Americans who want stuff, or, election 2012

Posted on November 16, 2012. Filed under: American history, Politics, What History is For | Tags: , |

Part 2 of our short posts on the 2012 election and the changing demographics and mixing and merging voter identifications coming into play sees us taking a quick and close look at Bill O’Reilly’s election night complaint about how “traditional America” is changing, not just to talk about 2012, but to put “tradition” in perspective.

What O’Reilly said on air was:

“It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America any more.”

—It’s hard to think of a time in American/U.S. history when you could not say this. This is the story of America from 1607 on. “Traditional” America is always the America of about 50 years previous to whatever year it currently is—just long enough ago that people who were young then are still around to miss and mourn it, but people in their prime were small children who can’t really remember it or who missed it completely, being born a decade later. This magical formula allows older people to claim that the time they grew up in was normative and permanent and how things were 100 years before them, but is now being destroyed. Americans made this claim in 1700, 1800, 1900, 2000… and will continue to do so for as long as we live in this country, it seems.

“And there are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it.”

—Doesn’t every presidential candidate run on giving the people what they want? Whether it’s lower taxes, social programs, avoiding war, or raising incomes, people running for president generally tell Americans they are going to give them what they want. By using the word “things”, O’Reilly is deprecating Americans for wanting material goods—one assumes he means cars and iPads and other consumer items, and is therefore shaming us for no longer wanting ideals, like people did 50 years ago, like freedom and power and equality.

“And, whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney, the white establishment is now the minority.”

—There’s the key: 20 years ago, whites wouldn’t have voted for a man who was offering “things.” They would have voted lofty ideals. But now, whites are in the minority, and the non-white vote is dominant, and that’s why the vote has turned crass and materialistic. “Establishment” here means white, “traditional”, moral, and, of course, imaginary. 100 years ago the votes being disparaged were those that today are considered white: Italians, Slovaks, Czechs, Russians, Hungarians, Catholics (from anywhere), Greeks. 100 years ago the Establishment did not consider these people to be white, and warned the nation continually that they were sullying the vote and democracy and the nation itself. So again, this is not a new tactic in 2012, to blame immigrants who are considered non-white for ruining the nation by voting.

“And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff.”

—This seems to make sense. But the implication here is that the economic system is not really stacked against these voters, and they are whining, lazy, “47-percenters” (even though they are now the majority) who want more than they deserve. Note that when white people want something it is valid to give it to them, but when non-white voters want something it is not valid to give it to them.

“You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama.”

—Natch. A black man could only ever want to help non-white people. The implication is that he is a sham president, someone who broke the windows of the Establishment store and is now handing out its contents to fellow looters.

“And women will probably break President Obama’s way.”

—Here the race line is crossed to damn women of all colors. This too is fairly standard, as the only prejudice stronger than racism is sexism. Women will “break” for the president; this language subtly damns women as unintelligent beings who will follow the stampede of other sub-par voters to the non-Establishment president.

“People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

—Of course it is the black president. The white candidate for president would never give non-Establishment people things because… well, it’s hard to say. Because they don’t deserve them, they shouldn’t want them, Establishment candidates focus on ideals not things, the list goes on, and is manipulated according to audience.

So we see that O’Reilly’s rant is not really about 2012, but the constant complaint of those who see the time they grew up in receding fast, and don’t like what they see replacing it. This has gone on for as long as non-native people have lived in this country, and likely went on long before that time as well. Our job as Americans is to accept change, resist racism and sexism, and most importantly to refuse to draw a line between “things” and “ideals” when it comes to politics, since the Establishment ideal is often to give things only to certain people and not to others.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Election 2012 and the white minority (and Bill O’Reilly)

Posted on November 14, 2012. Filed under: American history, Historians, Politics, What History is For | Tags: , , |

In many ways, elections are in the same vein as census results for the historian: they are snapshots of the U.S. population taken at regular intervals whose results lend themselves to nearly infinite analysis and extrapolation. The 2012 election is particularly rich, as it seems to show—

—women voting for Democrats and men voting for Republicans

—such sex-based voting trumping other demographic factors (race, income, immigration status, rural/urban, religion, education level, etc.)

—the older vote (45 and over) going Republican (as it has trended for about three decades) and,

—white votes becoming a smaller bloc

That is the way it’s being presented, at least: whites are becoming the minority population, and so the “white vote” is no longer critical to those running for office. But it’s more complicated than that; race is actually not the primary characteristic to count votes by. The best case to be made from the 2012 results, it seems, is that your sex matters most, as the majority of women of all races, incomes, etc., voted Democratic and the majority of men voted Republican. Age might come second, as people 18-45 vote Democratic and those 45-over vote Republican. Your job is up there, too, as union members voted pretty solidly Democratic.

It is true that White Americans will be in the Minority by 2019, and that our youngest populations in the U.S. are already minority white. But more important is that as our national population becomes more racially mixed, race is less of a card to play either way for a candidate—appealing to a certain race does not yield big rewards. Those who felt sure whites would vote for Romney were wrong when it came to women and the young, and right when it came to men and the elderly. Those who felt sure that blacks would vote for Obama were more right, but he is our first black president, and that’s a factor (he won 70% of the Latino vote as well). In 50 years, after (one hopes) a few more black and a couple of female presidents, a non-white presidential candidate will not be so new, and will have to fight for non-white votes.

The interesting point here is that race is just one factor, and “the white vote” does not mean “white people” but “white, older men”, the small group for whom race may be the primary factor in an election. But race is just one in a string of adjectives candidates need to pay attention to now, along with age, income, education, location, religion, sexuality, and others.

And so Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News analyst, is wrong when he pins the election on race. In his instantly infamous stream of consciousness monologue on election night, he stated:

“It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America any more. And there are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And, whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

In our next post we’ll do a close reading of this text, as historians do, to get at the heart of its inaccuracies. For now, we leave feeling some relief, perhaps, that race is no longer the be-all and end-all of election politics, and our diverse society is reflected more completely in its diversity of makeup than in previous elections.

Next time:  here’s your stuff

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers