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.
4. State spending. Republicans are apparently unaware that their mantra of smaller government is a dog whistle for cutting state spending and employment for the less-well-off. Yet many first-generation Latino-Americans rightly see government employment — the post office, the DMV, the county offices, the schools — as an important bridge into the middle class. When Republicans talk of cutting spending, Latinos feel targeted. Why cut the hours of a DMV employee so that a grandee in Atherton has low enough taxes to afford a third Mercedes? To win the Latino vote, conservatives have to concede bigger deficits, higher social spending, and more government employment. They should examine very carefully the demographics of Jerry Brown’s winning campaign to pass Proposition 30, which just ensured that California will have the highest taxes in the nation and will be able to continue to provide the most generous welfare support and state-employee compensation packages. (As my same friend put it, “If rich guys want to leave California, well, good riddance.”) If Republicans could fashion something like Prop. 30 on the federal level, they might receive as large a percentage of the Latino vote as did the California ballot initiative. If George W. Bush received a larger Latino vote than did Mitt Romney, perhaps it was not because of his halting Spanish, but because of his compassionate conservatism as embodied in No Child Left Behind, an enhanced unfunded prescription-drug Medicare benefit, and a vast increase in annual deficit spending and the size of the federal government. Note how loudly opposing most of what Bush did led to shrinkage in the Latino vote for Romney in 2012.
5. “Them.” Barack Obama brilliantly and cynically created a loose coalition of those with grievances against the supposed white male establishment. It did not matter that some members of this coalition were multimillionaire elites like Elizabeth Warren or affluent Chinese-Americans or Cuban-Americans who are the grandkids of those dispossessed by murderous Communists in Havana or Beijing. The Obama administration’s four-year barrage of “my people,” “punish our enemies,” “a nation of cowards,” the Skip Gates pontification, the Trayvon Martin if-I-had-a-son line, Eric Holder’s charges of racism over the Fast and Furious investigation, the whites-in-Hell slurs from Joseph Lowery, who gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration in 2008, the hyphenated campaign committees, the executive orders, Sandra Fluke, the constant charges of racism by the liberal media, the weekly outraged Black Caucus — all of that insidiously created a climate of socially acceptable anti-old-white-guy feeling that anyone not of that suspect group could buy into — and anyone of that unfortunate group could buy out of by loudly proclaiming his support for Obama.
Is this not a model for capturing more of the Latino vote? If the Republicans could nominate a non-white-male, then he could rally the forces of non-white-maleness and find a majority coalition based on collective grievances. Chinese-Americans would vote with Japanese-Americans. Rich Cubans would vote with poor Oaxacans. Third-generation upper-middle-class Arab-Americans could even join with Jewish-Americans on the rallying cry that they had grievances against “them.” If a conservative Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal — or better yet, Nikki Haley — could wage such an us/them campaign, where could the white male voter really go?
Short answer: Nowhere.
If what liberals say is true — that the Republican party is rightly lumped together as too white, too old, too male, and too in control — why not, then, have Republicans run a stereotyped class/race/gender campaign against themselves? Why not point to the supposed mess America has become after 238 years, and say, “We think you can do better”?
Why not “Vote for us, because we don’t like ourselves all that much either”?