Over the last three weeks, I think I have read most of the post-election op-eds written on the Latino vote. I have studied exit polling, read sophisticated demographic analyses, and talked to as many Latinos in my hometown as I could. The result is that I would not advise Republicans to go down the identity-politics route. I don’t wish to live in an America where Steve Lara or Bob Martinez is reduced to an anonymous “Latino” and Victor Hanson is just a “white male.”
But if Republicans really believe there is a monolithic Latino vote, and if those of Hispanic descent are easily definable and vote predictably en masse and along tribal lines rather than as individuals, then perhaps Republican pundits and operatives hell-bent on wining the Latino vote might consider the following — not entirely unserious — recommendations.1. Family values.
I didn’t sense a big upsurge among Latinos that I know for Rick Santorum and his religious-based agenda. The Catholicism of Santorum or of Newt Gingrich had little resonance. Abortion, gay marriage, and ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell” seemed mostly non-issues. Nor do I gather that Latinos in central California vote on the basis of family values any more than do non-Latinos. Mike Huckabee’s family populism would win few adherents. In terms of divorce, illegitimacy, crime, and high-school-graduation rates, there are few statistical differences that reflect any ethnic patterns. Family values in the Latino community may be defined somewhat differently from the way elite Republican consultants imagine, perhaps more along the ancient Spanish notion of a patron/client relationship that ultimately originated in Rome.
In our time, the patron is seen as the big and powerful federal government, which has an obligation to care for its less-well-off and unfortunately all-too-often-dependent and oppressed clients, who in turn will vote in thanks for state help with food, shelter, education, and health care. The patron of the classical hacienda protects the client against outlaws and oppressive forces — in this case supposedly rich old white guys (see Obama’s “punish our enemies”), who are not sensitive to the needs of a victimized “other.” If Republicans wish to win on this more European and statist notion of family values, then I would suggest trying to expand food stamps, add more coverage to Obamacare, and forgive delinquent mortgages, student loans, and small-business loans. The key would be to fashion a family-values platform that worries more about the collective familia than the more individualist and stereotypically Anglo-Saxon agendas of the well-off. High taxes and generous redistributionist spending are far more a mark of family values than is being against abortion or for traditional marriage.
2. Immigration. The DREAM Act, as La Raza activists have argued, is the beginning, not the end, of needed amnesties. To win the Latino vote on this issue, I suggest stopping all the talk of reforming legal immigration, especially the elitist notion that all immigration must be “legal” or, worse yet, predicated on skill sets, education, a knowledge of English, and capital. All such criteria are interpreted as mere cover for the prejudicial and discriminatory, since they tend to favor advantaged Europeans or Asians at the expense of disadvantaged Latinos. As a friend said to me, “It’s our turn; you had enough people come here from Europe.” Better yet, as I read La Raza literature, Republicans might consider dropping altogether the obsession with a “border” that discriminates against indigenous folk on both sides of the current artificially constructed line. They should accept the undeniable fact that there is a Mexico and an America — but also something new and unique in between, developing within the 200 miles north and south of the Rio Grande. I think support for a blanket amnesty for 11 million unlawful immigrants and an end to the fixation on border “security” might seriously help Republicans with Latinos. And it is high time that conservatives stop demanding that we complete that silly border fence; perhaps they should even call for dismantling that anachronism once and for all.
3. Affirmative action and diversity. I would put emphasis on the salad bowl and forget the archaic and now mythical melting pot. The more hyphenated names, newly acquired accent marks, and trilled Rs the better. There should be hundreds of Republican Latino-American and Republican Viva la Raza committees. It also would be wise to stop the nativist fringe nonsense about English as the official national language. Instead, conservatives should welcome bilingualism in the schools and encourage simultaneous Spanish-language translation at their conventions and campaign stops. The way of the future is multilingual ballots, government forms, and IDs that do not seek to privilege one tradition over another.