Last week several political strategists predicted to me that every racial button is going to get pushed hard in this fall’s presidential campaign. Their forecast is based on racial fears that are already being exposed. White Republican men form the strongest block of opposition to reelection of a black president — who, in turn, has near-unanimous support from blacks, and overwhelming backing from Hispanics and Asians.
Their predictions come against the backdrop of two white male political writers, Pat Buchanan and John Derbyshire, losing their jobs at MSNBC and National Review, respectively, after writing racially charged pieces. Buchanan lamented in a book that immigration and high Hispanic birthrates were leading to the “end of white America.” Derbyshire, writing in a small magazine, advised his children to avoid “concentrations of blacks,” and to not settle in any place run by black politicians.
The 2012 election comes at a time when the country is in the middle of a seismic shift in its demographics. Racial attitudes are also changing, for better or worse, with rising numbers of minorities and immigrants now more than 30 percent of the population. But in political terms, the GOP has failed to bring any substantial part of that growing population into its ranks. The heart of the party remains senior white voters who are resisting the loss of the America they grew up in 50 years ago.
A whole catalogue of racial fears was revealed during the Aspen Institute Symposium on Race in America, attended last week by a number of prominent experts and televised on C-SPAN:
— White fear of the increasing voting power of Hispanics, Asians and blacks. In the GOP primaries, the nation’s first black president was labeled as the “food stamp president.” He was charged with being a “socialist” and wanting to lead the country to become an “entitlement society.” This racially provocative language suggested hard-working white people being ripped off by lazy minorities. The experts see it a warning sign of the approaching racial storm.
— Black fear of a GOP White House out of touch with them, even demonizing them, as it focuses on tax cuts for big business while slashing federal spending on social safety net programs for the middle class from education to senior healthcare.
— Asian fear that China-bashing by the GOP coupled with anti-immigrant attitudes among conservatives will lead to more hostility toward them. They point to the now infamous ad in the Michigan Senate race that portrayed Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow as a pawn of Chinese masters intent on bankrupting the United States.
— Hispanic fear that the GOP’s near-certain nominee, Mitt Romney, will be hostile to them if he wins the White House. Romney has endorsed Arizona’s harsh treatment for anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. He is also calling for “self-deportation,” and rejects the DREAM Act to give young people in school or the military a way to become citizens.
Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist, sees a racial clash already emerging in the fight over voter identification laws being pushed by Republicans.
At the symposium, Blow said the racial powder keg is being ignited right now by GOP efforts to “shave off” 10 percent of the minority vote with what he called “voter disenfranchisement” laws.
“Are Latinos, African Americans and young people going to go out and vote?” asked Maria Theresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, a non-partisan group registering Latino voters. “I say they are. Is their vote going to be counted? That is a completely different story that no one wants to dig into.”
Kumar told the story of a young person calling to volunteer to bring Latinos to the polls after explaining: “I didn’t know I was Latino until I walked into a hamburger joint and somebody behind the cashier asked me for my papers.”
New York University’s Brennan Center for Law and Justice estimates new voter identification laws in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will make it much more difficult for as many as 5 million people to vote this year. The majority of these voters are blacks, Hispanics and young people — in other words, the heart of the Obama coalition.
Karen Narasaki, the immediate past-president of the Asian American Justice Center, told the symposium that Asian Americans are also feeling the sting of white racial profiling and anger at immigrants.
She predicts the Asian vote will make a difference this year for Democrats even in critical southern states, such as Virginia, where Asians now constitute 6 percent of the population.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is now an activist for immigrant rights, told the seminar he sees a grand level of social struggle even beyond politics.
Through his eyes he sees older, conservative white men fearing loss of dominance.
In their view, he said, “the soul of the heterosexual white male is at stake.”
Juan Williams is a Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill. He is the author of several books including "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It" and "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate."