Obama Owes his Election to the Sesame Street Generation

Two days later, I’m still giddy with excitement about the results of Tuesday’s election.  To me it meant that Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 wasn’t just an anomaly.  More revealing than the victories for the Democratic party were the demographic results coming out of exit polls: 88% of Romney voters were white, while minorities made up 44% of the Obama vote.

Liberals have been saying for a while that the GOP has become the party of white men.  A few months ago my mom volunteered at an Obama rally here in Virginia.  I had asked her if the crowd was diverse, knowing that a strong voter turnout among minorities on election day would be crucial.

“Yes!  There were all kinds of people there,” she said, “Black, white, Latino, all kinds!”  But then she went on to add something else.  There was a counter-rally at a private residence across the street from the school where Obama was holding his event.  Its Republican attendees were out on the lawn, holding signs, and they were all white.  

On Tuesday, Bill O’Reilly was lamenting Romney’s coming loss on Fox News, and complaining that, “The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them and . . .”

Now, I want to point out that over 50% of Obama’s voters were white, and he won a majority of the under 30 vote; which brings me to a little hypothesis I’ve been cooking up.   I call it “The Sesame Street Vote.”  It’s basically this:  young Americans are more comfortable with racial and cultural diversity than our parents and grandparents, because we watched Sesame Street when we were babies.

Sesame street premiered in 1969, and within ten years it was an institution. By that time, according to Wikipedia, 9 million children under the age of six watched Sesame Street daily.  And what did we see?  Well, we saw a lot of lessons on counting and ABC’s, taught by a cast that looked like this:

This is one of the most diverse casts in television history.  Some of them spoke Spanish, or used sign language, but they were a community who worked together and cared for each other.

Sesame Street also gave us messages like this:

A song where children from many different backgrounds sing, “We all sing with the same voice, and we sing in harmony,” is just one of dozens of Sesame Street pieces meant to teach us about diversity or just the normalness of other cultures or lifestyles.  (As an aside, my mom used to sing a song to me with this same tune that went “My name is Molly P.  I sit on Grandma’s knee!”)

I think an argument can be made that my generation was the first to be widely taught from the start that all humans, from all cultures, with any skin color, are fundamentally the same, and should be treated equally. That didn’t simply make us willing to elect a Black president where the racists wouldn’t, it made us eager to elect a president who would represent all Americans.  We were taught in school that America is the great melting pot, a place where people have always come to make a better life for themselves.  We were taught that racism is wrong, that the injustices of segregation and Jim Crow were triumphantly defeated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.

But when we grew up, and saw how much injustice still exists, we felt cheated.  We found out that racism had not, in fact, been eradicated.  We realized that many people still thought women couldn’t do certain things as well as men.  And we discovered new injustices (well, the injustice wasn’t new, just our awareness of it was), like the fact that a person who falls in love with someone of the same sex can’t marry that person. So we got angry.

We were not going to put up with those old white guys who were nostalgic for the Leave it to Beaver days.  So we voted for the party that gave us the Dream Act, and the Lily Ledbetter Act, and the Affordable Care Act.  We voted for America’s first African American president, way overdue.  On Tuesday, we voted for him again while the peanut gallery on Fox News watched, terrified of the “voter intimidation” tactics of the opposition.

You’re right, O’Reilly, this isn’t “Traditional America” anymore.  And good riddance!


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