Connecting The Dots

Andrew Sullivan —  May 17 2012 @ 12:45pm


I was struck by the juxtaposition of two stories on the NYT front page today. The lead story is the shift in America's racial make-up toward a minority-majority country:

Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S.

The second is a Republican Super-PAC aiming to target "Barack Hussein Obama" as a radical, anti-American racist:

G.O.P. ‘Super PAC’ Weighs Hard-Line Attack on Obama

This is the great unspoken drama of American politics right now – and has been for a while. In a world of economic distress, where a globalized economy gradually eclipses any single country's ability to control its own economic destiny, and when multiracial immigration tears at the cultural identity of nation states, it is utterly predictable that more atavistic strains of nationalism will emerge. Across Europe, the hard and far right is gaining, as the center buckles. In America, the fervor behind shutting down Mexican immigration is occurring just as that immigration has slowed to a trickle or begun to reverse itself.

And the Tea Party, utterly indifferent to massive spending in good times by a Republican, had a conniption at a black Democrat's modest measures to limit the worst downturn since the 1930s. Conniption isn't really he right word: this was a cultural and political panic in the face of a president who was advocating what were only recently Republican policies: tax cuts, Romneycare on a national level, cap-and-trade, a W-style immigration reform, and a relentless war on Jihadism. They reached back to a time, when there were only three kinds of Americans – native, white and slaves. They even wore powdered wigs.

To ignore this cultural turmoil is to miss the forest for the trees in this election. No one represents the new and future America more clearly than Obama: a mixed-race, pro-immigrant, pro-gay pragmatist. And Romney's great strength in this election is that he looks and speaks and acts like a generic American president from the 1950s.

His Mormon faith adds heft to his American brand (Mormonism is more purely American than any other branch of Christianity and until recently, was rooted in white, racial superiority.) His style is comforting, even as his policies (so far as we can glean them at all) are more radical than any Republican in decades. (He is, for example, far to Reagan's right on entitlements, taxes and spending, as well as on immigration.) His slogan is: "Believe in America." Not too subtle, is it?

Expect the subtext to become text in this election. Look at the currents that push more powerfully than the surface's waves and ripples. Are we afraid of this future? Or eager for it? I'd say it's about 50-50 right now, but the passion this time lies with the resistance and the fear. Which is why I have come to think that, unless the future America turns out this year in the vast numbers they represented in 2008, Romney is the favorite to win this election.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama signs his receipt for David Mazza and Casey Patten, Co-Owners of Taylor Gourmet, while visiting Taylor Gourmet, a sandwich restaurant May 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. By Win McNamee/Getty Images)