Americans—even those who opposed his election—swelled with pride when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Who would have believed that the United States would elect an African American as its chief executive?
And he WAS decisively re-elected in 2012. What greater proof that Americans have achieved a degree of acceptance of racial diversity that once seemed impossible.
But the mid-term elections of 2014 carry another, darker message. America is more polarized politically than it has ever been before. Virtually every moderate Democrat—and every single Democrat elected in the Southern states, including Arkansas—was defeated.
President Obama was re-elected because minorities—Asian, Latino, and African Americans—turned out in overwhelming numbers and voted democratic. But this hid a rather alarming, countervailing statistic. White Americans, especially white Americans outside of liberal urban enclaves, refused to vote for an African American, or at least this African American.
In 2012, fewer than 40 percent of white Americans voted for the President—down from 43 percent in 2008. But this is not that different from the percentage of whites who have voted for Democrats in other recent presidential elections. However, Obama received only 28 percent of the white vote in the South in 2012.
My, that's a low percentage of one racial-ethnic group voting for a sitting president! But in 2014, the news got worse. Democrats running throughout the South were unable to get many white votes—even though, according to Nate Cohn of The New York Times, "They had distinguished surnames, the benefits of incumbency, the occasional conservative position and in some cases flawed opponents."
The upshot for Cohn is: "The inability of Southern Democrats to run well ahead of a deeply unpopular Mr. Obama raises questions about how an increasingly urban and culturally liberal national Democratic Party can compete in the staunchly conservative South." This leads to a difficult conclusion for Democrats: "without a broader base of support that lets Democrats win more votes in the South, it will be very hard for them to win back the House, and it may even be hard for them to win back the Senate."
Why is that? Do Southern and conservative whites across the country not only resent the President, but resent anyone else who would support him or run under the banner of his party? It is as though a large swath of white people now resist liberalized attitudes on race more than they have at any time in the last several decades.
Meanwhile, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter's grandson Jason ran for Governor of Georgia, a position his grandfather once held. Surprisingly, given Georgia's increasingly diversified electorate, and Atlanta's emergence as a highly sophisticated urban center, the margin of Jason Carter's defeat was decisive: "Even Deal (re-elected Republican Nathan Deal) said he was taken aback by the surprisingly big margin of victory."
Meanwhile, John Barrow, "the last white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South," also lost in Georgia, as did Michelle Dunn in the Georgia senate race. Nunn, like Carter the scion of a successful Democratic Georgia politician, likewise lost decisively a race considered a toss-up.
What are we to make of this constantly declining support for Democrats by white voters in conservative areas? It is as though white voters are saying, "We (the country) made a racially neutral decision. We regret that, and we want to withdraw our support for such an open-minded attitude."
Stanton Peele has been empowering people around addiction since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program. His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program. His website is peele.net. Follow Stanton on Twitter and Facebook.