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'Crossfire' Co-Hosts Come to Consensus at SHRM Legislative Conference
 

By Christina Folz  3/17/2014
 

For two men known to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson seemed to find more to agree about than to clash over when they delivered their keynote presentation at the Society for Human Resource Management's 2014 Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 17.

Begala and Carlson, who co-hosted the "Crossfire" debate series on CNN representing the political left and right, respectively, each expressed a deep respect for human resource professionals and cited recent demographic shifts that have driven profound changes in the political landscape—and modern workforce—over the past decade.

Noting serious fractures within both parties and a mutual unwillingness to compromise, neither man felt that the politics of the moment could be characterized as business as usual.

“It’s crazy town,” said Carlson. “We will look back and say that something really basic changed in 2008, concurrent with the recession and perhaps because of it.” However, the outlines of that transformation are not clear to us because we’re in the middle of it, he said.

“I don’t know that this is the most polarized we’ve ever been,” Begala said, “but it is the most paralyzed.” He said that's because constituents are not rewarding politicians for compromising; in fact, many senators who have cooperated with the other party, such as Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., have been ousted for doing so.

“Politicians will respond to what we reward,” Begala said. “You know this in HR. We are rewarding intransigence and gridlock. That’s why your being here is so important.”

Political Teeter-Totter
Both commentators described a political climate that is teeter-tottering between the two parties, with Republicans tending to take the midterm elections and Democrats winning the presidential ones. Midterm elections, Carlson said, are “always a reflection of the president.” With President Barack Obama’s popularity on the wane, both men predicted Republican outcomes in 2014.

Overall, however, the country is becoming more Democratic due to various demographic shifts, Carlson and Begala said. Carlson noted that Texas is likely to become a Democratic state in fewer than 10 years. If that happens, “it will be mathematically impossible for the Republicans to win a major election,” he said. “The Republican party will go out of business.” Factors driving this change include:

An increase in immigration. More immigration generally means more Democrats, Carlson said. Begala agreed, but he pointed out that previous Republican candidates did a better job of courting immigrant voters than Mitt Romney did. For example, Ronald Reagan earned 37 percent of the Latino vote in 1984, and George W. Bush got 44 percent in 2004. When Romney ran, that percentage dropped to 27.

More minorities voting. Minority groups also tend to vote Democrat. The electorate that voted Franklin D. Roosevelt into office was 95 percent white, Begala said. Even many decades later, that percentage did not change much, dipping slightly to 88 percent for Bill Clinton. However, for Obama, 72 percent of voters were white. “That’s a major change,” Begala said.

More young people and unmarried individuals voting. These demographics also tend to vote Democratic, Carlson and Begala said.

A more secular landscape. Atheists used to be profoundly unpopular, Carlson said. But by 2012, one-fifth of voters identified themselves this way.

None of this likely comes as a surprise to HR professionals. “You’re seeing it; you live it,” Begala told the audience. “You’re helping to manage a very diverse workforce.”

Fractured Parties, United Respect
Even if Democrats have the edge in 2016, as Carlson and Begala speculate, they, too, have challenges ahead. It’s well-known that the Republicans are divided, Carlson said, “but the Democratic Party is in greater turmoil than anyone knows.” The party has become more liberal over time, he said. That leads him to believe that Hillary Clinton—whom he described as “hawkish” and pro-Wall Street—will not earn her party’s nomination in 2016. Although Begala would like to see Clinton win, he agreed with Carlson’s assessment: “If Hillary runs, someone from the hard left will say, 'You’ve compromised too much.' ”

Perhaps it is their years spent describing such political quagmires that give both Begala and Carlson a deep respect for the get-it-done HR profession. “It’s amazing to be in a room full of people in Washington who have real jobs,” Carlson quipped. And Begala spoke about a friend at NASA, a bona fide rocket scientist, who liked to say, “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a few days … and the truly impossible, we send to HR.”

Christina Folz is editor of HR Magazine.

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