Race and the Progressive Agenda

By Michael Simms

It’s unfortunate that Fox News framed the recent presidential election as a referendum on race, and it’s equally unfortunate that NPR is continuing that narrative by running stories on drunken frat boys at the University of Mississippi shouting racial epithets about the president. Mainstream media prefer simple stories that can be captured with a few dramatic sound-bites. The larger, more important narrative about the election is that millions of people of diverse backgrounds, including many white southerners like myself, came together to elect a moderate progressive to the most powerful position on the planet. I volunteered for Obama’s campaign – knocking on doors, calling strangers, donating a small amount of money — not because he’s African-American, but because he is what this country needs now. I don’t agree with him on every issue – the assassination of foreign nationals, the continued imprisonment of “terrorists” without due process, and the endless, pointless wars in southern Asia really scare me – however, he’s a highly intelligent, thoughtful man, an excellent orator, and a centrist and conciliator by nature. Most of all, he’s proven he’s willing to work with his opponents to reach decisions which move the country in the right direction.

I’m bothered by all the rah-rah on the left proclaiming that Obama’s re-election is a sign of the decline of the “white power structure”. Perhaps it is, but since I’ve never felt a part of the white power structure, I don’t have a dog in that fight. What bothers me is the narrowness of that narrative. If we see Obama’s re-election in strictly racial terms, then how strong is our commitment to other issues? The Republican convention showed that the GOP is completely out of touch with mainstream America. Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing improvisation with the now-famous Empty Chair created the perfect emblem of a party led by doddering old men with a sense of entitlement. If the Republicans accept the lessons which should be obvious to them by now – that their positions are too far to the right for most Americans – and they wise up and run more women and minorities for office, and their male candidates learn to keep their mouths shut about rape — will the Republicans take back the White House? The Republicans have a number of energetic young people, including many women and minorities, waiting their turn to take leadership. If the Republicans run a Latino candidate for president, which now seems likely with Marco Rubio chomping at the bit, will Obama supporters who saw his election as a referendum on race abandon the progressive agenda?

When I went back to Llano, Texas for my sister’s funeral a few years ago, I was surprised that the Baptist church was full of Latinos. But then I realized that two of my brothers had married Latinas, and these courteous and loving people were my extended family. When I was growing up, we were supposed to hate Mexicans, and now we are Mexican. I’d like to think that the nation is getting past narrowly defined racial issues and starting to realize that we’re all in this together. As the oceans rise and we man the lifeboats, we’re all going to have to take our turn at the oars.

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