My November column in the Dallas Morning News was published last week. For those of you who can't get behind the pay wall, here is the full text...
Those of us who follow politics are drinking from a fire hydrant of postelection analysis. The close popular vote and clear Electoral College victory revealed changes in American politics as complex and challenging as are the issues facing President Barack Obama in his second term.
The vote revealed what some have referred to as an ascending electorate. We’ve all heard the figures by now: 93 percent of blacks, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asian-Americans voted for Obama. The president won 60 percent of the youth vote (ages 18-29) and garnered 67 percent of single women voters.
There is palpable angst in the Republican Party over this outcome, and serious GOP politicians and strategists know something has got to change. Yet Mitt Romney’s assessment of his defeat — an insulting, offensive suggestion that only the poor could have failed to have voted for him — completely overlooks the possibility of a poor campaign strategy or ineffective messaging.
He instead blamed “gifts” given to a growing segment of the American electorate that is hooked on entitlements. He went on to speak derisively of “free health care” being a “huge” gift to someone making $25,000 to $30,000 a year, essentially explaining away the margin of defeat among key demographics by suggesting that votes had been “bought.”
Such an evaluation shows an unseemly disdain for voters, willfully ignoring the fact that for some citizens, seeking the American Dream is not about getting rich but rather about addressing structural inequities and disparities in our economic system through policy change. This constituency has the same rights as a person of means to vote for candidates who most adequately speak to those concerns.
The GOP campaign avoided substantive conversation about the concerns of this constituency, relying instead on marginalization of its issues and a variety of efforts to suppress minority voter turnout. It was a losing strategy.
Americans living on their own fiscal cliff can’t ignore issues of inequity. A recent Pew Center Research study reports that the wealth of Hispanics fell by 66 percent between the years 2005 and 2009. Asian-American household wealth fell by 54 percent. Black Americans’ wealth fell by 59 percent. By comparison, white wealth fell by only 16 percent. Nearly a quarter of Hispanic and black families surveyed had no assets beyond the family car, compared with only 6 percent of white families.
Likewise, the persistent achievement gap in education threatens the future of our country. Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, a children’s advocacy group, warns, “African-American students are less likely than their white counterparts to be taught by teachers who know their subject matter … they are less likely to be exposed to a rich and challenging curriculum and the schools that educate them typically receive less state and local funding than the ones serving mainly white students.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports that mortality rates for black children are nearly 2.5 times those of white children. Blacks and Hispanics report higher instances of coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Disparities in preventable hospitalizations associated with these diseases, if eliminated, could save $6.7 billion annually.
It’s easy to judge some Americans harshly, lecture about “dependency” and demean citizens as “victims” — all the while devising policies that create obstacles to polling places. After being ignored, threatened, caricatured and insulted, the Election Day votes of these Americans — as well as others who know our nation can do better — should have come as no surprise.
As Republicans continue to search for answers, perhaps they should consider this paraphrase of a movie title from a few years ago: “They’re Just Not That Into You.”
The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at www.changethewind.org.