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In the debate over the so-called fiscal cliff, many in the media have missed something critical that both parties must understand: People of color, whose votes are increasingly crucial, believe in the positive role of government. They don't want domestic social programs cut.
According to the Census Bureau, people of color will be America's new majority by the year 2043. African-Americans, Asians and Latinos already outnumber whites in several states and play a growing role in presidential swing states. Neither party can ignore them.
But too many people who should know better have been acting as if the Republicans can fix their dismal performance among Latinos, for example, simply by adopting nicer rhetoric and less draconian immigration policies.
It won't work. Immigration is important (and insulting groups of people is never a way to win their support) but it's not enough.
That's where the fiscal cliff comes in.
An election eve poll by Latino Decisions found that the economy/jobs was by far the top concern of Latinos. Immigration was a fairly distant second, and the deficit didn't even rate.
Perhaps even more telling is the Latino vote in California, where the state's budget troubles produced two ballot initiatives to raise taxes for schools and other threatened government services. Latinos supported both by massively larger margins than the electorate as a whole.
The lesson is obvious: Latinos aren't buying the notion that government is the problem and should be starved of funds. They value government services and want an adequate, fair tax structure to support it.
The same thing is happening among Asian voters, who have been moving steadily toward the Democrats, and who favored President Obama over Mitt Romney by more than a 3-1 ratio. A Pew study last June found that "Asian-Americans prefer a big government that provides more services (55 percent) over a smaller government that provides fewer services (36 percent)."
Neither party will win voters of color by preserving tax cuts for the wealthy while slashing Medicare and other vital programs. Instead, the president and Congress should:
Make the tax system fairer. Letting the top tax rate return to Clinton-era levels is a start, but not sufficient. Abusive corporate use of offshore tax havens costs the government up to $100 billion a year. Let's crack down.
Cut with a scalpel, not an ax. Protect programs that help those struggling in the tough economy, but take a hard look at our bloated defense budget, which exceeds those of the next 13 countries combined.
Protect seniors. Seniors of color, who are less likely than whites to have worked for a company with a retirement plan, are especially dependent on Social Security and Medicare. They -- and their kids -- will not take kindly to cuts. That includes gimmicks like changing the way the consumer price index is calculated (the "chained CPI"), which is just a backdoor way of cutting benefits.
Both Republicans and Democrats should pay attention: Austerity budgeting is not just bad policy; it's bad politics.
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