H. Brandt Ayers: Turning of the seniors — Low rumble of disaffection should worry GOP leaders
Aug 18, 2013 | 5867 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Talking to audiences on a book tour in three North Carolina cities offers surprises — for instance, my first serious girlfriend showed up in Asheville. The crowds were uniformly older and varied in party and ideology.

Fortunately for me, there wasn’t a repeat of the scary experience at the Carter Center, which launched the tour …

On entering the hall I saw there was a fairly high stage, which to my horror had no steps. There was a box on the floor at the center of the stage that the director mounted and sprang up on the stage. Not being of springing age or inclination, I just stared at the box.

Eventually, with minimum grace, a kind soul-pushing from behind and the director pulling from the stage, I was hoisted from box to stage where I turned to the audience and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed the most exciting part of the program.”

Spontaneous laughter told me the audience was on my side. The lecture and question period went well and I signed a good many books that members of the audience bought at the Center’s store.

At the Blowing Rock Country Club, the organizer of the summer series of lectures pondered how receptive the 99.9 percent conservative and Republican members would be for a book whose subtitle is: The Making of a Southern Liberal.

Dr. Bill Mullis, the very nice volunteer organizer, scoured the club’s membership list and found six people whom he thought were Democrats and put them in the front row to give comfort to the speaker.

As it turned out, the gesture wasn’t necessary, the crowd was as attentive as any of the other venues. There were no hostile questions; indeed, serious questions probed the reactionary actions of the North Carolina Legislature and the future of the Republican Party.

Not that all of the critical questions and comments were political or partisan — the Democratic Party did not rate a single mention — but there was an undertow of concern about the direction of the GOP.

The absence of young people in any of the audiences meant that the lectures were about times and major figures associated with those times. These people remembered personally rather than abstractly.

It also meant that this population group remembered the relatively sunny Grand Old Party of Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush I, not the quarrelsome and insistently negative present-day party.

Recent polls bear out the concern registered in three North Carolina venues. When the party took over the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, seniors had a 43 percent favorable opinion of the body. Last month the number was 28 percent, and of all voters a mere 8 percent viewed the House warmly.

Seniors think favorably of Obamacare by 66 percent, 55 percent believe the party is too extreme and 52 percent say the party is dividing the country.

Actions such as the North Carolina Republican Legislature eliminating from voter rolls thousands of previously franchised voters who were less likely to have a driver’s license or passport and who are more likely to vote Democratic are not viewed as prudent and fair, even by seniors.

Similarly, immigration legislation passed by Southern Republican Legislatures that were aimed at a nationality, Hispanic, instead of any definable problem make the party seem “mean-spirited” in the words of a woman of a certain age in the audience at Highlands.

Another older woman who came up to me before the lecture in Highlands said that her grandfather had been Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration.

When asked where are the Eisenhower Republicans now, she replied by mutely shaking her head.

So far it has been a pleasure to reminisce with people who remember the past 50 years and to listen to their experiences of the time, but the low rumble of disaffection with the modern GOP among seniors ought to worry party elders.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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