Within the handful of swing states, the presidential election will come down to a handful of swing counties: namely the suburban voters who reside in about the last contested places in American politics.
Even in solid-red states, big cities tilt overwhelmingly toward President Obama and the Democrats, and even in solid-blue ones, the countryside tends to be solidly Republican.
“There’s nothing wrong with New York that a million Chinese couldn’t cure,” the urban geographer George Sternlieb once quipped. It may be an exaggeration, but rising Asian immigration has indeed been a boon to many communities and economies across the country.
While the Democratic convention this week celebrates the party’s new coalition, Bill Clinton will no doubt try to recapture the white middle class that’s largely deserted the Democrats since his presidency ended. But it’s likely his efforts will be a case of too little, too late for Barack Obama—who will have to look elsewhere for his electoral majority.
Much is said about class warfare in contemporary America, and there’s justifiable anger at the impoverishment of much of the middle and working classes. The Pew Research Center recently dubbed the 2000s a “lost decade” for middle-income earners — some 85% of Americans in that category feel it’s now more difficult to maintain their standard of living than at the beginning of the millennium, according to a Pew survey.
At the turn of the century, America’s biggest advantage was its relatively vibrant demographics. In sharp contrast with its major competitors — the E.U., Russia, China, Japan — the United States had maintained a far higher birthrate and rate of population growth.
About two in three Americans do not think what’s good for Wall Street is good for America, according to the 2012 Harris poll, but do think people who work there are less “honest and moral than other people,” and don’t “deserve to make the kind of money they earn.” Confidence in banks is at a record low, according to Gallup, as they’ve suffered the steepest fall in esteem of any American institution over the past decade.
It’s a commonplace among pundits and economic developers that smart people flock to “smart” places like sparrows to Capistrano. Reflecting the conventional wisdom, The New York Times recently opined that “college graduates gravitate to places with many other college graduates and the atmosphere that creates.”
For nearly a generation, pundits, academics and journalists have written off suburbia. They predict that the future lies in the cities, with more Americans living in smaller spaces such as the micro-apartments of 300 square feet or less that New York and San Francisco are considering changing their building laws to allow.
Move over, Iraq. Tribal politics have arrived at home.
It’s not like our tribes will arm themselves, but American politics is developing a disturbing resemblance to Mesopotamia’s ever-feuding Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds as the 2012 election rapidly devolves into a power struggle between irreconcilable factions rather than a healthy debate among citizens.
The blame here falls in large part on President Barack Obama, who after four years of economic lethargy needs to recast the election as anything other than what it naturally is: a referendum on the incumbent and the state of the nation.
This year’s presidential election is fast becoming an ode to diminished expectations. Neither candidate is advancing a reasonable refutation of the conventional wisdom that America is in the grips of a “new normal” — an era of low growth, persistently high unemployment and less upward mobility, particularly for the working class.
Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”
In an election pivoting on jobs, energy could be the issue that comes back to haunt Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as the cultural and ideological schism between energy-producing Republican states and energy-dependent Democratic ones widens.
When we think of places with high salaries, big metro areas like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco are usually the first to spring to mind. Or cities with the biggest concentrations of educated workers, such as Boston.
President Obama’s recent “do it myself” immigration reform plan, predictably dissed by conservatives and nativists, reveals just how clueless the nation’s leaders are about demographics. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration crackdown also broke down along predictable lines, with both parties claiming ideological victories.
Yet the heated debates are missing the reality of immigration and its role in America’s future. In reality America needs more immigrants, but with a somewhat different mix.