Election 2012: The death of the Southern Strategy?

—Steven A. Ramirez

For many decades the GOP played the politics of racial divisiveness to further the cause of tax cuts, deregulation and a more limited federal government. The election of 2012 promises to end this ugly chapter in American politics. The ultimate outcome will change our political landscape in far-reaching ways.

Surprisingly, Republican leaders openly admit that their party used race to appeal to white voters (particularly in the old Confederacy) disaffected with the perceived embrace of racial equality within the Democratic Party. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips openly admitted to seeking out the votes of “negrophobe whites” in the New York Times in 1970. The Nation very recently posted the actual audio recording of Reagan Administration Official Lee Atwater articulating how the GOP implemented the Southern Strategy in sordid (and highly offensive) detail in 1981. Atwater unabashedly ties the politics of race to economic issues such as tax cuts. Two Republican National Committee Chairs actually apologized for the Southern Strategy.

In my book Lawless Capitalism, I argue that the politics of racial division led directly to the subprime debacle through massive financial deregulation beginning in the Reagan Administration. Deregulation of mortgage lending, the basic structure of globalization, and financial consolidation all find their roots in the Reagan Administration. Indeed, the fundamental explosion in American debt started in 1980. To be fair, the Democrats contributed much to the crisis too. The crisis resulted from longstanding and bipartisan policies. Nevertheless, the Southern Strategy dominated the political scene in the decades preceding the subprime debacle.

The election of 2012 may spell the end of the Southern Strategy, at least as a means of GOP success. African American and Latino voters turned out in record numbers. Asian American voters supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by 73-26, a margin that exceeds Obama’s advantage among Latino voters.

The viability of the GOP’s Southern Strategy will continue to fade. Asian Americans form the fastest growing minority group in the nation. A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Research Center projects that the voting power of Hispanics will double by 2030—to nearly half of the electorate. If the Democrats continue to run candidates of color to energize this base, then these growing voting groups will constitute a formidable foundation for a durable Democratic majority. Meanwhile, the GOP base still today favors discriminatory practices, such as anti-immigration laws and legislation designed to suppress the vote of minority communities.

On issues relating to immigration, education, voting rights, the war on drugs, and many others, a fundamental change in political calculus is afoot. I contend the change may be even more monumental than such core issues. Ultimately, without the ability of governing elites to use the politics of racial division to further their interests, the very high level of economic inequality currently burdening our nation may be unsustainable.

Steven A. Ramirez is Professor of Law at Loyola University of Chicago, where he also directs the Business and Corporate Governance Law Center. His book, Lawless Capitalism: The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law, will publish in December 2012.

Women gain in Election 2012, but glass ceiling remains

—Margaret S. Williams

In his acceptance speech, President Obama noted that the richness of America comes not from its wealth, but instead from the bonds that hold us together despite our differences. In fact, much of his victory speech on election night focused on celebrating the differences we have, and recognizing that everyone can contribute to bringing America back from its recent hard times.

This emphasis on diversity was echoed in the news media as well, which focused on the “substantial gains” made by women. Indeed, the number of women in Congress increased from 16.8% to a likely 17.9%, according to the Center for American Women in Politics. In his first term, President Obama appointed a Cabinet that was 33% female and brought women’s representation on the Supreme Court also to 33%. Gains for women indeed, but where do we rank internationally?

In our forthcoming book, Contagious Representation, Frank Thames and I explore women’s political representation in democracies around the world. Women’s representation in Congress in 2013 will put the U.S. on par with the average democracy…in 2009. The U.S. will still rank behind developing countries such as Rwanda and our economic peers in Scandinavia. U.S. women are still under the ultimate glass ceiling by not only never holding executive office (an event that has occurred in 39 other democracies since 1945) but also never being a major party’s nominee. The minority of women on the Supreme Court is noteworthy not only for the substantial increase under the Obama Administration but also because it is the only branch of government on which the U.S. is above the global average in women’s representation. 33% is above average.

Yes, the gains for women in the 2012 election should not be discounted. Many were hard fought, but perhaps that is exactly the point. It was a tough, expensive election, and it raised the number of women in Congress by 1.1%. The rate of progress is not exactly inspiring; it would take 32 more elections (64 years) to reach parity.

If we are really a country that celebrates diversity and wants to see more women participating in politics, maybe it is time to consider more radical measures. Both parties could do more to bring women into the political fold. Instead of just recruiting women, why not set targets for female candidates? This is not nearly as far as other democracies have gone to ensure greater representation of women, and it is entirely within both parties’ control. As we note in our book, these targets are proven to increase the number of women in politics, especially legislative office. From there, gains in legislative representation have been shown to open other avenues of participation for women, including executive office.

Instead of the two major parties trying to single out a group that will put them over the edge on election day, why not consider the possibility that both parties should do more to bring all people into the political process? The eyes of the world are on us as we celebrate a 1% increase. Perhaps it is time we do more.

Margaret S. Williams is the co-author (with Frank C. Thames) of Contagious Representation: Women’s Political Representation in Democracies around the World (forthcoming from NYU Press, January 2013).

Stop the bleeding: Prescriptions to heal racial economic inequality in America

—F. Michael Higginbotham

Recently, Americans elected Barack Obama as President for a second term. When Obama began his first term, economic disparities between blacks and whites were alarmingly wide. Black unemployment, poverty, and homelessness were twice that of whites. Wealth accumulation for blacks was one twentieth of what it was for whites. A similar disparity existed for Latinos/as. During the last four years, the gap widened.

It’s important to recognize that racial inequality today is a reality. There is no such place as a post racial America. While the causes of racism are more complex than they were under discriminatory laws of the Jim Crow Era, today this divide is primarily caused by choices that result in economic hardship, housing isolation, education inequity, and criminal justice stereotyping.

One choice is exemplified in the story of Tim Carter and Richard Thomas, arrested in 2004 in separate incidents three months apart in nearly the same location in St. Petersburg, Florida. Police found one rock of cocaine on Mr. Carter, who is white, and a crack pipe with cocaine residue, on Mr. Thomas, who is black.

Both men claimed drug addictions, neither had any prior felony arrests or convictions, and both men potentially faced five years in prison. Mr. Carter had his prosecution withheld, and the judge sent him to drug rehabilitation. Mr. Thomas was prosecuted, convicted and went to prison. Their only apparent difference was race.

Another choice is reflected in the pattern of property ownership and the fact that whites continue to embrace the “tipping point” notion in housing integration. “Tipping point” bigotry inspired Jeremy Parady, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiracy to commit arson in a series of fires in a new housing development in Southern Maryland. Parady admitted that he set fire to this development because many of the buyers were blacks and the surrounding neighborhood was mostly white.

While these disparities have been persistent, they need not be permanent. As a long term strategy, let’s equalize funding for public schools, prohibit racial profiling, eliminate laws that have a severe racially disproportionate impact, redefine our notion of racism to include negligent acts, criminalize intentional acts of racism, and increase integration in neighborhoods and schools. Such changes would go a long way to reducing current racial inequities.

For now as a start, let’s pass the American Jobs Act which contains several components that would reduce racial inequality in employment. First, the act is aimed at revitalizing and rebuilding communities where unemployment has risen most sharply, especially urban areas. Many such areas have a high percentage of black unemployment. Second, the act is aimed at neighborhoods where the foreclosure rates are highest. This includes many areas with high concentrations of blacks. Third, the act is aimed at decreasing youth unemployment by creating summer and year-round jobs for impoverished teenagers and young adults. Many of these youths are black with little chance of finding employment under current economic circumstances.

Too many Americans are hurting under this extended economic slump. Blacks and Latinos/as have been particularly hit hard with unemployment near 15%. Healing the racial divide must begin soon. Stopping the bleeding in employment discrimination must begin now.

F. Michael Higginbotham is the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is the author of Race Law: Cases, Commentary, and Questions and Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America (forthcoming from NYU Press, March 2013).

Before the polls close: Early lessons from the 2012 campaign

—Michael Serazio

On this eve of the 2012 presidential election, the victor and final outcome remain, of course, unknown to us. Yet independent of tomorrow’s Electoral College tally, a number of campaign patterns and marketing trends already seem triumphant. Presidential contests offer the country, among many other things, a quadrennial opportunity to take stock of the state of media, technology, and culture. And irrespective of issues—looking purely at the playing of the game—the 2012 cycle will likely be enshrined in collective memory for its speed, fragmentation, and use of data.

The acceleration of news cycles is, by no means, a phenomenon unique to 2012—sound-bites that lasted, on average, an upwards of 50 seconds in the late 1960s had already shriveled to a mere ten by 1992. Yet in this campaign season, Twitter assumed a key role by further increasing velocity and abridging exposition. Moreover, as the “second screen” site for much social TV-watching during the conventions and debates, it offered an opinion-leader, focus group monitoring tool for campaign staff to gauge conventional wisdom as it took shape in real time. And that medium may, in fact, be handicapping the message and, in turn, the potential for thoughtful policy: As Herman Cain’s director of new media quipped, “Mitt Romney’s 59-point plan can’t fit in a tweet.” But “9-9-9” (pizza discount that it may sound like) needs just five characters to convey tax plans—nuance be damned.

The single most symbolic quote of the election was neither “47%” nor “You didn’t build that,” but arguably a Romney pollster’s intimation that, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” And, lo, how both camps could! Even as the press redoubled its fact-checking brigades—including a heroic on-the-spot effort by CNN’s Candy Crowley in the second debate—the capacity of voters to nuzzle in their own fragmented information cocoons meant that campaigns rarely paid the price for playing fast and loose with truthiness. “We don’t collect news to inform us. We collect news to affirm us,” GOP operative Frank Luntz aptly articulated. And with a media whose bias is more toward conflict (be it stupid or substantive) than left or right, and an online space that prizes speed over accuracy, citizens had increasingly fewer arbiters of a common political reality. As an Obama 2008 staffer distressingly noted, “research from campaigns has essentially replaced investigative reporting.”

But perhaps the defining feature of marketing strategy in 2012 has been the sophisticated use of voter data and statistical modeling to persuade and mobilize the electorate. Between hypertargeting via browser cookies and extensive online tracking operations, there is a potential for the granular customization of politics: “Two people in the same house could get different messages… Not only will the message change, the type of content will change,” boasted Romney’s digital director. Moreover, many of those political messages may well deliberately filter in through social networks, both online and off, as campaigns strategize “if, say, a phone call from a distant cousin or new friend would be more likely prompt the urge to cast a ballot.”

As I argue in Your Ad Here, my forthcoming book from NYU Press, the commercial side of the marketing industry has been grappling with many of these patterns and initiatives for years: faster communication environments, fragmenting audience niches, and grassroots scheming through social media. Tomorrow’s winner may well have navigated these challenges successfully through the election season, but the game changes on November 7. You can campaign in poetry in less than 140 characters; governing in prose takes a wider medium.

Michael Serazio is Assistant Professor of Communication at Fairfield University and the author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (NYU Press, 2013).

Why “deferred action” isn’t enough

—Michael A. Olivas

Tens of thousands of undocumented students are making their way through college without federal financial support and with little state financial aid available—only to find that they cannot accept employment or enter the professions for which they have trained. Cases of undocumented law-school graduates who have passed the bar are surfacing in California, Florida, and New York, and more will soon surface in other fields, too, as unauthorized students graduate from college. Seeing this brick wall, a number of immigration law professors wrote a letter to the president, urging him to use the administrative discretion available to him, to help undocumented college students who find themselves in the worst of all possible worlds. It appears this call was heard when, in June 2012, President Obama announced an expansive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which is still in the implementation first phases.

Unfortunately, despite the excitement (and outrage from President Obama’s Republican opponents), this policy is not the stalled DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for some immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The President’s courageous decision could not have accorded any more than he did, as any true reform will have to come from Congress, which has been reluctant to take up even the modest DREAM Act, much less the more comprehensive immigration reform so needed.

Gov. Mitt Romney has indicated his determination to veto any version of the DREAM Act, and the 2012 GOP platform urges deportation of these students. In reality, the President’s adoption of a “deferred action” policy is, to a great extent, old wine in a new wineskin. The policy does not grant legal-residency status, as the DREAM Act would, but only defers deportation for a renewable two-year period. Announcing the policy shows new political will, but it does not change existing law or create additional discretion.

Forms of prosecutorial discretion, including deferred action, have been available for many years (originating in the John Lennon deportation case, in the early 1970s). Nothing substantive has been added to existing authority. Indeed, in June 2011, the government announced that it would focus on deporting known criminals (the “gangbangers” as President Obama referred to them in a recent debate)—and urged prosecutors to use their discretion in considering the cases of students who would qualify for the DREAM Act. DACA has made regular provisions for these students to receive work authorization. Bear in mind, too, that this administration removed and deported nearly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants in the previous year. Even with those metrics, and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, those who would further restrict immigration are not convinced that there has been enough enforcement—and see deferred action as a threat to the present situation. In August 2012, CIS employees filed suit to end DACA. There is a new application procedure, a good thing, and many details yet to be determined.

Deferred action is a vague and confusing process—and it will probably lead to unscrupulous notarios entering the picture. Under current regulations, individuals whose case has been deferred are eligible to receive employment authorization, provided he or she can demonstrate “an economic necessity for employment.” Deferred action can be terminated or renewed at any time at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. Many potential DREAMers will be hesitant to apply and “out” themselves to authorities, even in exchange for employment authorization, if the President is not re-elected. The delays occasioned by schools being overwhelmed with transcript requests make it clear that this has been a complicated and expensive process, one with uncertain contours. History may be on the side of the DREAMers, but they still find themselves in a cruel limbo not of their making, and with no clear way out of the thicket. This is a movement forward, and the program will transform many of the students’ lives for the better. But only the adults in Congress taking up immigration reform will truly serve their interests, and that of society.

Thirty years after the Supreme Court told us that undocumented immigrants deserve an education (Plyler v. Doe, 1982), we have yet to resolve this impasse. Deferred action is a step in the right direction, but until more cases are cleared and these students can take up work, it will be a program fraught with potential. While these students’ chances of being deported may be reduced, without employment authorization and a reasonable opportunity to regularize their status, they will still live in the shadows—with limited hope.

Michael A. Olivas is Professor of Law, University of Houston, and the author of No Undocumented Child Left Behind (NYU Press, 2102).

Obama, Romney: But who will tame the megabanks?

—Steven A. Ramirez

While the economy has been a centerpiece issue in the 2012 presidential campaigns, the election rhetoric thus far is silent about controlling concentrated economic power to restore economic growth. If the historic financial meltdown of 2008 has taught us anything, it’s that it takes only a small handful of corporate and financial elites to inflict trillions in costs upon the general economy. Without sound economic regulation, those controlling excess wealth will enrich themselves at the expense of society. And yet, neither candidate forcefully advocates the taming of the megabanks which today control unprecedented resources.

During the recent presidential debates, key issues involving the megabanks weren’t even touched upon by Obama or Romney. Among those not discussed:

  • Not a single Wall Street executive at any of the megabanks at the center of the crisis suffered criminal penalties despite numerous securities fraud settlements. Unprecedented frauds at the megabanks met with unprecedented docility from prosecutors.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act empowers the government to break-up megabanks posing a “grave threat” to financial stability. Yet these banks still enjoy a massive subsidy in their cost of funds (about $16 billion a year for the top five megabanks) and under-perform financially. Thus, the megabanks by definition threaten financial stability, and the government should require the weakest among them to spin-off operating divisions to their shareholders.
  • Given the huge subsidy that megabanks still enjoy in capital markets, why not toughen up Dodd-Frank further to convince capital markets that “too big to fail” is truly over? Toughening Dodd-Frank did not warrant a word of discussion. Yet, according to polls the vast majority of American voters disfavor continued subsidies for megabanks.

The point transcends financial regulation. With all the talk of jobs, neither candidate offered any kind of jobs program. Just restoring the estate tax to Clinton-era levels (only estates over $1 million pay) would free up $50 billion for millions of jobs. Other topics not permitted on the agenda include: reforming the structure of globalization, stiffening corporate governance law, funding the needs of the 25% of American children living in poverty, and so on.

Echoing the thesis of my book, Lawless Capitalism, anything that threatens the current holders of the largest aggregations of wealth in American history is off-limits for any discussion at all. Instead, the debates focused on whether to cut entitlements and which tax cuts to preserve. The candidates spent much time debating whether slashing tax rates a further 20% made sense.

However, solutions are at hand. Americans must view economic despotism with the same suspicion as political despotism. In terms of this election, that means being mindful of money’s influence on electoral politics, and considering which candidate is most heavily funded by the megabanks (opensecrets.org, for example, tracks contributions). At its founding, America threw off political royalty; it’s time now to do the same with economic royalty.

Steven A. Ramirez is Professor of Law at Loyola University of Chicago, where he also directs the Business and Corporate Governance Law Center. His book, Lawless Capitalism: The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law will publish in December 2012.

Presidential debate’s real winner?

—Scott Melzer

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney were asked to share their gun control views at Tuesday night’s town hall debate. Who won this one? The National Rifle Association.

In 1994, President Clinton tangled with the NRA and gun rights supporters prior to signing a federal assault weapons ban, but it expired ten years later. A questioner at last night’s debate asked President Obama what he has done or will do to “limit the availability of assault weapons” and keep them out of the hands of criminals.

By any objective measure, President Obama has not been a champion of gun control. He responded, “You know, we’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment. And I believe in the Second Amendment. You know, we’ve got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.” The statement could have just as easily been uttered by his Republican opponent.

Eventually, the president expressed tepid support for reenacting the assault weapons ban, but only as a part of a broader community and school-based approach to stopping kids from using violence. Obama’s lack of a gun control agenda confirms his lack of desire—or perhaps more likely his disinclination—to pressure Congress to pass gun control legislation. With no robust gun control movement to force politicians to fight for gun control, not even multiple mass killings this past summer could generate much of a conversation about gun control, let alone action. The NRA and gun rights activists have won the debate. This has not stopped them, though, from painting Obama as an extremist seeking to take away gun rights.

“Today, we live in an America that is getting harder to recognize every day led by a President who mocks our values, belittles our faith, and is threatened by our freedom,” said NRA Political Victory Fund chairman Chris W. Cox at the NRA’s formal announcement endorsing the Romney-Ryan ticket. NRA top officer Wayne LaPierre added, “In this election, there is no debate. There is only one choice, only one hope, to save our firearms freedom and our way of life,” he argued. “On November 6, vote freedom first – Vote Romney-Ryan!”

The NRA claims its defense of gun rights is a defense of all rights and freedoms. The Second Amendment protects all others, they say. The NRA frames President Obama (and the Democratic Party) as proponents of big-government policies, and thus enemies of freedom.

The NRA’s gun rights rhetoric doesn’t align with reality.

Perhaps the president is being a political animal by avoiding expressing strong support for gun control. He does so because it is beneficial, and it benefits him because the NRA and gun rights activists have created the new reality. Publicly supporting gun control (or worse) introducing gun control legislation comes at a cost.

As the candidate for an unquestionably anti-gun control party, Governor Romney should be able to exploit this topic for gain. Instead, he agreed with the president that enforcement of current laws and community-based solutions should be used to reduce violence. Romney is trapped not by his political opponents but by his own shifting position on the issue.

Contradicting his earlier position as Governor of Massachusetts, last night he expressed opposition to any new gun control laws, including a ban on assault weapons. The president accused Romney of flip-flopping, but did not paint his opponent as a far-right pro-gun extremist. This is an exception to the president’s strategy of portraying Romney as “severely conservative,” to use the governor’s own words. Severely conservative gun rights supporters suffer no political consequences. Quite the opposite, they receive the grassroots and deep pockets support of the NRA and its four million members.

The NRA and its base of deeply committed gun rights activists have shifted the debate, so that Democratic presidential candidates repeat NRA lines about Second Amendment rights and Republican presidential candidates (even those who previously supported assault weapons bans) cannot secure the party’s nomination unless they oppose all forms of gun control.

The NRA won Tuesday night’s debate because it has won the broader debate about gun control and gun rights. And as long as it continues to wield its formidable power and influence in the name of firearms freedom, the NRA will win again and again.

Scott Melzer is Associate Professor of Sociology at Albion College and author of Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War (new in paperback).

For our First Black President, no more racial niceties

—Enid Logan

Social scientists have spent a great deal of time in recent years writing about covert racism, also known as colorblind racism, have-a-nice-day racism, or racism lite. Many of us have believed ourselves to have entered into a new racial era wherein overt racist sentiments are rarely uttered aloud, and in which the mechanisms that sustain white supremacy, though insidious and impactful, are now much more subtle and hard to pin down. But then Barack Obama ran for, and won, the presidency and Overt Racism once again reared its ugly head.

At this juncture, I believe, many scholars and non-scholars alike are trying to figure out just what is going on. How is it that in the era of racial niceties, where racial meaning is most often conveyed through “sanitized” and deracialized discourse, old style racism, overt racism, or “Archie Bunker” racism has suddenly moved from the fringes to the conservative mainstream? How is it that a moment that was supposed to represent the nation’s triumph over racism has seemingly lead to the opposite?

In the last several years, we have seen the vilest of racial imagery applied to the President, his young daughters, and his wife. Particularly visible early on was the signage at the rallies of the so-called “Tea Party” in 2009-2010. President Obama was figured variously as an African witch doctor, as Hitler, or as a white-faced Joker, with black circles around his eyes and bloody red lips. Comments about the Obamas left on the internet over the past several years have been especially vicious. And, in November 2009, it was revealed that the top ranked Google search image for Michelle Obama was a Photoshopped rendering of her as an ape. As sociologists Adia Harvey Wingfield and Joe Feagin report, in July 2009, one anonymous reader at the Free Republic—an online message board for independent, grass-roots conservatism—described 11-year old Malia Obama “as ‘a common street whore’…and went on to “wonder when she will get her first abortion.” And in March of this year, a federal judge circulated an email in which it was implied that Barack Obama had been conceived at a party during which his mother had had sex with both a black man and a dog.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Obama has faced lashes of anger and incivility directed at him from white elected officials. Consider Congressman Joe Wilson who yelled “You lie!” at Obama from the Senate floor, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who greeted the President with a finger in the face as he arrived at a Phoenix airport. Once considered primarily to be an extremist, fringe political movement, the Tea Party itself has achieved sweeping electoral success, as a number of its candidates were elected to the U.S. Congress during the 2010 midterm elections, largely on the grounds of their fierce opposition to the President.

During his brief, fake bid for the Republican presidential nomination, business tycoon Donald Trump based his entire political platform on the clearly race-baiting ideology of “birtherism.” This is the view that Obama’s presidency is illegitimate, because his birth certificate is a fake, and that he is not a U.S. citizen. While this belief would seem to be a highly illogical and irrational one, an August 2010 poll found that 41% of Republicans and 1 in 4 Americans overall believed that the president was probably lying about his citizenship.

But perhaps the most ominous development we have seen in recent years lies in the area of voter policy. Legislatures in 41 states have introduced restrictive voter identification laws in the last year, designed expressly to limit the access to vote. Voting rights would particularly be curtailed among the young, the elderly, and non-whites—all liberal-leaning constituencies that are likely to vote for President Obama in 2012. Critics have likened these measures to the poll taxes and literacy tests that restricted African American access to the vote for seven and a half decades after the Reconstruction.

So what has happened? Was Overt Racism always already in the background, ready to reemerge at any moment, and had we just been fooling ourselves to think that it would stay there? Is this a calculated political strategy on the part of the Right, designed to inflame racial fears and drive whites to the polls on election day? Or does it represent the uncoordinated, inchoate rage of a segment of the white population that perceives itself to be imperiled by the impending “non-white” demographic takeover of the U.S.?

I believe it to be a mixture of the two. The reaction demonstrates that for all the claims that Obama is a milquetoast moderate who has brought about very little change and done almost nothing to shake up the status quo, not everyone is in agreement. The reappearance of Overt Racism in the Age of Obama tells us that white racial anxiety and anti-black hostility in the U.S., as well as an abiding investment in the U.S. as a white nation, run much, much deeper than many of us had imagined.

Obama’s victory seemed at first to portend great things for the U.S. As I have written in my recent book, from 2006 to 2008, a chorus of pundits proclaimed that Barack Obama offered redemption, absolution, and renewal to the nation, all of which was refracted through the magic of his blackness. Above all, we were told, the election of a black man as president would prove that whites had largely gotten over the issue of race, and Real Racism was now firmly in our past.  But this has been proven to be manifestly false. And let’s be clear. It was John McCain who won the majority of the white vote (56%) in 2008, and without the high turnout of the black, Latino and Asian electorate, he would have won the presidency.

Obama’s election was without a doubt a triumphal and defining moment in our nation’s history. But it was a moment that awoke the dormant T-Rex of Race, igniting a special kind of fear and loathing in the nation, aimed directly at our First Black President. If Obama wins the election in 2012, it will be despite the power of racial fears to sway some whites towards the GOP ticket. It will also be because the expanding multiracial electorate turns out for Obama in large numbers, thus helping continue our march towards an America that is red, white, blue, and brown.

Enid Logan is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her book, “At this Defining Moment”: Barack Obama’s Presidential Candidacy and the New Politics of Race was published by NYU Press in 2011.

Why Romney won the debate

—Robert Cherry

As the debate unfolded, my worst fears came to the fore: Democrats never win if they posture themselves as more responsible deficit fighters than their Republican opponents; that the goodies Republicans promise just don’t lead to deficit reduction. Whether it was Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, and now Mitt Romney, they always make promises to pay for the tax benefits that they give by suggesting that the economy will grow enough to generate the necessary revenues. And Romney superbly articulated this thesis.

It always works because it avoids making difficult decisions on spending cuts; cuts that neither Republicans nor Democrats nor the American public wants to consider. It also works because the size of the federal debt is an unclear abstraction. When is the debt too large? It was 120 percent of national income just after WWII so the projected 90 percent isn’t so bad. And with low interest rates, the carrying costs are actually a marginal burden. So as long as the Chinese and others are willing the buy the bonds what’s the problem! And as Romney stressed effectively, Obama argued against tax increases for the rich a year ago, claiming we shouldn’t raise taxes when the economy is so weak; and economic growth is weaker now than it was then.

Romney also moved the discourse toward a comprehensive approach to tax reform. He proposed lowering tax rates accompanied by reducing the tax deductions that would be allowed. Romney was not too specific as there are a number of ways to accomplish this: Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin are the two mostly widely discussed. Unrealistically, Obama claimed that he would only raise taxes on the wealthy, even though he is well aware that after the elections, comprehensive tax reform along the lines Romney is proposing will play a central role in tax policy deliberations.

Romney’s approach to the deficit should not sit well with the Tea Party followers. They heaped scorn on George W. Bush for not curbing spending to limit the deficit and claim they will not allow this to occur again. As a result, Tea Partiers will not be happy with a President Romney if he follows through with what he said at this debate. But if the American voters believe this more moderate Romney is the real Romney, Obama will have a much more difficult road to victory than he thought two days ago.

Robert Cherry is Brueklundian Professor in the Department of Economics at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is the author of Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work (NYU Press, 2012).

Romney-Ryan: Americans for inequality

—Robert Cherry

Logo of Americans for Inequality, a satirical Facebook group who recently endorsed the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Republican hopefuls, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, strongly believe that providing economic incentives for entrepreneurs is central to economic growth, so that government business regulations and taxes are harmful. This vision provides the central justification for many features of Ryan’s budget proposal, including lowering taxes on the wealthy and rejecting restrictions on small business decision-making.

Small business has always been a safety valve for men who did not excel in the educational system. Having access to capital from their family or social network, many men could open a business and expect to attain a middle-class standard of living.  The big box stores, however, have constrained this option substantially so that the small business environment has increasingly become a place where dreams are unfulfilled. Even before the Great Recession, three-quarters of the 27 million businesses had annual sales of less than $100,000. Most disheartening, 93 and 85 percent of black and Latino/a owners, respectively, did not reach this sales level.

Unable to forestall this transformation, millions of frustrated small businessmen and their families have chosen to direct their anger at government. The Ryan-Romney rhetoric has increased this scapegoating and underpins the viciousness of many of the personal attacks on President Obama.

Romney and Ryan lionize individual entrepreneurship because it reflects the way they assess their own life stories. Both believe that their success was self made. It is why they reacted so strongly when President Obama claimed that entrepreneurs do not build their companies alone. Government provides the business supports, he argued, that create a healthy and productive business environment.

What is most troubling is that neither Romney nor Ryan considers the crucial role government funding plays in furthering economic growth. Ryan’s budget doesn’t simply slash funding to the most vulnerable people: the poor and the elderly. It slashes government funding for transportation infrastructure, research, job training, and general education. However important the entrepreneur is, without these building blocks, it is difficult to see how the United States can grow and prosper in an increasingly competitive world economy. Indeed, in the hi-tech sector, expanding the base of entrepreneurs with the necessary technical background requires a government supported first-class educational system.

Even if their own success was not aided by government, Romney and Ryan ignore their privileged backgrounds. They both came from families that provided sufficient social and financial capital for them to have opportunities that most individuals do not have.

Today, the vast majority of children live in families who have no wealth, outside of the dwindling equity in their homes, that can be used to fund their children’s education. Romney showed his insensitivity to this reality when, at a campaign rally in Ohio, he urged students to pursue entrepreneurship, even if it meant they would “borrow money, if you have to, from your parents.” By not investing in the necessary human and physical capital, the Romney-Ryan vision will not only reproduce the same class and race inequalities that exist today but will hinder the economic growth that we desperately need.

Robert Cherry is Brueklundian Professor in the Department of Economics at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is the author of Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work (NYU Press, 2012).

Where are Evangelicals in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Campaign?

—Justin Wilford

Four years ago, Rick Warren and Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California hosted the first campaign meeting of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Warren called it the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, and structured it as a set of interviews so that the candidates would meet with him separately on stage, each answering identical questions. As the announcement of the event in late July of 2008 was reported in almost every major U.S. media outlet, and even garnered coverage abroad, critics quickly expressed fear at the thought of a megachurch and its pastor holding such prominent positions in a presidential campaign.

It was bad enough for religious figures to endorse particular candidates, they argued, but here was a strongly evangelical pastor presiding over one of only a small handful of candidate meetings. (Obama and McCain would go on to hold three face-to-face debates in the following months.) At a minimum, it seemed, the event legitimized a particular religious group as an arbiter in American electoral politics; at worst, it allowed a particular religious group to tip the scales of a democratic election in an anti-democratic way.

Was it a slippery slope to theocracy, as some critics argued? As I show in the forthcoming book, Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism, which centers around 18 months of field work at Saddleback and surrounding communities, Warren and Saddleback did very little to wring any sort of political results from that unique event. While some aspects of the event appeared questionable, the sermons and programs at Saddleback in the following days and weeks were remarkably anodyne and apolitical. As I relate in a chapter on the event:

Far from being an act of encouraging political engagement, however, the incorporation of [the Civil Forum on the Presidency] into the American political process was seen by Warren as a way to legitimize the church, not sacralize politics. The forum was not followed by voter registration drives at the church, as in the past. Nor was it followed by a politically relevant sermon or church campaign. In fact, three weeks after the Civil Forum, Saddleback launched the “Forty Days of Love” campaign, which consisted of a series of sermons and small-group study guides centered on [a Saddleback pastor’s] new book about relating with Christlike love to those close to you. It could not have been more apolitical. (p. 158)

So while critics were worried about the rise of American theocracy, might it have been the case that the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency was political evangelicalism’s national denouement? If so, it didn’t go out with a bang, but instead exited quite gracefully (or, rather, civilly). A pastor and church that in 2004 had rallied its members to vote for the candidate who opposed same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, and abortion (no candidates’ names were mentioned, wink, wink) in 2008 simply hosted a “civil” event that allowed each candidate equal time and opportunity to express his views, and left it that. (Although, there was the later matter regarding a certain state ballot measure.)

And in 2012? So far, there has been no hint that any “civil” event is on the horizon, nor any Saddleback-sponsored political event for that matter. The closest Warren has come to the political arena this year is when he tweeted on August 1, that the CEO of Chik-Fil-A called to tell him that they ran out of chicken on a day that was supposed to symbolize anti-same-sex marriage views. But even then, Warren deleted the tweet within a day.

It could be that evangelicals are just sitting this election out or will vote with little enthusiasm, as many have argued. But I think something much bigger is going on. Regardless of the religion of the Republican candidate, no big religious policy issues are even up for debate this year. Same-sex marriage? It seems like an issue that is best left to the fast-food sector. Abortion? A down-ticket issue that can only mobilize local pockets of voters but is a loser on the national stage. Stem-cell research? It’s hard to imagine that this was ever an issue.

There is no daylight between Romney and evangelicals on these and just about every other issue that matters to the religious right. So why the silence? It has something to do with what makes places like Saddleback Church work so well. The focus there is on intimate relationships that are nurtured in small groups; on personal growth achieved through service work (what they call missions); and on private, individual happiness underwritten by a clear and accessible evangelical narrative of self and society.

The old battleground of the culture wars is a strange land to many of today’s megachurch evangelicals. While the substantive views on these matters might not have changed much (though there is evidence of some shift), they just don’t make as much sense in the context of a popular, contemporary evangelicalism that is much more concerned about personal well-being. Therefore, we shouldn’t mistake the latter’s absence in the 2012 presidential election for its decline. American evangelicalism is alive and well. It’s just that its lifeblood is no longer culture war politics.

Justin Wilford is author of Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalismforthcoming in November 2012 from NYU Press.

[This article originally appeared on the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture blog, on August 14, 2012. Read it here.]