If President Obama loses this election, it won’t be simply because of the economy, or the deficit or any of the conventional wisdom that many pundits tend to fall back on.
It’ll be because white people rioted – in the ways that many of them have always rioted whenever black people or minorities begin to amass a degree of power or equality that makes them uncomfortable.
In the past, white people have rioted by abandoning neighborhoods, and depleting tax bases, whenever too many black people moved in. They’ve rioted by pulling their children out of schools when the student body became too black or too brown.
And now, it seems white voters are abandoning Obama – a group that he took painstaking measures to cater to by not appearing to be too pro-black – and flocking to Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
They’re flocking to him in numbers that could surpass the percentage of whites who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
At 60 percent, that was the largest percentage in modern times. Now, more than three decades later, that scenario could repeat itself.
According to The Washington Post, four recent national polls show Romney winning white voters by margins of 20 percent or higher. If those numbers hold up, it will mean that Obama might have a tough time offsetting those gains with huge turnouts of black and Latino voters.
While it would be easy to blame the swing in the polls toward Romney on factors that have nothing to do with race, factors such as the lackluster economy and Obama’s dismal performance during the first debate, I don’t quite buy it.
I don’t quite buy it because right now, most polls indicate that people are feeling better about the economy. Also, I still don’t quite buy that one bad debate by Obama was enough to make that many folks change their minds.
That tells me that a lot of white people were looking for a reason – any reason – to vote for Romney.
I look at, for example, what’s happening in Florida. Right now, polls have Romney and Obama neck-and-neck, and some have Romney ahead.
But this is a state where Obama should be leading – especially since Romney and his vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, have plans to turn Medicare and Social Security into a voucher.
With its immense elderly population, you’d think that any plan to radically change those programs alone would be enough to easily put Florida in the blue column. But not here.
Again, it’s white people rioting.
And how do you explain people like Jeffrey Leonard in Defiance, Ohio? Obama’s auto industry bailout saved jobs for that town, yet Leonard told the Post that he’s undecided about whether to vote for Obama because he didn’t think it was the government’s responsibility to save General Motors and Chrysler.
This comes from a guy who is the city manager, and who possibly would have lost his own job had Defiance become a ghost town if the auto industry had dried up.
Or David Shomberg, whose job in a plastics factory is likely buoyed by the auto industry, but who says Romney might sway him because he’s concerned about federal debt and trouble overseas.
As if Romney has any real plans to deal with any of that.
Of course, most polls in Ohio show Obama holding on to varying leads, but in a state in which one in eight jobs are connected to the auto industry, their support for the president should be a no-brainer.
In fact, it ought to be a no-brainer to vote for the guy who helped save your job than the one who wrote that you should lose it.
That’s why I say that this presidential race has less to do with fears about this country’s economic destiny and more to do with its demographic destiny. It has more to do with worries about Latinos becoming the majority group, with blacks slightly behind, and what that might entail.
How else can you explain so much white support for Romney, a man who dissed half of the country – which includes a lot of them – as being lazy and dependent, who has no real record as a job creator as much as a job destroyer, and who is more about pandering than principle?
That’s why I’ve always viewed Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency not so much as a milestone, but a marker, in how far we’ve come in race relations.
And if white people turn out for Romney in Reagan-era levels, it’ll tell us just how far we still have to go.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.