Peak Pale

by John Holbo on December 13, 2012

It seems to me that, just as ‘peak oil’ refers to the “the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline,” so ‘peak pale’ ought to refer to the point in time when the maximum relative rate of white vote extraction is reached by the GOP, after which the party’s rate of election is expected to enter terminal decline. (So it isn’t that we’ve ‘run out of’ whites – not exactly. Let’s be precise about this, shall we?)

I am not sure how this relates, if at all, to my previous post.



js. 12.13.12 at 4:30 am

This recent Gary Younge piece is relevant I think. He argues that exploiting white resentment and hard-core social conservatism more generally was nothing more than tactical for the Republicans, and that rumors of the demise of the Republican party are greatly exaggerated (roughly). I’m inclined to agree with this, though I can’t help but think that the transition’s got to be a lot harder than Younge makes it seem.


Glen Tomkins 12.13.12 at 4:51 am

Peak oil and peak pale are both expressed in terms of the supply of a commodity, but they are really both important only compared to demand.

We only produce more and more oil every year because the demand for it has kept going up. But should demand peak as well, earlier or at the same time as production reaches a peak imposed by the limits of its supply in nature, then peak oil production won’t mark an important inflection in the price curve. And demand, of course, would peak either because demand for energy peaks, or, more likely, other energy sources increase their market share and displace oil.

Similarly, the Rs will only meet their Waterloo at peak pale to the extent that they cannot do one of two things — reduce their dependence on the white vote by increasing their share of non-white voting groups, or reduce the total electorate so that even the dwindling supply of aging white male voters can still dominate within a voting pool that is shrinking faster than the supply of aging white males.

Practically speaking, they can’t have a mixed strategy — do a little of both — because getting more minority votes requires being nice to Hispanics, laying off the AZ-style immigrant paranoia, but that means expanding the electorate, not shrinking it, because creating a path to citizenship for the undocumented is an important component of laying off the anti-immigrant paranoia, but creates tons of new voters.

They have to pick one strategy or the other, but the being nice to immigrants strategy, even if they could get their True Believers to go along with it, is probably not practical. After a season of being racist-tinged nasty, it’s hard to regain ground, especially when the Ds are out there competing for Hispanic votes and not burdened by a legacy of recent nastiness. The Rs are probably already committed to trying for Plan B, shrinking the electorate. Perhaps Voter ID was just a warm-up, a play to get SCOTUS to define for them what it will tolerate in terms of voter suppression for the next cycle, when they will bring out their serious voter suppression schemes.

Let’s not overestimate the Rs. Perhaps their goose is just cooked. They made a dumb mistake a generation ago to overinvest in pale voters. While that let them win elections in the short term, the demographic tide has now started to roll in and they wont be able to adjust when peak pale hits, so they’re doomed.

But let’s not underestimate them either. They have their backs to the wall, they have no choice but try to shoot the moon and reinstate a new, improved, big tent Jim Crow that keeps multiple races from voting, and not just blacks. US federalism, which leaves voter qualification in state hands, gives them a potential means to that end. They’ve got state control right now even in many places that vote blue nationally. They’ve got the SCOTUS majority to run legal interference for them. They either act now, and dramatically, or they face a generation in the political wilderness. Maybe they’ll be too timid to try, maybe they’ll flub it on trying — but maybe they won’t.


ponce 12.13.12 at 7:15 am

Only 57% of elligible voters voted in the recent election.

That’s a pretty big untapped reserve of pale.


faustusnotes 12.13.12 at 7:17 am

perhaps ponce, but the cost of accessing those reserves may be prohibitive. Just like peak oil …

perhaps some sort of electoral fracking is in order.


jte 12.13.12 at 7:47 am

Votes aren’t fungible resources like oil, so this may be a bit different. The benefits of dominating the COWGV (Crazy Old White Guy Vote) are definitely diminishing for the GOP in national elections, but it’s still paying healthy dividends on the state and local level: Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures (and hence, Congressional districts which are drawn by state legislatures in most states) by a rather hefty margin these days and, as we saw in Michigan yesterday, can still impose pretty conservative policies in states that voted for Obama. It’s about turnout as much as demographics: younger and minority voters tend not to vote in local and midterm elections, which means that Republicans have a stark choice: do they continue focusing on turning out the COWGV at the state and local level and pretty much give up on being a national party, or do they attempt to move back to the center and cede some ground to the Dems in local elections? Dems have to figure out how to contest county, state, and congressional elections better, if only to force Republicans to put up fewer truly insane candidates like Todd Akin or Allen West. There are not very many prominent, rising Democrats out there right now at the state level across the country — a worrisome trend for 2016.


John Quiggin 12.13.12 at 7:47 am

The standard rebuttal to peak oil is that users will turn to less satisfactory substitutes. The Repub idea is that Hispanics will provide the “pale enough” alternative energy, once they can get over the immigration problem.

But I think there is a much bigger problem, which ponce gets backwards. Looking at the House of Reps election, the only one they’ve won for some time, the Repubs

* won a majority of seats with a minority of votes cast
* did better among actual voters than their support among registered voters would suggest
* do better with registered voters than their support among US citizens would suggest
* do better among US citizens than among US residents
* do better among US residents than among people in the world

So, changes in voting laws, citizenship policy and immigration could easily put them into a death-spiral. Of course, that assumes that Dems act as ruthlessly as Reps, which seems unlikely.


bad Jim 12.13.12 at 10:09 am

The problem for the Republicans is that the electorate is not only becoming less white, it’s becoming less godly. The nation is 20% “none” already. The upwardly mobile Asian population is 26% “none”, and strongly turned off by Republican racism. Young people are turned off by both their racism and their sexism.

The Southern Strategy was a deal with the devil. It delivered Republican presidencies in the 70’s and 80’s and keeps the party nearly competitive even now, tapping the geothermal resource of rage and resentment in the South and its diaspora, but its effluence is proving toxic to youth and the immigrant hordes.

States legalizing marijuana and gay marriage share borders with states criminalizing abortion and mandating the teaching of creationism and abstinence. It’s not hard to predict the final result, and anyone pessimistic about the timing ought to consider how rapidly gay marriage has come to be accepted as not merely tolerable but obviously desirable.


hix 12.13.12 at 11:54 am

Make fun of Republicans all you want, wont get any better with a structural majority for Demorats based on ethnical cleavages (or religious ones).


Alex 12.13.12 at 1:00 pm

“It’s not the end of pale, it’s the end of *cheap* pale”?

Only 57% of elligible voters voted in the recent election.

Do we have crossbreaks for the nonvoting population? It strikes me that they have relied for some time on upping the mobilisation level of their core vote (enhanced voter recovery?)


Glen Tomkins 12.13.12 at 1:03 pm


That’s the worst of all for the Rs. The ethnical cleavages you mention exist as a living reality entirely in the minds of their racists, and in the rest of us mainly as a fossil remnant of the time when racism was the accepted norm. Blacks, Hipanics, Asians and non-racist whites get along just fine together, because to us, these are just words, arbitrary categories that don’t connote actually distinct groups with competing interests.

Sure, the Rs are always warning us that we are stirring up racial and ethnic divisions, just as we are inciting class warfare, and attacking the religious views of the fundies, etc. Our success would end badly for this country, because a house divided cannot stand, or some such. But that’s all projection. Religion provides the clearest illustration. Most of us who believe do not feel that our beliefs are the least threatened when they are not forced on others, when they are not universally held. The Rs seem to attract the minority of believers who hold to the opposite, that true religion must force itself on the unbeliever, at least to some extent. They can’t help but project their own will to power on us, so they hallucinate such a thing as “secular humanism” as a competing intolerant religion bent on forcing secular humanist beliefs, whatever those might be, on them. They can’t help but hallucinate a “gay agenda” to explain everything that annoys or frightens them in a society that is backing away from persecuting gays.


bob mcmanus 12.13.12 at 1:44 pm

We used to sacrifice racial equality to economic causes, by bribing the bigots.

We now sacrifice economic equality by co-opting UMC ethnic elites, and toss the white bigots.

We get rich powerful blacks, rich powerful women, rich powerful Hispanics and…

Massive black male unemployment and prison population, a two-tiered society, stagnation without end, disappearing middle-class, declining lifespan for poor white women…

And we are very proud of ourselves.


Main Street Muse 12.13.12 at 1:55 pm

You are confusing me! I thought we couldn’t say what color our skin was… ;-)

If we are in peak pale, does this mean we may get real, non-extremist GOP candidates to consider? Will the GOP – with no regrets – move out of Obamaville, located in the heartland of Amercia? Come back to America, GOP! Land of the free and home to diversity…

[Totally as an aside, I just re-read Royko’s “Boss” which gives a phenomenal glimpse into the color-coded politics of Chicago’s toughest boss.]


Glen Tomkins 12.13.12 at 2:23 pm

States are only a temporary refuge from the demographic tide. Because of the lower turnout in state elections among the young, poor and non-white, the effect of the tide is delayed, but not eliminated.

Results may vary from state to state, but here in VA, someone has looked at the demographics of federal vs state elections, crunched the numbers and come up with a time line. This state is probably lost already to the Rs in presidential years, has a couple of more cycles in which the Rs are still competitive in federal mid-terms, and many years in which they still dominate state elections. But the downward slope is similar for all the curves, the only difference being the higher starting baseline for their side the less federal the election.

The only point in this that I would concede is that the longer timeline for the demographic tide to sweep state elections does give the Rs more time to adjust, more time to back off racism, and so might make that approach doable for them. But the result will eventually be the same at the state level if they don’t use that extra time backing off racism.


coulter 12.13.12 at 2:31 pm

“Blacks, Hipanics, Asians and non-racist whites get along just fine together, because to us, these are just words, arbitrary categories that don’t connote actually distinct groups with competing interests.”

You don’t do much in Chicago or LA city politics I gather?


mpowell 12.13.12 at 4:12 pm

I think Glen has the basic right of it. My take is that the next 10 years will be pretty high leverage years in a political sense. The tail risk here is a South Africa like apartheid regime developing. It would probably be self-perpetuating in a similar fashion.


Chris Williams 12.13.12 at 4:20 pm

But to get enhanced voter recovery, you need to increase your intensity of effort per vote – and you often have to pump down some pretty toxic stuff to get it out, which is liable to ooze back up to the surface and cause other, worse, problems in the long run.

OK, I think I’ve got to the metaphor shear point now.


Anderson 12.13.12 at 4:34 pm

Oh thank god, I was afraid that world production of pale ale was reaching some kind of inexorable limit.


soru 12.13.12 at 4:46 pm

‘Peak bitter’ might work better as a phrase anyway.


Ragweed 12.13.12 at 6:43 pm

The last few comments have a point. “Peak pale” seems too mild – “peak bitter” may be a better term, though it gets us into a pint of confusion.

either way, this talk of pale gets us dangerously close to a pint of mild and bitters.


Slocum 12.13.12 at 7:11 pm

Peak Spite?


Daniel 12.13.12 at 8:55 pm

>>> Blacks, Hipanics, Asians and non-racist whites get along just fine together…

Live in Los Angeles for a little bit. You may reconsider that opinion.


Anderson 12.13.12 at 10:46 pm

“Live in Los Angeles for a little bit. You may reconsider that opinion.”

Not to mention discovering the existence of racist blacks, racist Hispanics, and racist Asians. They do exist, believe it or not.


chris 12.13.12 at 11:41 pm

So, changes in voting laws, citizenship policy and immigration could easily put them into a death-spiral. Of course, that assumes that Dems act as ruthlessly as Reps, which seems unlikely.

I don’t think that’s a necessary assumption. Restricting voting or citizenship for political gain requires ruthlessness (or a sincere belief that the people being restricted are less worthy of exercising those rights), but *expanding* those rights can be a completely principled stance that doesn’t require that Democrats consider the political consequences at all.

Of course, if they do, that’s just more incentive to do it.

Ultimately, though, immigration laws are a sideshow — if the Republicans can’t touch the _jus soli_ and the 14th amendment, the tide of immigrant potential-voters-if-they-get-a-path-to-citizenship will be followed by an even bigger tide of _American-born_ potential voters.

The short term may be fairly unpleasant, though.


shah8 12.14.12 at 12:16 am

1) I understood this in 2005, right or wrong: To the extent that peak oil mattered, it mattered because oil is the base of the political economy of the modern nation state, and that most of the means of control elites have over the state is related to oil consumption, one way or another. That variety of oil consumption, classically viewed through things like generous fuel subsidies in various third world countries, is hurt at the margins the most because of the direct impact of foreign exchange for the national central bank (or high indebtedness from increased cost of infrastructure building). In places like Jordan (and Syria earlier, for that matter), the reduction of said subsidies without commensurate compensation elsewheres or at least greater economic freedom (ability to go into business, anti-monopoly actions in import-export/telecom, etc) has led to loss of legitimacy and greater questioning of disparate policies initially unquestioned.

2) Gary Young is wrong, in the sense that he underestimates how jealous the teahadist are to competing policy initiatives in any queue. He only needs to inspect the events in the Rust Belts and their MiniMussolini governerships. If he does that, he will understand that he fundamentally flattens the landscape of the billionaire population’s metaphysics. There are plenty of very rich people who are entirely committed to various crazy conservative memes, and who also benefit from a strong return simply by leading a political faction, never mind control of the legislature/governorship. Think the DeVos family, or how things are done in Russia and some of her former satellite states.

3) It is always quite interesting just how fast certain white people are to claim the racism of other groups of people. Nobody but white men have state sanction for racist policies. E.g. Of course black NFL players are often racist about who they’d rather play for and about many other things, but white quarterbacks, as a direct result of unstated NFL policies, are the ones who are generally allowed to have lengthy starting careers longer than four or five years. Get my drift?


Anderson 12.14.12 at 2:43 pm

How exactly is racism in the NFL a matter of “state sanction”?


purple 12.15.12 at 5:48 am

In a two party system, it’s pretty easy to shift tactics. The Republicans will do the same.


purple 12.15.12 at 5:51 am

Of course black NFL players are often racist about who they’d rather play for and about many other things, but white quarterbacks, as a direct result of unstated NFL policies, are the ones who are generally allowed to have lengthy starting careers longer than four or five years. Get my drift?

No, I don’t. And I doubt you do either. If you can find some correlation of this by looking at: quarterback ratings/time “allowed” to play , then you would be on firmer ground.

As it is, you’re merely spouting bromides.


Jeffrey Davis 12.17.12 at 6:43 pm

One temporizing Rx for the GOP: selectively changing the way the electoral votes of states are cast.

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