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Both parties have a huge race problem

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Sarah Palin's remarks about President Obama highlight GOP race issue
  • Granderson says Republicans are getting little support from minorities
  • Democrats also have a problem since Obama may get less than 40% of white vote, he says
  • Neither party appeals across racial lines, and that's a problem in a changing America, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

(CNN) -- I would call Sarah Palin's use of "shuck and jive" in a Facebook post criticizing President Barack Obama another one of those dog whistle messages to racists, but it's far too obvious to be covert. The woman who claimed to be an LL Cool J fan in her first book knew exactly what she was doing.

Why she did it is anyone's guess.

Maybe she's still mad Bristol didn't win "Dancing With the Stars," maybe she thought Donald Trump was hogging the dunce cap, or maybe she's so completely tone-deaf she thought she was helping the country.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

But she's not. Anything that encourages the decades-long trend of racial division along party lines is not good for the country.

Mitt Romney may very well become the next president. But the polls suggest if he does, he will have little minority support. In a country that is growing browner by the decade, Republicans relying solely on white people to win elections is not a sustainable strategy.

Opinion: Cool Obama vs. square Romney

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And it's not a strategy that's reflective of the party's long history -- from President Abraham Lincoln to a Republican-led Congress passing the Ku Klux Klan Act in an attempt to dismantle the group.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 may have been signed by a Democratic president, but Republicans were the ones who provided the push in Congress necessary to get it to his desk. Remember in those days, Democrats didn't turn a blind eye to racism; they were oftentimes the racists, especially in the South, whose Democratic lawmakers led a 57-day filibuster trying to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law, he reportedly said he was handing the South over to Republicans for many years to come. And with that came segregation of a different sort.

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Today, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana all have white Republicans and black Democrats representing them in the House, and Georgia is likely to follow. The Peach State's last white Democrat in the House, Rep. John Barrow, finds himself in a tough race in part because his district has been redrawn to include more Republicans and -- get this -- more white people.

Minority Dems vs White Repubs -- so much for a post-racial society.

In 2008, Obama's share of the white vote was 43%, which Ron Brownstein reported tied Bill Clinton's 1996 vote as "the party's best performance among whites since 1980."

In 2010, House Democrats received only 37% of the white vote.

Obama is said to be polling at 38% of the white vote this year. If that number holds, he's going to need more than 80% of the minority vote to get re-elected, a threshold well within his reach because Romney is failing to gain any traction with blacks and has no clue what it means to be Latino in this country.

If he had, I doubt he would've joked in the infamous 47% video that his road to the White House would be easier if he were one.

All of which points us to this: Both parties have a huge race problem.

Democrats have been hemorrhaging white voters for decades and cannot continue to rely solely on large minority turnout to make up the difference. They need to adjust their messaging so white straight males feel there is still room for them under the tent.

Recent history has shown minorities were behind the Republican Party once so it would be foolish to think it can't happen again. The president was right when he told the editorial board of The Des Moines Register that the growing Latino community is key to political success. But Obama is in a tight race because the Democrats' message has lost its appeal to a lot of whites.

And conversely, Republicans are really in trouble because they've all but ignored the black community, are losing the Latino community and in coming decades, whites will be in the minority. Romney may be able to win the White House in 2012 with little support from minorities, which may be good for him but bad for the party considering in 2011 the majority of infants under 1 were brown.

In two states that have gone red since the Civil Rights Act's passage -- Mississippi and Georgia -- at least 50% of the new babies born were minorities. In Texas, it's at least 60%. Just how long can Republicans ignore minorities and think they can maintain power? How many Facebook posts by Republican figureheads such as Palin can the party leaders allow to go unchecked?

Both parties are facing a crisis because neither has figured out a message that speaks across racial lines, and until one does, political discourse is only going to get nastier.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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