Thursday, November 6, 2008

Have We Really Grown As a Nation?

The Obama margin of victory was decisive in the electoral college -- 190 votes, a better than 2-to-1 rout. The campaign, running a 50-state strategy, captured more states that went Republican in 2004 than I think many thought possible: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana(!), Nevada, and Colorado. They even came within 5% in Georgia and Montana.

The thousands of volunteers on the ground just plain outperformed the Republicans in every way.

But have we really grown as a nation in electing a bi-racial president with a black father? If you look at a map showing the way the votes were distributed, you'll see that a great swath of territory in the South, the Great Plains, and the Northern Rockies, leaned quite heavily against Obama. I want to believe that race did not play a part in this most important election of my lifetime. I mean, if you look at the black vote, they went 90% or more for Obama, but that doesn't reveal anything because black folks typically go Democratic at that rate anyway.

I'm talking about the South and its shameful past of slavery and Jim Crow laws. It's only been 44 years since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. And it's not as though the racist white establishment in that part of the country suddenly shut off its racist beliefs when the laws changed. Many of those people are still around after all these years, and they still vote.
Further, lots of white Christianist folks moved down to the South from other parts of the country because of that region's "family friendly" suburbs (largely white). For that part of the country, I would say that they have a long way to go before I would consider it a place of growth.

In other parts of the country, Obama won decisively. In Hawaii, he took 72% of the vote; only Washington, DC was higher than that (not even Obama's home state of Illinois did that well). Now, from a racial point of view, there just aren't enough black folks in this country to score that big a victory.

To me, this was a victory based on demographics. The only demographic group that McCain won was people over 65. Obama took his own age group by a slim margin, and scored a good win among 30-44 year olds, but he just crushed McCain 2-1 in the under-30 crowd.

And this is where I see the hope. Among these folks, all of whom were born in or after the late 1970s, racism just doesn't play a role. This is the generation that saw MTV videos rotating from white to black and back again seamlessly. The generation whose sports heroes were as much Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Tiger Woods as they were Peyton Manning, Larry Bird, and Andre Agassi. The generation that saw the Huxtable family as conventionally American. My sons have play dates with kids of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. I have hope that my generation has taught the next one well enough that this blindness to skin color or ethnicity will stick and endure. We have too much at stake.

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