The GOP and voter anger
President Barack Obama’s lackluster, let’s-work-together performance in Wednesday night’s presidential debate stoked the fears of his liberal backers that Democrats simply won’t fight for them the way Republicans relentlessly battle for their wealthier, aging, corporate constituents.
After four years of Republican intransigence – even when Democrats have championed Republican ideas – the Democratic left insists that the White House hasn’t grasped that the 2012 campaign is not about policy. So far, Republicans are proving more adept at speaking, in both coded and direct terms, to Americans’ stark demographic and psychological divisions.
That Republican nominee Mitt Romney stood before the nation and all but disowned the tax-cut, Medicare, health policy and other GOP doctrines he had campaigned on for months is likely to matter little to his backers. The last three Republican presidents, as MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes pointed out, also campaigned on promises of economic growth, deficit reduction and tax relief – and all left behind a faltering economy and ballooned deficits. What they reliably delivered was tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.
This campaign showcases the GOP’s ability to feed the anger of a large chunk of aging white Americans whose presumption of “exceptionalism” in citizenship and nationality is now being challenged by claims of equality for younger, multiracial, immigrant and “non-traditional” Americans – as represented by Obama himself.
The president’s continued invocation of “Republicans and Democrats working together” demonstrates the Democrats’ self-destructive course. Post-2008 Republicans, in both congressional votes and campaign statements, have made it clear that their goal is to destroy not just this presidency, but any concept of a society shared among a diverse, multicultural citizenry.
Republicans’ message is keyed to “us” real Americans versus “them” imposters. Republicans present their aging, overwhelmingly white, religiously conservative, more affluent constituencies as economically triumphant, morally truer Americans. They are clearly entitled to more private and public beneficence – though they owe none of their success to this.
Consider, delegates at the GOP convention greeted “I Built It” singer Lane Turner’s theme song (“I built it with my own two working hands … every dime I own” with “no help from Uncle Sam”) with “roaring delight” – one of the few eruptions of spontaneous enthusiasm.
Political – and social – analysts may point out the irrational nature of Republican resentment. “No help” from government? In fact, aging, white, affluent Americans have prospered most from government tax and spending policies in recent years – including Obama’s. How have they suffered? What do they have to be angry and threatened about?
In contrast to Republicans’ fervent odes to themselves as endangered, true Americans, former President Bill Clinton’s invocation at the Democratic convention of “shared opportunities and shared responsibilities” and First Lady Michelle Obama’s message of “gratitude and humility” (“so many people had a hand in our success”) hardly calls the faithful to a holy crusade.
To liberal commentators, the GOP’s divisive generational message sounds like gaffe after gaffe – insulting immigrants, attacking the middle class, waging “a war on women,” disdaining “the 47 percent” of Americans whom Romney labeled government-dependent freeloaders. But the Republican strategy effectively organizes an old, powerful strategy: demographic panic.
Though the parties’ electoral bases split along age, gender, racial and immigrant lines, the real division is between those who have chosen to participate in a diverse society they welcome versus those who seek individual autonomy and isolation from modern American changes they fear and resent.
That demographic division – not government size, spending, terrorist attacks, business regulations, jobs, the deficit and other fleeting GOP salvos that change by the week – is the force driving Republican resiliency.
Just look to the voting pattern in Oklahoma City, capital of a crimson-red state. Like most cities, it has experienced massive white flight to the suburbs, offset by the influx of tens of thousands of Latino and Asian immigrants. The 2010 census reveals that multiracial Oklahoma City, where four out of five public-school students are minorities, is surrounded by a vast suburban ring, where 75 percent of the residents are white.
Yet, where a voter lives predicts support for Obama more than race or wealth. In 2008, the city’s extensive African, Latino, Asian and Native American precincts voted heavily for Obama – no surprise. Conversely, the sprawling suburbs, the gated exurbs and rural communities supported Republican John McCain by 70 to 90 percent blowouts – also no shock.
The big surprise was that once staunchly Republican, central-city mansion districts like Heritage Hills and Crown Heights, dominated by some of the city’s wealthiest whites, backed Obama by landslide margins.
Wealthy urban whites who choose to live in the central areas of increasingly multiracial Oklahoma City now support not only Obama but also local tax increases to fund major civic improvements, schools and public transit.
If Obama’s failure to rally poorer and newer Americans proves demoralizing to his young supporters – a crucial constituency that had grown increasingly enthusiastic before the debate, according to the polls – then election night might be gloomy indeed for Democrats.
PHOTO: Audience members bow their heads during an invocation before a campaign rally by Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at PR Machine Works in Mansfield, Ohio, September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder