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Emil Guillermo's Amok


What the ethnic vote tells us about the new us
By Emil Guillermo copyright 11/11/00

Until the recount is done, there's not much news but the buzz of our imperfect democracy. And it's buzzing.
All eyes are on Palm Beach, the cradle of our discontent, the home of pin-prick enfranchisement. Does a vote really count? Are the founders so wise after all? Does anyone have an abacus that works?

In the meantime, Al Gore is doing his best to keep from reverting to sighs.

And George W. is building a transition team anyway.

I hear his new theme song is "Who Let the Votes Out?"

All this waiting is a killer. It's worse than labor. At least with labor you know that whatever the pain, you'll end up with a cute little bundle.

If only this wait had a fate as good as labor. With the recount, we wait, knowing that the best we can do is end up with a guy that half the country hates.

Can't we just adopt?

No, we must endure, naturally.

So in the interim, it's pundit time.

I have said since the beginning, there was one vote that was pretty much a landslide -- for Al Gore. It was the vote of Ethnic America. They make up 20 percent of the national electorate based on exit polling. And they were overwhelmingly for Gore.

Blacks, 90-10.

Latinos 62-35.

Asians 55-41.

All for Gore.

The California numbers are even more astonishing. The ethnic vote was 30 percent of the state's electorate.

In California, it was blacks 86-11 percent.

Latinos 67-28.

Asian 48-47.

All for Gore.

So who was for Bush?

Nationally, it was white males, 60-36 percent.

White females were 53-42 percent, Gore.

What does all that tell you? We have a race gap in this country bigger than anyone imagines. Bush represents the worst for people of color. From blacks to American Indians. You don't get a landslide against you merely for flubbing a few lines. There's a reason. People of color see Bush as clueless when it comes to policies that impact their communities.

As the country moves toward a minority majority, Bush is the wrong president for the time.

But this is not a perspective that even more established political commentators want to acknowledge.

David Broder of the Washington Post will comment on a "nation divided on election day." But his divisions are more clearly between urban and rural, rich and poor. Traditional, safe divisions. Less explosive.

No one wants to talk about the divide that's for real.

"The United States is not divided," said Mark Shields on the "News Hour," dismissing Broder's take as melodrama. "It's Dwight Eisenhower's America. It's 1958."

Oh, yeah? Someone get Mr. Shields a copy of the Census Bureau figures that show the trend of minorities as the majority, especially in California. If this is Dwight Eisenhower's America, then I'm Beaver Cleaver.

On "Washington Week in Review," it wasn't any better. An old colleague, Elizabeth Arnold, the premier political reporter for NPR, actually said, "It's not like the country is divided on civil rights."

No, not yet. But the uniform ethnic vote is a strong indicator that the Bush administration will bring out a deep division that America hasn't seen since the 60s.

The GOP can trot out George P. Bush as Ricky Martin all it wants. It can have Chaka Khan close out the GOP convention. It's all Fantasyland/Disney World stuff. The GOP isn't modern enough to be the party of color.

To Bush's credit, he tried. The convention, his last-minute ad buys in Spanish show that. But the end result is Bush's remarkable failure. Few ethnic voters were fooled to vote for that vato Bush.

But don't expect to hear that from the mostly all-white punditry panels. Official Washington establishment journalists are still too stunned by democracy's stall, they can't even begin to consider the real problems that Tuesday exposes.

They're more comfortable discussing the electoral college, a system devised by landed white males, the only ones to participate in democracy at the start. It's a form of sacred anachronism that shows us change does not come easy. If at all.

Meanwhile, the electorate changes by the minute. Because this is America, the great democracy, voters are slowly being redefined by culture and ethnicity. The ethnic vote has grown steadily from just 10 percent to 30 percent in states like California and Florida, nearly mirroring the pace of the overall population.

The ethnic vote shows us we're heading into new territory that traditional pols and pundits better start understanding.

Because those in politics and media don't get it yet.

If a liberal guy like Shields thinks we're going back to America in 1958, we're really in trouble. That was an era before civil rights. Surely, that's not the kind of America that fits our times?

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