By many accounts, the American electorate has become more polarized during the 2012 presidential contest, with race forming one of the many fault-lines dividing voters. We decided to look at what might happen to race relations in America under a second Obama term, versus a Mitt Romney administration, in a package that is also being published by our sister publication, The Root DC. Below is the Romney scenario. The Obama scenario is here. No matter which candidate wins, the very identity of the next man to step into the Oval Office will affect how Americans — and the world — view our progress toward better race relations.
(The Root) — Considering Mitt Romney’s well-earned reputation for having a somewhat casual relationship with the details of his past statements and political positions, the story he told five years ago on Meet the Press — that in 1978 he pulled over to the side of the road and “literally wept” after hearing on his car radio that his church had extended its lay priesthood to black men — seems a tad gauzy.
You could, after all, conclude that Romney’s a guy who harbors no prejudice toward African Americans and still feel like his version of events is a bit melodramatic.
If that’s how it happened, though, it’s a glimpse at how Romney could shape American race relations if he’s elected president. Clearly, Romney prefers to be seen as the guy who pulled over to the side of the road — and not the guy who blithely wrote off the “47 percent” and joked about how as a presidential candidate, “it would be helpful to be Latino” when he thought he was behind closed doors.
And with a recent Associated Press study revealing that Americans feel slightly worse about race relations since Barack Obama was elected four years ago, Romney — a businessman attuned to untapped potential — could choose to view this as an opportunity.
The question, though, is would he treat it that way?
Romney would succeed a president who still has the overwhelming support of black, Latino and Asian-American voters. And to recast himself as a uniter — instead of the divider who’s disingenuously castigated Obama as a “failure” — he’d be challenged to remodel the GOP as a party hoping to expand its mostly white base and figure out how to be the “postracial” leader that Obama’s opponents claim the president has failed to become.
Because, contrary to legend, Obama never promised a “postracial” America, but as president, he passed a more important test, whether or not you agree with his policy priorities: He has governed with all Americans’ interests in mind, despite the skepticism of those who expected him to advance a black agenda.
By contrast, Romney hasn’t explicitly promised to return to 1950s America, but with his preference for throwback vernacular like “gosh” and “golly,” his spontaneous renditions of “America the Beautiful” on the campaign trail, his Mad Men-era hair and his corporate pedigree, Romney implies that he’ll return America to a past that no longer exists. And his task would be matching his professed vision of a more culturally rigid, more fiscally austere administration with the “postwhite” America that actually exists — in which the first black president’s portrait hangs on the White House wall and Latinos begin to take over from African Americans as the minority group of record.
But if he so chooses, future President Romney could have a positive impact on race relations and improve his own standing if, like Obama, he governs as president of all the people. There are three things he’d have to do:
Change the Tone
Last week, former White House Chief of Staff and current Romney campaign adviser John Sununu alleged that retired Gen. Colin Powell only endorsed Obama’s candidacy because of race — and Romney said nothing.