By Kelvin Wade
I’ve read the bloviators’ take on the 2010 midterms. They’ve used all kinds of words to describe it. A tsunami, wave, earthquake etc… It’s been described as a rejection of President Obama’s agenda. It’s been hailed as a rebuke by conservative pundits. Television talkers have found that a third of voters wanted to send the president a message while two thirds were upset over the economy. Ten percent unemployment and massive debt isn’t going to make for a happy midterm election for incumbents.
It was impressive. Sixty plus house seats. Narrowing the gap in the Senate. The nation definitely spoke on Tuesday.
But California spoke too. California had a Republican candidate spend $160 million and lose the governor’s race by 12 points. Carly Fiorina, she of the infamous Demon Sheep Ad, failed to unseat Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer.
In fact, Democrats swept every state election on Tuesday in California. To be fair, the Attorney General vote hasn’t been finalized but Democrat Kamala Harris is in the lead after trailing early on election night.
Why? Why didn’t California participate in the Republican wave?
I have a theory.
But first…what did we see on Tuesday? I believe it was the culmination of the building backlash of a large swath of overwhelmingly white Republicans. Now I must state the obvious here: disagreeing with President Obama does NOT make you racist. Belonging to the Tea Party or being a Republican doesn’t mean one is racist. Not at all.
This was the Falling Down election. I'm referring to the 1993 Michael Douglas movie in which he plays a angry white man whose job has been downsized away and he's having trouble adjusting to a changing America.
Follow me. There’s been an angry backlash against Barack Obama that started before he was elected and has continued on unabated. There’s been a concerted effort to delegitimize Barack Obama since he’s taken office. A segment of the population believes him to be a secret Muslim, not an American citizen and a socialist. They compare him to Hitler. The message is that “he’s not one of us.” Anyone familiar with the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy, Lee Atwater, and GOP campaign race baiting tactics knows what that means.
Remember that a Newsweek poll found that 52% of Republicans believe Obama probably wants to impose Sharia Law on America. Fifty-nine percents believe he favors Muslim Americans over other Americans. We’ve heard this nonstop rhetoric about taking back our government. Take it back from whom?
People are scared. The American dream is slipping away. People are losing their jobs or afraid they’re going to lose their jobs. They’re undereducated and underemployed. People are losing their homes or are underwater. They see America changing and they don’t like it. There’s a lot of social change and painful economic change. Change is frightening.
But as Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson pointed out in a recent column, there is something about this president that brings irrational anger. Something kicks that fear into blinding anger. A multicultural black man as President embodies the change that these Tea Partiers and Republicans fear. This isn’t the America they know or are comfortable with.
It is most telling that there was no large scale Tea Party protest movement against the previous President. George W. Bush added a new layer of government education bureaucracy, added a brand new unfunded entitlement program, never vetoed a spending bill in his first term, fought two wars off the books, passed massive unpaid for tax cuts and bailed out the banks to the tune of $700 billion. Where was the outrage? Where were the street protests? Where was the Tea Party? Why weren’t thousands of people in the streets calling Bush a socialist?
Keep in mind that when the New York Times revealed their poll on Tea Party supporters and race earlier this year, 88% disapproved of President Obama’s performance while 57% approved of George W. Bush. Why visceral anger at Obama and adoration for Bush?
So why didn’t this orgy of anger sweep California? California is a majority minority state. Meg Whitman flip flopped on the Arizona immigration law and then ran into trouble with her housekeeper. This helped fuel the Latino vote. Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown both carried nearly two thirds of the Latino vote. In Nevada, Harry Reid took 68% of the Latino vote against a candidate who had insulted Latinos. If Republicans plan on writing off the Latino vote like the black vote, they'll be in trouble.
There are simply not enough of those angry conservative whites in California to produce that GOP wave here.
So while Republicans congratulate themselves for their historic electoral victory on Tuesday, they’d better keep in mind that by 2040, the United States will be a majority minority country. The “us vs. them”, “real Americans”, “take our country back” rhetoric is going to payoff less well as their numbers dwindle.
If the Republicans want to see what their future in electoral politics looks like, don’t look at the House of Representatives. Look to California. In the words of the Jerry Ragovoy-penned tune best performed by the Rolling Stones, "Tii-iii-ime is on my side. Yes, it is."