By George E. Curry
This will probably be the last presidential election in which Republicans can afford to ignore issues of paramount importance to Blacks and Latinos and expect to have a remote chance of winning the White House. Obama v. Romney is the political equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education. A separate and unequal approach to national politics is in its final days.
The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. The numbers tell the story. People of color, about one-third of the population, are expected to become a majority of the population in 2042 and 54 percent of the population by 2050, according to the Census Bureau. Latinos are expected to make up the largest share of that growth, tripling from one in six residents to one in three.
Meanwhile, Blacks and Asians are expected to grow at a rate of 60 percent by 2050. The Black share of the U.S. population will increase from 14 percent to 15 percent and Asians are projected to grow from 5 percent to 9 percent. By contrast, the non-Hispanic White segment will fall from 66 percent of the population to 46 percent.
As the country grows increasingly diverse, the Republican Party has made a narrow appeal to Whites and is viewed as hostile to the interests of Blacks and Latinos. For example, on the most recent NAACP Legislative Report Card covering the 112th Congress, every Republican in the United States Senate and House of Representatives earned an “F.” By contrast, 159 Democrats in the house earned As and only four received Fs. In the Senate, no Democrat earned an F and 47 got “A”s.
At a time when the GOP could have expanded its appeal among voters, it has chased out White moderates in the mold of former Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker and former New York City Mayor John Lindsay and is now captive of the ultra-conservative Tea Party wing of the Party.
That is also true for race-sensitive Black Republicans. Former Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher, former Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, and former Secretary of Treasury William Coleman were Black Republicans who never turned their back on African Americans or the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Black moderates such as Colin Powell are shunned . Today’s GOP embraces the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a Black conservative who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in opposition to the University of Texas’s modest affirmative action program now under review by the Supreme Court.
Given the GOP’s sharp turn to the far right – it is so extreme that former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said even Ronald Reagan would not be welcome in the Republican Party today – it is not surprising that Mitt Romney’s strongest support is among White men.
According to a recent ABC News poll, Romney has a 65-32 percent lead over Obama among White men. That gap is twice as large as John McCain’s 57-41 percent margin over Obama among White men in the 2008 exit poll.
Obama outpolled McCain among White women by 13 points. He is leading Romney among that group by 15 percent, according to the ABC News poll. Still, that’s enough to give Romney 59 percent of the White vote.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post poll showed Obama getting 80 percent of the non-White vote. Romney has made no inroads among African-American voters, who are solidly for Obama, and is expected to receive a lesser share of the Latino vote than John McCain. Both Obama and Bill Clinton were elected with a minority of the White vote.
In addition to denouncing Obama’s handling of the economy, Romney has gone after Obama on food stamps. Romney said, “Forty-seven million now on food stamps. When he came to office there were 32 million. He’s added 15 million people.” Obama countered by saying the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, saw its greatest expansion under George W. Bush. Given the state of the economy, Obama said it is only natural that more people would need to rely on food stamps.
Like Ronald Reagan did while campaigning for president, Romney has injected welfare into the debate. He ran an ad in August saying the Obama administration had adopted “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” The ad also said that under the plan, “you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job.”
FactCheck.org said Obama’s plan, which gave states more latitude to revise work requirements, neither gutted welfare nor eliminated the work requirement. The fact checker for the Washington Post gave Romney’s ad four Pinocchios, representing its biggest lie.
Of course, talk about welfare and food stamps is a subtle and supposedly respectable way to make an appeal based on race. We’ll see on Tuesday whether it works in this election. Whether it works or not, Republicans will have to find a different song in 2016.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.