The Rainbow Republic

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                           November 18, 2008

Newspapers reporting on Barack Obama's election victory sold out across the country. The Rev. Jesse Jackson cried. African-Americans partied. The dream deferred became the dream delivered.

There was no "Bradley effect," and everyone is getting an off-white boss - for many, the first time. The Ku Klux Klan can eat crow.

After the "mutts like me" comment by the president-elect, in reference to the family dog selection, we all can smile. Race discussion is finally unshackled.

But to focus on the election as a black victory alone misses the meteor - middle-named Hussein - that crashed into America. It's an all-men-are-created-equal fulfillment that transcends black America.

The pendulum won't swing back. This was not about party preference but permanent change. Minorities are now a third of the population, heavily immigrants and growing - fast. By 2040, the minority will be the majority. But the scales of power already have tipped in their favor.

Obama won with the help of virtually every minority as Hispanics, Jews and Asians joined blacks to support his ticket. They turned out in historic numbers and were decisive in strategic states, leveraging their impact.

The Hispanic vote was potent. Sharp gains in the Hispanic population and its turnout flipped the color code to blue for Colorado, Nevada, Florida and New Mexico. In Nevada, the Hispanic vote rose to 15% of the electorate, a 50% jump since 2004.

"They turned out, erasing the fame of Latino voters as a sleeping giant and making them an actual giant," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told The New York Times.

While everyone was paying attention to red vs. blue and intellectual vs. anti-intellectual, the real America walked into the voting booth.

There is now discussion that minorities in Texas, Georgia and Arizona will be a force in upcoming elections, whichever party they vote for.

Minorities are high-fiving and fist-dapping their way to Washington. Republicans are paying attention. Columnists and blogs are talking up Louisiana's Indian-American governor, Bobby Jindal, as their party's next great hope. The Rainbow Republic is here.

This country was built on its diverse ethnic, racial and religious immigration. It has refreshed our cultural and economic vitality. Immigrants (and I am one) are more entrepreneurial than the American-born, starting businesses from corner stores to high-tech giants, such as Jerry Yang of Yahoo!

Immigrants started 22 of Los Angeles's 100 fastest-growing businesses in 2005. The rich mosaic of our populace is an advantage homogenous nations like Japan and China never can achieve. Diversity builds stability.

Yet all this is an enigma for many Wisconsinites who are just beginning to realize that General Motors may not return to Janesville. Much of Wisconsin doesn't meld into the new American mosaic. There are white areas where many people hang out at the Lake Wobegon Café and think Obama is Muslim.

They haven't seen the vitality in the Mexican-American communities of Chicago that are bustling with new stores, new restaurants and new construction. They are in denial over the declining white population, over our children going off to college and not coming back. This is change we can't believe in.

"The people who are going to be building the future like this whole idea of diversity," Richard C. Longworth, author of "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism," told me. "Younger generations feel that diversity is a real plus, and they want to be in places where you can see this day in and day out. In too much of the Midwest, you can't."

At a time when our economy is in decline, the Rainbow Republic is change we can believe in: red, white, blue and off-white.

 
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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