Is this what the tea party is all about? Not so much sprawling government programs, although that is a part of it, and not even so much the spending that supports them, though that, too, is part of it. But perhaps the larger issue, as playing out in Colorado, is at once more ephemeral and more fundamental: a feeling that life, as tea partyers know it, is slipping away.
In Weld County, Colo., Commissioner Sean Conway is pushing to allow his county and 10 other rural counties to secede and form the nation’s 51st state. The reason: The state’s changing demographics is leading to changes that challenge some long-held ideas of what is normal.
Specifically, Conway cites new restrictions on gun ownership, energy policies that increase costs to farmers and public approval of a measure allowing recreational use of marijuana. “The state I love, as a third-generation Coloradan, has really left me,” he said.
For those reasons, voters in 11 rural counties in Colorado can vote on Election Day for a non-binding referendum on secession.
The pain, we suspect, is real. There might even be a quotient of fear in the mix. Similar issues may be at play in other red, or reddish, states. Same-sex marriage has suddenly come roaring down the tracks – as unstoppable as it is inevitable.
Even those who acknowledge the fairness of it can, on reflection, understand that many socially conservative Americans would perceive that as a threat like none other. It turns upside down standards they understood as inviolate, challenging fundamental beliefs about the nature of life in the United States.
The most severe reactions are generally occurring in the old Confederacy, which is also the Bible Belt. It’s where many of the laws on voter identification are concentrated. Whatever the claims of those states, the clear purpose is to diminish the voting strength of minorities and poor residents, who tend to vote Democratic.
Some of that may be raw politics of the sort that both parties practice, but if it is not specifically driven by the sense that the world is changing too quickly, it surely draws support from that fear.
The plain fact is that the country is changing, and nothing will stop it. To most young Americans, same-sex marriage is about as threatening as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a nonissue.
What is more, minorities are becoming an ever-larger force in the nation’s politics. Those who support voter ID laws in an effort to weaken their influence – that is, the Republican Party – will ultimately pay a heavy price. They should be wooing those voters, not working to sideline them.
Those changes are taking place in Sean Conway’s Colorado. Young professionals have flocked to Denver, changing voting patterns. The state’s Hispanic population has increased 40 percent since 2000. More change.
The phenomenon is playing out nationally, too. President Obama, an African-American twice elected to the nation’s highest office, won almost 60 percent of voters ages 18 to 39, and 55 percent of women.
The change is upon us. Minority voting strength will only grow and unless Republicans change their tune, they will lose more and more of them to the Democrats.
The tea party wants nothing to do with changing. It may be easy to understand the source of its members’ fears, but it’s just as easy to see that, ultimately, it leads nowhere.