By Eugene Robinson
So much for voter suppression. So much for the enthusiasm gap. So much for the idea that smug, self-appointed arbiters of what is genuinely “American” were going to “take back” the country, as if it had somehow been stolen.
On Tuesday, millions of voters sent a resounding message to the take-it-back crowd: You won’t. You can’t. It’s our country, too.
President Obama and the Democratic Party scored what can only be seen as a comprehensive victory. Obama won the popular vote convincingly, and the electoral vote wasn’t even close. In a year when it was hard to imagine how Democrats could avoid losing seats in the Senate, they won seats and increased their majority.
Republicans did keep control of the House, but to call this a “status quo” election is absurd. After the 2010 midterm election, Republicans had the initiative and Democrats were reeling. After Tuesday, the dynamics are utterly reversed.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the conservative bloviators who were so convinced that Mitt Romney would defeat Obama, perhaps in a landslide, and proceed to undo everything the president has accomplished.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh was almost wistful: “I went to bed last night thinking we’re outnumbered. ... I went to bed last night thinking we’ve lost the country. I don’t know how else you look at this.” He then launched into a riff about Obama and Santa Claus that is too incoherent to quote. Apparently, we are all elves.
Sean Hannity, on his radio show, was angry: “Americans, you get the government you deserve. And it pains me to say this, but America now deserves Barack Obama. You deserve what you voted for. ... We are a self-governing country and the voice and the will of ‘We the People’ have now been heard. America wanted Barack Obama four more years. Now you’ve got him. Good luck with that.”
As is often the case, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was a bit more perceptive: “The white establishment is now the minority,” he said Tuesday evening, before it was clear that Obama would win. “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
No, Bill, it’s not.
African-Americans made up a record 13 percent of the electorate in 2008. Many analysts attributed this spike in turnout to the novelty of being able to vote for a black major-party presidential candidate. This year, some pollsters factored into their projections the assumption that the black vote would decline to a more “normal” 11 percent.
But on Tuesday, African-Americans once again were 13 percent of all voters—and probably played an even bigger role than this number would indicate in re-electing Obama.
Look at Ohio, arguably the most hotly contested swing state. African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the state population, but according to exit polls constituted a full 15 percent of the Ohio electorate on Tuesday. Blacks, in other words, were more motivated to vote than whites.
Ohio also happens to be a state where Republican officials sharply curtailed early voting. If, as many suspect, this was a transparent attempt to depress minority turnout by making it harder for working-class Ohioans to vote, it didn’t work. In fact, it backfired.
Look at Colorado. In 2008, Latinos were 13 percent of the electorate; just over 60 percent voted for Obama. On Tuesday, Latinos made up 14 percent of Colorado voters—and, according to exit polls, three-fourths of them supported the president. Think this might have something to do with Romney’s “self-deportation” immigration policy? I do.
Nationwide, roughly three of every 10 voters Tuesday were minorities. African-Americans chose Obama by 93 percent, Latinos by 71 percent, and Asian-Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, by 73 percent.
These are astounding margins, and I think they have less to do with specific policies than with broader issues of identity and privilege. I think that when black Americans saw Republicans treat President Obama with open disrespect and try their best to undermine his legitimacy, they were offended. When Latinos heard Republicans insist there should be no compassion for undocumented immigrants, I believe they were angered. When Asian-Americans heard Republicans speak of China in almost “Yellow Peril” terms, I imagine they were insulted.
On Tuesday, the America of today asserted itself. Four years ago, the presidential election was about Barack Obama and history. This time, it was about us—who we are as a nation—and a multihued, multicultural future.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group