A White Bread Double Down.

As is well known, the US is undergoing a demographic transition that will see the majority of the country being non-white in origin by 2030 or thereabouts (for the purposes of this essay I shall use the US definition of “non-white,” which is a person who does not have two caucasian parents. This definition is a throw-back to the bad old days but has managed to remain as a racial standard in census calculations. Interestingly, in Brazil a person is considered white if they have a single drop of white blood regardless of how dark they may look. Readers can draw their own conclusions as to why that may be). The US is also a country with more females than males as a percentage of the population. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the country is headed to a majority female, coffee-with–milk colored future in the next two decades.

The trend has motivated political parties to seek and court the new generation of dark skinned voters, be they Latino (of which there are many persuasions that do not exhibit uniform political or social attitudes), Arab (ditto), African (both continental and hyphenated new world such as Afro-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Peruvians), Indians (both native and from the sub-continent) Asians (of all stripes) and other “non-white” populations. Although dark-skinned populations have traditionally occupied the working and lower middle classes, they now span the gamut of socio-economic status. This has meant that what was once the preferred recruiting ground for the Democratic Party and other small leftist-oriented political groups has now been opened up to the Republicans and their smaller conservative counterparts. One can no longer look at individuals of color and automatically assume their voting preferences. This has made the non-white electorate an extremely important swing vote in national and local elections.

I mention this because one would think that the GOP would understand the importance of recognizing these shifts in its election strategy and candidate selection. In 2008 it gave a nod to “hockey moms” by nominating Sarah Palin as its Vice Presidential candidate. The Democrats saw a fierce primary campaign for the presidency eventually won by a man of half-African descent over a white middle aged woman. The mixed race Presidential candidate brought on an older white male Senator as his VP choice, and together they went on to win the 2008 election over the hockey mom and her geriatric white male former war hero-turned Senator presidential running mate.

In this year’s election the Republican primary offered some interesting twists. It included a black man and a white woman along with an assortment of white males of various Christian persuasions (I mention religion because in the US atheists and agnostics stand no chance of being elected if they state so publicly. Even non-religious people like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have to pretend to be pious church-goers, so long as the church in question is a christian denomination. It will be a while before a Jew or Muslim makes it to the White House as either POTUS or VP, Joe Lieberman’s failed 2000 vice presidential nomination notwithstanding).

However, by the end of the GOP primary campaign it was an older white male millionaire ex-governor who emerged as the presidential candidate. He had many options when it came to choosing his running mate. Condi Rice was mentioned. Bobby Jindal (of Indian extraction) was mentioned. Marco Rubio (a Cuban American) was in the mix. But who did Mitt Romney choose? A younger white male congressman who, among other things, professed to be an Ann Rand devotee until the mid-2000s, has never run a business (which the GOP claims is essential for breaking out of the Washington DC mindset) and who is considered the intellectual giant behind the GOP small government, lower taxes, less expenditure philosophy–that is, at least until it emerged that he lobbied for Obama administration stimulus funds to be directed towards his congressional district in Wisconsin.

In effect, what the GOP has opted for as a presidential ticket is a white bread double-down on an increasingly blended ethnic stew: two caucasian males, one Mormon and one Catholic, both from privileged backgrounds, preaching fiscal austerity as the panacea for US ills. Neither has foreign policy experience. Both are “chicken hawks” (pro-military without having served) and have conservative social views (although Romney appears to have a utilitarian approach to his conservatism, in that he is when it suits him to be): anti abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-welfare, anti-undocumented immigrants (I refuse to use the term “illegal alien” that is preferred by right-wing commentators in the US). That also sums up the essence of the GOP ticket: it is defined by what it is against rather than what it is for (which, as I have written in previous posts, is a bad position upon which to base any political platform).

There is more to the picture but it strikes me that this choice of candidates says more about the GOP nostalgia for a lost past rather than a vision for the US future. It does not appear to recognize the changing nature of the US demographic mosaic (which, besides the changing ethnic blend also includes a different social fabric than in the past in the form of a rising population of single parent or blended family households, a fifty percent divorce rate and a slowing overall birth rate. Both Romney and Ryan live in traditional marriages with stay at home caucasian wives and multiple children). It is for that reason that I believe that, regardless of the merits of their macroeconomic arguments (and I see very little merit in them), the GOP presidential ticket will lose in November. Because whatever Obama’s flaws and faults (and there are plenty), he clearly understands that there is no going back to a white bread past that was not so good for grains of a different color.


14 thoughts on “A White Bread Double Down.

  1. Every election since 2000 the Republicans have talked about the urgent need to start winning a significant chunk of the Latino vote, every election they fail to actually actively do anything to pursue it.

    They seem in denial about the fact that the Latino vote is anti-Republican for substantial policy reasons, rather than proverbially just lying there for the taking. It seems that when they say “We need Latino voters” they don’t really mean “We need to alter our policy positions until at least some Latinos vote for us”, but “If Latinos decide to start spontaneously voting for us despite our being the same party they haven’t voted for for decades, that’s OK with us”.

  2. As this post is primarily about racial demographics and voter appeal, what you seem to be arguing is that the GOP should have made more of an effort to bow to the racist voting practices of the public.

    Well, you may be correct.

  3. “There is more to the picture but it strikes me that this choice of candidates says more about the GOP nostalgia for a lost past rather than a vision for the US future.”

    And it’s not surprising that they’ll reinforce that ‘lost past’ with razor wires, concrete walls, and burly guards. It’s also a symbol of an out-of-touch plutocratic elite as described by Jared Diamond in Collapse and Chris Hayes in Twilight of the Elites.

  4. Um, wasn’t it Joseph (Joe) Lieberman?

    The US insistence that every candidate for public office must declare fealty to the sky fairy on pain of elimination never ceases to utterly astonish me.

  5. Thanks James. All corrected now.

    I am not sure what happened there as I typed in “Joe” and Lieberman with one “n.” I am beginning to think that the auto-speller has started to run amok, as I have now had weird word and spelling changes on this site, my email accounts and even FB. If you or anyone else knows how to turn off the auto-speller on Safari, please advise.

  6. Rich:

    The multiple identifier option allows mixed blood lineage and parentage to be included if no one racial identifier is selected. Census takers are instructed to query obviously misleading self-identifiers because that skews the survey (most census forms are filled out online or mailed in, but a sample is physically collected door to door and discrepancies according to zip code are flagged–so a self-identified Inuit in Houston might be flagged for a follow up). The self-identifier was introduced in 2000 precisely because of the number of people who identified themselves as mixed race who felt that they were being pigeon holed by the older, simpler classification (which also had some unhappy political consequences in places where race was a divisive issue).

  7. Hugh, Latinos aren’t anti-Republican; they’re deeply ambivalent.

    To generalise very grossly, Catholic Latinos (especially Mexicans, who are the largest source) side with the GOP on many social matters, especially religious touchstones like marriage equality and abortion. They are more divided on economic matters; especially in places like Florida with large Cuban immigrant populations (now generations deep) they are proponents of “American” market economic policies. But where the Republicans lose out big-time is on immigration, and especially on the failure to recognise the status of existing law-abiding, productive “illegal” Americans. A Republican administration with the foresight to adopt some aspects of Democratic immigration policy will win big in those demographic, and hold its gains. But they will alienate many of their existing voters. Part of Pablo’s point is that it’s a good tradeoff.


  8. Lew, while Latino voters are obviously not a monolith, I think it’s wrong to call them “ambivalent”, let alone deeply so.

    Check this out: http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/reports/130.pdf

    On page 6 we see that during the 2010 congressional elections, 69% of Latino voters voted for the Democrats. This was during a year when Republicans did very well across the board, picking up many seats and governorships. In 2008 they voted for Barack Obama by a larger margin:


    You’re right about the social conservatism of a lot of Latino voters, but as many frustrated Republican politicians have noted, this doesn’t stop them from mostly voting for Democrats.

    I actually get the feeling that we’re not really disagreeing. You’re right that if the Republicans made concessions on immigration that that Latino bias towards Democrats would go away. My point was that right now the Republicans aren’t willing to do that – they talk about working to win the Latino vote, but they don’t really seem to want to -do- anything to win it, they just want it to come over to them without any effort on their part. Which obviously isn’t going to happen.

    It’s been argued that when the Latino vote becomes important enough the Republicans will have to shift their position, but I really wonder. You could argue that the Latino vote is -already- important enough – if Latinos had, across the board, gone 50/50 for McCain/Obama in 2008, John McCain would be the President right now. But that is not an urgent enough need for Republicans to revisit their immigration policy – if anything, they’re becoming even less flexible in that area.

    I agree with Pablo that it’d be a good tradeoff, I just don’t think it’s one the Republicans are capable of making.

  9. Man, did my reply just go into moderation because of links? I hope so because if it just disappeared I don’t really wanna write it all over again…

  10. Hugh:

    It was in the spam filter so I fished it out. Be glad that I emptied the spam filter this AM (at around 300 spam messages), as there were only 50 or so in it when I checked for your post. Normally when the number of spams in the filter exceeds 70 or so I do not bother looking through it for legitimate posts. I just nuke the whole lot.

  11. Hugh, yeah, I took form your initial comment the sense that the Latino vote was supposed to be a “natural” Democrat constituency, but we’re really arguing the same thing.

    The way immigration trumps other issues for this demographic is a really good case-study in political prioritisation. Not to say they’re the same, but there might be some relevance here given increasing trends towards economic nationalism on the part of Labour and the Greens, and the resurgence of NZ First.


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