Friday, November 9, 2012

The GOP's Very Bad Night: The Racial Subtext That Is Not Subtextual at All

As I post this piece this morning, the lead article at the CNN site is Tom Cohen's analysis of the challenge now facing the Republican party after Tuesday's elections.  Cohen writes,

Tuesday's election revealed a broader challenge for GOP leaders and strategists. The white male vote that is the party's traditional electoral foundation dropped to 72% of the turnout -- its lowest level ever -- while the Latino vote that tilts strongly toward Democrats rose to double digits for the first time at 10%, according to exit polls. 
Even more problematic for Republicans was that President Barack Obama won 55% of the women's vote, which comprised 53% of the overall count, the exit polls indicated, while GOP challenger Mitt Romney won 52% of the male vote.

 At The Nation, Jon Wiener writes,

If only white people had voted on Tuesday, Mitt Romney would have carried every state except for Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut and New Hampshire, according to the news media’s exit polls. Nationally, Romney won 59 percent of the white vote, a towering twenty-point margin over Obama. (Exit polls were canceled in nineteen states by the consortium of news media that run them.) 
The pattern is not limited to the South, with its history of racism and segregation. Even in the deepest blue states, white voters went for Romney: 53 percent in California, 52 percent in New York, 55 percent in Pennsylvania.

And then he asks,

What’s the matter with white people—especially old white men? They used to run everything. But their share of the electorate has been falling steadily: twenty years ago whites were 87 percent of the electorate; this year they were 72 percent.  Could it be that they resent their loss of power in a country that is becoming more racially diverse every minute?  The rest of America wants to know. 

The racial subtext of our latest American political battle--a battle that cost right-wing attack groups alone $228,646,000--is not lost on those looking at the show from outside.  Marc Pitzke writes for Der Spiegel

Here in Boston, it was the shocked faces of the Republicans who had hoped to celebrate Mitt Romney's victory but ended up witnessing his political demise. Hundreds of white, serious faces, many of them middle-aged or elderly, with blacks, Latinos and other minorities few and far between. The predominant dress code: ruby-red for women, dark bespoke suits for men. 
In Chicago, a thousand miles away, it was an utterly different scene. There, hugging each other in glee, were 15,000 Democrats of literally all shades: white, black, Latino, young, old, male, female, straight, gay. They wore jeans or gowns, baseball caps or church hats, scarves, hijabs, yarmulkes and, again and again, T-shirts with Obama's stylized countenance.

The racial subtext of our current nation-dividing political battle is barely concealed--let's be honest: it's not concealed at all (see Timothy Egan)--by the fact that white students "rioted" on at least two Southern university campuses immediately after the president's re-election was announced.  At both Old Miss and Hampden-Sydney, reports stated that the student protestors made their racial animosity about the election results overt by shouting racial epithets as they threw stones and bottles.

For David Simon, there's a strong handwriting-on-the-wall thing going on with this election and its results:

America is different now, more so with every election cycle. Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

Simon thinks that the "lost and fretful white men" who are counting on their gerrymandered (and minority: see John Aravosis) control of the House of Representatives are deluding themselves.  They will most certainly continue the politics of obstructionism so destructive to the whole nation through their gerrymandered control of the House now.

But they're fighting a losing battle, because the demographic tide of history moves irreversibly and decisively against them.  And the more they try to intimidate and punish minority voters, the more they'll elicit the kind of backlash reaction we saw in this election cycle, in which Latino and black voters came out in record numbers precisely because of the cynical, blatant attempt of the GOP to suppress their vote (on this, see Ari Berman at The Nation).  As they crackle and sputter in the batter of their "Southern-fried Fanaticism," to quote Andrew Sullivan, as they rage about minorities who expect Santa-Claus handouts or want "things" for free, they only dig themselves deeper into the hole that ineluctable historical change is creating for them and for their astonishing sense of white male entitlement: listen to Jon Stewart's brilliant takedown of Bill O'Reilly in this clip, vis-a-vis this point.

And so back to Tom Cohen's question that frames this analysis of the racial subtext of Tuesday's elections: what's the GOP to do about its serious problem right now, about its reliance on a dwindling pool of angry white men (many of them living in the South) to carry the day in a nation rapidly becoming far more diverse than the base the GOP has counted on to keep it in power forever?  As Ben Adler notes, Republican leaders do get the problem.  But they don't get the solution to it.

They alternate between calling for a ramping up of the very same unhinged right-wing rhetoric that served them so conspicuously badly in the 2012 campaign (insanity is doing the same dysfunctional thing over again expecting different results).  Or they chatter fatuously and self-deceptively about producing appealing minority leaders who will show African Americans, women, Latinos, young voters (the gays are still in the closet, as far as the GOP is concerned) that Republicans really care about minorities.

Jindal!  He's just the ticket.  Dark-skinned, slender, an "ethnic" heritage that will appeal to minority voters.  He shows we care about you. Or Rubio.  Suave, handsome, Latino to the core, and with an impeccable conservative pedigree.  We love Latinos!

This strategy assumes that people of color, Latinos, women, young voters are essentially stupid.  That they'll really believe the GOP is cool and has its finger on the pulse of the future if it nominates a v-p candidate who pumps iron while sporting a backwards ball cap and showing off his zero body-fat torso and pecs, with earphones blasting rock music into his ears as he pumps away.  This strategy, which is rooted in all the blinding assumptions of white heterosexual male superiority that are at the very root of the GOP's current relegation of itself to history's dustbin, assumes that anyone who is not an aging white straight man is simply a bit dim-witted, unable to see when he/she is being played for a fool.

Nobody is sharper on this point than Ta-Nehisi Coates, who incisively responds to GOP pipe dreams about flashing more pictures of brown people to lure in dim-witted minority voters:

I am hearing a great deal of talk about "appealing to Hispanics" and "appealing to women." But I am not hearing much about endorsing actual policies. What happened last night is not a matter of cosmetics. This is not false consciousness. This a real response to real policies. Mitt Romney actually endorsed Arizona's immigration policies. You can't fix this by flashing more pictures of brown people.  
This is not a "branding problem." This is a "problem problem."  Latino voters didn't go crazy. Latino voters went voter.

Excavate down to the very bottom of the problem of the GOP's inability to understand precisely why and how it has arrived at such a dead end, and what you find as the bottom, the foundational, layer of self-deception is, it seems to me, the tragic blinding effect that unmerited privilege has on those who exercise and expect such privilege.  Power has historically been concentrated in the hands of white heterosexual men.

When one wields power generation after generation with the assumption that accidents like the color of one's skin and the arrangement of one's genitalia and the working of one's erotic desire translate into intellectual and moral superiority, one has set oneself up for a very hard fall--eventually.  Accidents such as gender, race, or sexual orientation simply don't translate into intellectual and moral superiority.

Not in the real world.

And in that real world, there lives a superabundance of human beings who happen to be intelligent and morally aware without happening to be white/male/straight.  When those human beings begin to claim their right to lives, to autonomy, to think for themselves, and to have a share of the economic and political pie that straight white men have disproportionately claimed for themselves, problems ensue for those who have deceived themselves into thinking that their pigmentation, gender, and sexual orientation happen to have made them quasi-divine.  Just because.  Because they say so.

And because things have always been arranged (by themselves) to give them that message.  And because they have not had to live and think outside bubbles of power and privilege that might give them more imagination, insight, and real intelligence and moral acumen.

It is long since past time for Americans to get over this nonsense about race, gender, and sexual orientation.  And for a brief follow-up statement that probes some religious questions about this analysis, please see my next posting.

The Clay Bennett cartoon is from Truthdig.

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