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This is it, the most important election of our era. Either government is the problem or part of the solution. That is the ideological big picture. But there is something else going on.
Given the nation’s changing demographic realty, this may be the last time race will not be the defining characteristic of most voters.
Even now 60+% of Governor Romney voters will be white, 75+% of President Obama voters will be non-white. And every day, each side’s relative strength with its favored racial constituency will grow.
While hot-button social issues like abortion and gay rights, and economic issues like jobs, taxes and the deficit will continue to drive many voters, race will be the most obvious determinant.
When you go to the polling place on November 6, if you see a white person they are probably voting for Mitt Romney; if you see a Latino or especially a black, they are almost certainly voting for President Obama.
And that is the way it is.
Most of my viewers or listeners hate when I talk race. Except for some fringe retro nut-cases, none of us want to think of race as our principal description; but when it comes to elections (and beyond) we are segregating ourselves almost as obviously as Jim Crow, albeit with less malice.
The phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact our president is a man of color and his challenger a member of a minority church that long made race a qualifying characteristic. That both men strive to reach beyond their original constituencies is a reflection of the depth of their character and one reason each is so obviously suitable to be Commander-in-Chief.
Why African-Americans are such loyal Democrats is a function of history. A hunk of today’s Republicans are the offspring of yesterday’s Dixiecrats. That doesn’t make them bad people, but throughout the old South that is a fact.
For all the cappuccino bars and prep schools, voting in the old Confederacy is still hugely racial. And 150 years after the fact, slavery and the Civil War are unforgotten.
Republicans in the north and west are less burdened by the weight of history, but their overwhelming whiteness is as undeniable.
On the colored side of the racial aisle, continental Latinos have a different historical imperative than blacks. America’s original Latinos weren’t so much imported as acquired; overrun when much of Northern Mexico became America’s South-West in the mid-19th Century.
Puerto Rico, Cuba, most of the Caribbean, much of continental Latin America, the Philippines and Polynesia dipped in and out of the American Empire at varying times and durations, mostly having to do with the Spanish-American War around the turn of the 20th Century. And like many black folk, some Hispanics harbor a sense that the great game is tilted against them.
Since historic grievances and the desire for social justice are more compelling and urgent to have not’s than haves, however generous, black and brown folk will follow the pattern of whites and become more conservative as they get older and/or more prosperous. They may even become Republicans. My Puerto Rican immigrant cab driving dish washing dad Cruz Rivera did.
When we moved from a Brooklyn tenement to a modest $10,000 home he bought on the G.I. Bill in a blue collar Long Island suburb, he saw a chasm between us and ghetto dwellers.
Particularly scornful of those on the dole, he tried to align us with our mainstream neighbors and voted for the GOP.
But statistically, Cruz is still a rare bird. Almost 3/4th’s of Latinos, especially those of Mexican or Central American descent, remain stubbornly single-issue voters. The issue is immigration and if Mitt Romney loses it will be because he pandered on the issue to hard-core Xenophobes to win the Republican nomination.
The ironic thing about the governor is that we always suspected he really didn’t mean all those awful things he said about undocumented immigrants during the primaries.
He is way too smart and compassionate to believe in hideously inappropriate concepts like self-deportation. You can tell by the quality of his family and his church that he was raised better than that.
As with reproductive rights, the GOP has to learn to compromise on immigration. Like the Cubans of South Florida, other Latinos would be attracted to the Republican banner because of our instinctive cultural conservatism.
But Mitt Romney waited too long to reveal his compassionate core on immigration. Too many continental Latinos can’t forget he campaigned against the DREAM Act and even against a statute of limitations on illegal entry.
Now the Republicans will reap that bitter harvest.
In 23 states, Latinos are the largest minority population. In 2004, Latinos represented 8.2% of the nation’s eligible voters. In 2008, it was 9.5%. In 2012, it is 11%, and so it will grow.
The impact up until now has been blunted. Latino turnout has substantially lagged that of other groups. In 2008, Latino turnout was only 50% compared to 65% for blacks and 66% for whites.
The current rate of registration and the energy of voter turnout efforts by Democrats and Republicans will increase that number. The community is striving for acceptance and assimilation. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.
Put up or shut up.