicans are libertarians. There is no single "South Park Republican" platform. They have different views on drugs, guns, abortion and Social Security. In addition, South Park Republicans are not uppercase Libertarians for one simple reason. They vote for Republicans. In fact, voting Republican is one of the group's two defining characteristics.

The other defining characteristic is a visible disconnect from the stereotypical Republican, an affluent, religious, white, male, moralist. In contrast, South Park Republicans can be any age, any color and any religion. Unlike archetypal Christian conservatives, they do not find much of modern pop culture offensive. In fact, they love it. They enjoy the non-Christian mysticism of Star Wars, the acrobatic violence of Jackie Chan, and the comedic vulgarity of Chris Tucker. The Christian right observes pop culture. South Park Republicans live pop culture, invoking movie quotes in casual conversation far more often than the Lord's name.

In this respect, South Park Republicans are a far cry from Rod Dreher's "granola conservatives." Dreher, who writes for the conservative National Review, admits that he has "a disdain for, or at least a healthy suspicion of, mass culture." South Park Republicans do not disdain mass culture because they are mass culture. Sure, some SPR's eat free-range chicken and organic vegetables like Dreher, but as a group, they are more likely to eat at Taco Bell. To the extent there is an overlap at all, granola conservatives represent a small fraction of South Park Republicans.

Different South Park Republicans often describe themselves as conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, pragmatists, constitutionalists, or "just your average Joe." However, when election day comes around, they all generally vote for Republican candidates. But their vote must be earned. They are idealists, perhaps even pragmatists, but not party loyalists. In fact, the creators of the South Park TV show brutally satirized the current president in their short-lived series, "That's My Bush."

What's Under the Tent?

South Park Republicans each vote Republican for their own reasons. Some agree with every plank in the party's platform, in spite of having a nose ring and purple mohawk. However, most view Republicans as the lesser of two evils. Due to the quirks of our electoral system, candidates require a plurality to win, not a majority. If Libertarians wrested away half of the Republican votes in every major election, Democrats would hold nearly every seat in Congress. South Park Republicans want to avoid that, even if it means voting for Republicans when third party candidates may better reflect their views.

Democrats are keenly aware of electoral calculus. Long ago, they assembled an unlikely coalition to exploit it. For decades, Democrats have held their multifaceted party together with tape and glue. Today, former Klansman and current Senator Robert Byrd is in the same party as African-American Georgia Rep. Billy McKinney, who blamed his daughter's congressional defeat on a Jewish plot, though he did not mention Jewish Democrats by name, such as former Democratic VP candidate Joe Lieberman. Democrats hold together environmentalists protesting big oil in the same party as the union auto workers who depend on cheap oil and even the trial lawyers that skim 30% from whichever side wins. The Democrats have room for almost everybody in their big tent.

When you lift the flap to peek inside, who will you see in the Republican tent? After looking at the ad hoc membership of the left, it becomes easy to accept the South Park crowd as a viable Republican caucus, numerically dwarfing other factions such as, say, the Log Cabin Republicans. Of course, with congressional control and a sitting president, there must be far more people - and far greater diversity - in the Republican party than Hollywood might have you believe. Hilary Clinton got it half right: The right wing is truly vast, encompassing a vibrant and diverse base holding many different priorities. However, there is no conspiracy; the party is not monolithic.

In fact, the party is evolving rapidly. The newest and youngest members do not look, act, or think like the old guard. Generation X grew up with computers and cable TV. They entered the workforce at the same time as the Internet and embrace technology. They access the information and entertainment they want when they want it. They are individualists, with little patience for censorship or prejudice. Generation Y grew up even later, after political correctness had already firmly taken root. They now rebel against the very institutions, such as racial quotas, that were put in place by the progressives who fought the conservatism of the '60s.

Yet voters continue to see the same gray-haired faces representing the Republican party, in the same suits, with familiar priorities. But that will not last. Political parties are dynamic and they evolve. The South Park Republicans represent a large and growing caucus, espousing many of the party's core ideals, though rejecting the intolerance and censorship of certain religious elements.

South Park Republicans are very real and candidates should listen. Within two days of publication, the previous column generated email from many self-described South Park Republicans. They included a middle aged mother who finds the TV show tasteless, an economics professor, a blue collar worker, an old Truman Democrat, a naval veteran, a home-schooled teen, several Log Cabin Republicans, a tax lawyer, and a 31 year old, Jewish, mink-coat wearing, politically incorrect woman.

The Republican party cannot hold its current majority without this increasingly powerful caucus. The party can continue to adapt and prevail, or splinter and lose. The great thing about big tents is that they are portable. The Republicans of the future do not have to set up the big tent on the same exact political turf of yesteryear.



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