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Lessons from the 2012 presidential election

The 2012 presidential election produced a clear result: Not only did President Obama win re-election, he did so on the basis of demographic divisions. This is ironic considering that Obama rose to political prominence by giving a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston in which he proposed to end such divisions.

Demographics was clearly a decisive element in this election:

President Obama received 93% of the African American vote and Governor Romney only 7%.
President Obama received 76% of the gay/lesbian/transgendered/bisexual vote and Governor Romney only 24%.
President Obama received 72% of the Asian American vote and Governor Romney only 28%.
President Obama received 71% of the Hispanic vote and Governor Romney only 29%.
President Obama received 69% of the Jewish vote and Governor Romney only 31%.

On the other hand, Governor Romney received 59% of the white vote and President Obama only 41% of this vote.

Males favored Romney with 52% of the vote and Obama with 45% of the vote. Female voters favored Obama by a 55% to 43% margin.

Married women actually favored Romney, giving him 53% of their votes compared with 46% for Obama. However, President Obama won decisively among unmarried women of all races - 68% to Governor Romney’s 30%.

Race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation drove the election results rather than economics. Mitt Romney’s multi-millionaire status and unwillingness to cut tax rates for the rich did not seem to hurt him among white voters although poor people are well represented within that demographic. Whites seemed to identify with him as a fellow white whether for “racist” reasons or a sense of closer kinship. The same is true of Barack Obama: Blacks seemed to identify with him as a fellow black or other sense of kinship.

When John Sununu said Colin Powell might have preferred Obama because he was black, he was roundly criticized. This was not an unreasonable observation yet Sununu had to retract the statement. Racial solidarity does matter in American elections, much more so among blacks than whites. Who knows what Powell’s motives were.

One can understand why Hispanics might not have liked Romney that much. During the Republican primaries, he took a hard-line stance against illegal immigration referring to “self-deportation” and said he had fired a landscape firm that hired illegal Hispanic immigrants. Romney also chose Paul Ryan instead of Marco Rubio as his running mate. However, Hispanics, like blacks, are disproportionately disadvantaged in the economy so that Romney’s history as a venture capitalist who laid off people might also have hurt him with those groups.

A mystery, from that standpoint, is why Jews and Asians, who are disproportionately advantaged, also went for Obama by heavy margins. Governor Romney did nothing to offend those groups except, perhaps, to accuse the Chinese government of “cheating” in international trade. Romney was a staunch supporter of Israel and a personal friend of Benjamin Netanyahu. Why did Jews vote overwhelmingly for Obama?

My theory is that American Jews, like Asians, are fearful of being a minority in a nation overwhelmingly comprised of non-Jewish whites. They fear monolithic power vested in another group. Therefore, anything that disperses the racial/ethnic power makes them feel more comfortable. For that reason, perhaps, Jews were prominently involved in the 1965 immigration law which greatly increased non-white immigration. A more diverse population was one that gave Jews a better shot at power or, at least, avoidance of persecution. Romney, also a member of a religious minority, was too WASP-like in appearance and perhaps too stiff or Teutonic in personal manner to appeal to Jews. Asians, to a lesser extent, may have been attracted to the comforting diversity that Obama represented. He does have an Asian half-sister.

We must therefore address that fact that white people are or have been America’s majority population. The immediate lesson drawn from this election is that a political party - the Republican party - which draws its support from only one race cannot count on winning future elections if that race is shrinking in numbers and will soon account for a minority of the population. Therefore, pundits and party officials call for the Republicans to reach out more to minorities, especially Hispanics, to preserve their future strength.

Can they, however, outcompete the Democrats with this type of appeal? I think not. The Democrats have a patent on the Civil Rights model of politics featuring aggrieved minorities facing an oppressive minority - a model established not only in politics but in religion as well. The image of Moses leading his people to the promised land has irresistible appeal to minorities living in someone else’s land of plenty.

However, there is a problem with this type of politics. First, if people vote on the basis of how they were born, reasoned argument has no place in election campaigns. You simply vote for your type of candidate, based on similar birth-determined characteristics. Barack Obama, a racially mixed person, is as close as they come to a demographically blended candidate, yet he has been a polarizing figure. This type of politics leads to a divided nation and ultimate ruin. Nothing can be done to advance one’s cause except to have more babies who are future voters.

A second problem is that a majority of minorities - meaning people who feel they do not belong to the larger community - creates a nation which does not believe in itself. Minority status is a feeling of alienation from the mainstream society. For blacks, government would represent the “white” power structure, so everything the government does wrong would be someone else’s fault. The same is true of gays and lesbians; they are alienated from a society that is predominantly straight. So who is there left to identify with that larger community if one’s posture and identity are formed in opposition?

No, the alienated people are not “anti-American” as is commonly charged, but they are surely anti-white because the white population has long been the majority. When that changes, then whites may, in turn, feel alienated. The enemies of white people are salivating at that prospect which has Biblical roots.

If the Republican party chooses to become a pale imitation of Democrats, it will predictably have a lackluster future. No, the Civil Rights model has already been taken. Salvation, whether for Republicans or someone else, lies in transcending this model.

Whites must have the courage to confront those other races who vote as a monolithic bloc and make a loud, persistent complaint. Better still, they can develop a type of identity which does not depend on negative comparisons to stake its positive claim. But the first step is to admit to being white and accept that situation with equanimity, rejecting the corrosive baggage that has been heaped upon it.

Maybe Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 election will cause Americans to look at race in another way.