In the aftermath of President Obama's reelection, the Republican Party - and their surrogates - have offered a litany of possible explanations for their most recent defeat. Among the most disingenuous (and offensive) of those explanations is a narrative about real, traditional America. Indeed, on the night of the election, when pressed to explain what it meant if Obama won reelection, Bill O'Reilly offered the following:
It's a changing country. The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. . . . The white establishment is now the minority.
Over the past few days, the media has - to an extent - gone along with much of this narrative. They have accepted as true this premise that Obama's reelection was driven solely (or principally) by changes in the country's racial demographics. Certainly, demographics had an impact on the election. But the story has been oversold. Many pundits, particularly on the political right, have spun this as Obama reelected because of the Hispanic vote. That is simply dishonest. Yes, President Obama overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote and the black vote. But he also overwhelmingly won the Asian vote. He won 69% of the Jewish vote. He won better than 50% of the Catholic vote. He overwhelmingly won the vote of young people. And indeed, he won 39% of all white voters, down from his 2008 total, but still relatively consistent with the performance of other Democratic presidential candidates over the past few decades.
In short, President Obama was reelected with the support of a broad coalition of Americans-- a coalition that is truly representative of the melting pot that is America. Not surprisingly, Bill O'Reilly's remarks have no basis in reality. White voters still represent a strong majority of the electorate (73%), and indeed, a majority of Americans, period. This is fiction and absolutely fodder for the ardent racists who can only conceive of President Obama being reelected in a nation that has gone to hell, fallen from glory, and been overrun by minorities.
Let us talk for a moment about traditional America. It seems that folks on the political right have been sounding this alarm in earnest since 2008. After being tapped as the Republican VP candidate, Sarah Palin repeatedly invoked this concept of real America. Real America, of course, was that part of America and those Americans who were reliably Republican. To be candid, real America is rural, white America. The rest of the nation is simply fictitious. Sarah Palin presided over some of the most hateful, vitriolic, racist political rallies in modern memory. This is not exaggeration. This is a matter of historical record (thank you, YouTube). The footage is still there. Throngs of rural, white Americans calling Barack Obama a nigger and saying they'll never let a nigger into the white house, that America won't abide that. Make no mistake: this is some Birth of a Nation type stuff. After Obama was elected in 2008, the nonsense continued. Glenn Beck blathered on and on about his fear for America's future, real America, socialism. You saw protests, supposedly over healthcare reform, where so-called real Americans screamed about wanting their country back.
And now, in 2012, Bill O'Reilly takes a page from the same playbook: the death of traditional America and whatnot. Takers who want government handouts. Well, that is simply bullshit. Although anecdotes are a poor substitute for hard data, please indulge me for a moment:
I grew up in Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Franklin County is one of the most conservative counties in the state. Back in 2001, David Brooks wrote a story for the Atlantic about red America and blue America. Franklin County was his example of red America. That is where I am from. Those are my people. I grew up in Fayetteville. I'm multi-racial. My father is black and Hispanic. To my knowledge he voted at least once for George W. Bush. My mother is a staunch Democrat. I went to public schools. I lifted weights at the YMCA. Growing up, I loaded lots of trucks. My little brother won the hay toss championship at the old elementary school. My family was working class, went through some tough times, but never took a dime of public assistance. After my folks separated, my mother worked two jobs to keep the house. During college, I worked the night shift on an assembly line to make money for textbooks. I dropped out of college because I was broke, but eventually went back. I taught high school in inner city Baltimore. I earned a law degree. I worked for a big firm. I saved some money. I started my own firm.
You want to play that "real American" nonsense, well there you go. I am from that supposedly real American part of the country. I am from that supposedly traditional America. My family and I have all those traditional American values. You work hard. You overcome. You persevere. You find a way. You help those who are less fortunate. You look out for your neighbors. And I voted for Barack Obama. Twice. So did my mom. So did my sisters. So did my brother. How dare anybody question our Americanness. How dare anybody suggest that we support this President because we want some sort of handout. This is about values and our voting for a President who shares those values.
To state the obvious, nobody has any right to claim the mantle of being a more real American than other Americans solely because of race or geography. I've been all over. I've worked construction in San Diego, taught high school English in inner-city Baltimore, done journalism in Honolulu, been a lawyer in Miami. This notion of a traditional America, a real America-- it is nonsense. I remember a grandfather in Baltimore City. It was parent/teacher night. Only five parents showed up. One of those who showed up was a young man's grandfather, 68 years old, had taken in both of his grandsons. He would have retired, but he took in both of those boys, and so he kept working.
I have seen instances of so-called real Americanness in every corner of this country. I have seen greatness. I have seen hard work. I have seen kindness. I have seen decency. I have seen bravery. I have seen these things in every corner of this land. To claim the mantle of real America only for Kansas or Idaho or Alabama, or only those places that are overwhelmingly both white and Republican, that is dishonest, dangerous and offensive.