11/12/2012 05:16 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Can You See It Now?

Election night chatter was all about race. Pundits and commentators on all the major networks, from ABC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox were marveling that President Obama had once again lost the majority of the white vote and still won the election.

Can you see it now? America has changed. Everyone got a glimpse of the future.

By 2042, people of color are expected to make up a majority of America. By the end of this decade, the majority of young people will be of color. One thing is certain: No party that wants to be successful will ever again focus its appeals on a narrow slice of the white electorate.

People running for office see that they have to appeal to the new demographic. How will they do that? This soon-to-be majority does not want to be handed lesser-than-two-evils choices. People of color will want to be spoken to directly, not ignored by those who worry that paying attention to race will alienate "swing" voters. The new "swing" is evident: National elections cannot be won without support from the future electorate. More importantly, building a stronger nation and a more robust economy requires a full-throated and two-sided debate about the policy agenda that will capture the hopes and aspirations of this growing population.

The growing population is people of color and more: It includes young white people, urban dwellers, labor, lesbians, gays and those who hold a progressive agenda for the future. However, there has been reluctance by the nation's leaders to embrace the shifting racial demographics as a force for policy change and the basis of the nation's future economic success. Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians and Asian Americans need investments in institutions that have been the bedrock of America: schools, infrastructure, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The emerging majority of color does see an important role for supportive government. These groups are worried about our slipping schools and costly health care -- and they also want an honest conversation about reforming our immigration system and shrinking our prison system, issues that got scant attention from either party in this year's campaign.

For the president, this means developing a policy agenda that truly seeks to prepare this new demographic generation to contribute to our economic future. This will mean bigger investments in education but also bolder investments in transit and workforce development systems that can link less advantaged workers with emerging opportunities in a reshaping economy.

For the Republican Party, this means that it will need to go beyond the occasional Latino and African-American success story and support a policy agenda that makes a difference. For the nation, it means understanding that the demographic change is not just a challenge but an opportunity. The tensions may be simmering now but research suggests that this new generation is not angry but aspirational. Like the younger generation, none of us should allow obstacles in our path to keep us from believing, as Americans before us have done, that better times really do lie ahead.