TCS Daily

Do South Park Republicans Exist?

By Stephen W. Stanton - December 5, 2003 12:00 AM

A while back, I penned an article on South Park Republicans. Some influential pundits chimed in on the concept, including Andrew Sullivan who first coined the phrase.


Recently others joined in the discussion of this newly identified amorphous voting bloc. John Leo of U.S. News and World Report and the City Journal's Brian C. Anderson described the same phenomenon: A new generation of Republican voters has shattered the stodgy conservative stereotype and made their own mark on pop culture and the media. These and other writers note that right-leaning humor has become wildly popular, and they identified the same cartoon exemplar of this movement, South Park.


Do South Park Republicans Exist?


But other pundits believe there is no such thing as a South Park Republican. The National Review's Jonah Goldberg wrote, "I don't know that you can extrapolate from the fact that some Republican kids like South Park that, therefore, there's any such thing as a unifying set of beliefs among them."


I, for one, made no such extrapolation. I specifically wrote "There is no single 'South Park Republican' platform. They have different views on drugs, guns, abortion and Social Security."


Goldberg continues his criticism: "After all, there are plenty of Democrats who like South Park too (and libertarians and paleocons and neocons and Fabian Socialists)."


Again, Goldberg seems to me a bit off the mark. I do not contest the fact that some lefties like the cartoon. South Park Republicans, as I define them, are the other folks (not the lefties). I wrote, "Voting Republican is one of the group's two defining characteristics. The other defining characteristic is a visible disconnect from the stereotypical Republican."


The cartoon is just a metaphor. Many "South Park Republicans" have never seen the cartoon. Maybe some are fans of the X-Men movies (which make a strong case for Second Amendment rights, limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility). Other would-be Republicans do not watch TV at all; they may spend more time reading about lopsided labia than balanced budgets. (Cosmopolitan gets more subscribers than the Weekly Standard, after all.)


Regardless, these individuals are still "South Park Republicans" in my book, just as thousands of "soccer moms" have children who play baseball, football or hockey instead of the world's most popular sport.


Maxim Republicans


Lost in the debate over whether or not SPRs exist and to what extent they are politically relevant is an important and telling irony: Most South Park Republicans would have no idea there is a debate about them. They spend their lives outside the incestuous circles of punditry. We cannot further our understanding of them by quoting members of the political chattering classes.


The guy I ought to quote instead is Keith Blanchard, editor in chief of Maxim. Over 3.4 million copies of his magazine are printed every month, and most of them go to folks more familiar with Bill Goldberg, the wrestler, than Jonah, the writer. I doubt even Blanchard himself knows what a "Fabian Socialist" is.


Be forewarned, Blanchard's quotes contain some pretty coarse language. If you cannot get past the vulgarity to focus on the points raised, then you are definitely NOT a South Park Republican. In fact, your delicate sensibilities might put you out of touch with the people who might pick your president for the next few decades.


Blanchard sums up California's situation pretty well, "the state's hemorrhaging a $38 billion deficit. And all because some sorry assholes can't shake the compulsion to shake other people's behavior." Blanchard continues,


"In New York, you can't even smoke in bars now. We citizens definitely don't challenge this crap enough. In the '60s we'd have been out in the streets handcuffing ourselves to strippers and brazenly smoking from every orifice. But because we don't fight back, anti-vice legislation remains the low hanging fruit for uninspired politicians. So let's do something! Oh, wait -- South Park is on."


Now, I am not saying that Maxim magazine speaks for the majority of Americans (nor does a certain cartoon). However, it probably reflects the thinking of a few million influential swing voters. You might find very similar sentiments among readers of FHM, Stuff, Razor and the more revealing publications like Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. Don't forget Cosmo (not Jonah's dog).


Blanchard's crude remarks reveal a sublime insight: People who have little use for government will generally devote very little of their attention to public policy issues. Millions of people are frustrated at the incompetence, encroachment and cost of government. But they have their own lives to consider: their careers, their families, their health, their hobbies, and yes, their cartoons. They do not feel compelled to spend more time, effort and money in a crusade against overreaching government policies (especially because for many, their primary objection to these policies stems from the time, effort and money the government requires of them.)


They are just Average Joes who go about their daily lives. Most of them will never read anything by Goldberg, Sullivan, or me. They have neither the time nor the inclination to help reshape the priorities of a major political party (and they certainly have more rewarding things to do than devoting resources to an inconsequential Libertarian party).


Their political involvement consists primarily of a trip to the voting booth every year (or four) to choose the least of all evils on the ballot. Fortunately for Dubya, Arnie, and the majority of Congressional districts since 1994, the GOP has seemed an attractive choice lately for many on the fence. Hence, these voters are South Park "Republicans"... For now.


What's at Stake?


The GOP's hold on South Park Republicans could quickly fade. Their vote is clearly up for grabs. You never know what might be the straw that breaks SPR backs, between GOP spending hikes, tariffs, anti-smoking legislation, and the specter of "conservative" laws that might compromise privacy and liberty.


After all, Democrats could start making more sense (free trade, fiscal discipline, libertarian social policy), and Republicans could start making less (anti-vice legislation, federal marriage amendment, nationalizing healthcare under the guise of Medicare "reform"). A party can only remain the lesser of to evils so long as the other remains worse. A certain former First Lady just spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan saying some sensible things that might raise the bar much higher for the GOP in 2008.


The Republicans must stitch together a tent big enough to house social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, moderate libertarians, and centrist refugees from an increasingly radical Democratic party. The Republicans can't maintain the majority without the South Park Republicans; and they can't keep the South Park Republicans by pretending they don't exist.


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