Mark Shields: Peril of ignoring change

By Mark Shields

According to the Census Bureau, for the first time in more than a century, the annual number of deaths among white Americans exceeded the number of births. Add to that the facts that Asians are now the fastest-growing minority in the U.S., and a majority of American children younger than 5 now belong to a racial or ethnic minority, and we can begin to appreciate Heraclitus’ wisdom that “change is the only constant in life.”

Consider the velocity of change in our presidential politics. In the 1988 presidential election, Republican nominee George H. W. Bush won 59 percent of the white vote, and in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney also won 59 percent of the white vote. The differences in the final results between those two elections, not even a quarter century apart, are beyond staggering. Bush’s 59 percent of the white vote was the key to his winning 426 electoral votes and running more than 7 million votes ahead of Democrat Michael Dukakis.

In 2012, Romney’s 59 percent of the white vote did not prevent his losing the popular vote to the Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama by 5 million and being able to win only 206 electoral votes to Obama’s 332. When Bush defeated Dukakis, the U.S. electorate was 85 percent white; when Romney lost to Obama in 2012, the nation’s electorate was just 72 percent white.

I was surprised to learn that Asians are the fastest-growing minority group in the country.

Asian immigrants from South Korea, India, Japan, Pakistan and China are disproportionately found in the scientific, engineering and medical professions while also demonstrating a remarkable aptitude for launching their own businesses. But the anti-immigrant rhetoric, led by Romney, which dominated the GOP presidential primaries, and which may have been intended as hostile only to those coming in from Mexico, had the effect of alienating so many Pacific newcomers that Obama beat Romney by 3-1 in this voter group.

Remember the first election of the 21st century, when Republican George W. Bush, despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore, prevailed in the Electoral College by way of the Supreme Court? Gore’s gracious concession was an exceptionally unselfish act of political leadership that enabled most of his supporters to accept the decision. But if Romney had gotten the same percentage of the votes in 2000 that he in fact won in 2012, the Massachusetts Republican would have won a clear majority of the national popular vote that year.

My friend, Mark Russell, the wittiest man in or out of Washington, likes to remind us that his census figures indicate that by 2020, there will be 123,000 Americans over the age of 100 … and that all of them will have valid Florida driver’s licenses. But for the Republicans who ignore change and insist on campaigning in a country that no longer exists, its party platform castigating immigrants could turn into the political world’s longest suicide note. Let’s hope not, because this nation must educate, train and welcome the immigrant children among us, and because we need two healthy, relevant, competitive political parties.

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