White Guys: The Real Losers of 2012
William Greider <http://www.thenation.com/authors/william-greider
The Nation: In the December 3, 2012 edition
Aging white guys at some important newspapers have hit upon a bizarre
interpretation of the election returns: nothing much changed. Peter Baker of
The New York Times: "When all the shouting is done, the American people have
more or less ratified the status quo." Say what? Baker seems like a smart
enough reporter but this analysis is so stupid, he must be in post-partum
George Will, always cynical and condescending, has ratified Peter Baker. In
a Washington Post column headlined "The Status Quo Prevails," Will observed:
"A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by
ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the
Lest anyone miss the point, the editors of the Post instructed their
readers: "A status quo election result should spur both parties to
compromise." Compromise-that's the ticket. By which they mean our re-elected
president should punish the very people who re-elected him. The Post's
editorial bizarrely explained its reasoning. The 2012 presidential election
was nearly a tie! "Just about half of voters-50.4 percent -supported
President Obama. Just about half didn't."
Well, no, not exactly. Obama won in a landslide in the only contest that
counts-the competition for the 270 electors needed to win the presidency.
Obama has won 303 electoral votes so far and will get beyond 330 if his lead
in Florida is sustained by the final count. The Electoral College is of
course heavily biased to favor smaller states with far less population, so
the president actually triumphed despite the odds against him.
Why are white guys so reluctant to give him credit? Because the 2012
election was a profound watershed in the life of the nation. Whatever else
President Obama accomplishes or fails to accomplish in his second term, his
re-election is in some ways even more significant than his initial triumph
in 2008. He will be forever remembered as the president who opened America
to a different future-more promising and fulfilling, more just and
democratic than anything achieved in the American past.
It may be easier to see this if you ask: Who lost? Forget Romney and the
Republicans. The real loser was the bitter legacy of "white supremacy." That
poisonous prejudice has endured in political reality and the national
culture for two centuries. It still does, though it is now cultivated most
zealously only by white Southerners who took over the party of Abraham
Lincoln (who surely weeps for his Grand Old Party).
In 2012, white supremacy not only lost the election. It was a crucial factor
in explaining how Obama won. Good for Obama and really good for the American
people. Whose "status quo" are these pundits clinging to forlornly? Maybe
their own. They have typically belittled the struggles by excluded
minorities as "identity politics." Well, yes, these people intend to be
identified as citizens, fully endowed with the rights any other American
enjoy. This election confirmed their goal.
The re-election of a black president is the most precious fact of 2012,
perhaps even more significant than his original election in 2008. If Obama
had lost, a wise history professor pointed out to me, it would have taken
many years, probably many decades, before either major party would ever
again dare to nominate a person of color for president. Black Americans
understood this, probably better than most of us white folks. So did
Latinos, Asians and a whole bunch of other "minority" voters.
African-Americans might have had quarrels or disappointments with Obama, but
they understood their historic stakes in winning a second term for him.
Obama has instead cleared a path for a very different American future.
Generations from now, people of all sorts will be able to look back and say
this is where it began, a new drama of self-realization now available to
many once-excluded Americans and the new politics that they can generate.
Think about how children will interpret this event. For many millions, their
dreams and personal ambitions are enlarged by this election. If Obama had
lost, wise guys would have dismissed his presidency as a fluke, even a
disaster. The kids know better, don't they?
There are many other losers to acknowledge. Male supremacy is one of them.
We cannot yet say the patriarchy is defeated, but its ancient dominance is
disintegrating, both at home and in the workplace and in politics. Did the
media bean-counters who think nothing important has changed notice the
changing complexion and gender of elected representatives and senators? Or
the fact that clear-thinking voters are now able to disregard the hoary
taboos against gay men and lesbian women? The question is not about whom
they can marry. It is whether they will become our trustworthy governors.
We should also celebrate another deep shift underway in politics-the arrival
of the new Americans-that is actually a very old story in American history.
This chapter involves some of the same injustices and abuses that earlier
generations of immigrants encountered. They have always had to dig in and
fend for themselves, do the gritty hard work to insure their children's
brighter future (one more thing about Americans Mitt Romney did not
It always takes a generation or longer for the new Americans to gain the
self-confidence and courage to step up and demand their rightful political
power as citizens. But, look around, they are doing so right now.
Reactionary Republicans saw their privileged "status quo" changing big-time
in the 2012 election returns.Two or three generations ago, it was the Irish
or Russian Jews or Italians and Polish struggling for their rightful place.
In the election of 1928, they voted for Al Smith, the first Irish Catholic
nominated for president. He lost that election but his politics defined the
future of the Democratic party.
A friend of mine joked that Mexican immigrants are becoming the new Irish of
our times and the Chinese immigrants the new Jews. Of course, every story is
different, yet in some ways we are all alike.
The other big losers of course are the money guys-the billionaires who
thought they could buy our election. No doubt they will try again, but now
we know we can defeat them with old-fashioned door-to-door people-first
politics. Organized money loses to organized people-that is the formula for
our future politics. One hopes Supreme Court justices are reading the
election returns. Those justices who regularly vote with the billionaires
may ask themselves whether their 'status quo" is in trouble too.
For more on the demographic shift and Obama's re-election,
> read the lead
editorial in the latest issue of The Nation.
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