There is a reason beyond the obvious as to why Sen. Bob Menendez could be the most important HispanicLatino politician in the country today. Yes, being a member of the Senate and of its majority party helps. But Menendez’ strength is not simply institutionally derived. Rather, he can speak in a credible way in English and in Spanish that eludes other prominent HispanicLatinos and being able to do so bequeaths him with the most important tool that all political leaders must have: The power to communicate. Money might be the mother’s milk of politics but the ability to communicate effectively is its currency. As such, Menendez could be one of President Obama’s most important tools for re-election. Though not a potential vice presidential candidate like his fellow, telegenic Cuban American, Marco Rubio, Menendez can speak on almost every issue in both languages and frame them in a way few other HispanicLatino leaders can. How the Democratic senator who represents New Jersey is used in the upcoming presidential campaign in closely contested states in which Mexican Americans predominate within the HispanicLatino electorate remains to be seen. Menendez could prove more bouyant to Democratic hopes than Rubio to Republican fantasies.
I barely know the man, aside from one meeting years ago in his office with a friend of mine from Florida and a plate full of innumerable and therefore forgettable receptions. But what I do know is that he is an asset that has not been used in the past to the maximum degree possible. Perhaps he has not wanted to campaign nationally. More likely, the inept managers of previous presidential campaigns allowed the insufferable inter-ethnic politics that can plague the HispanicLatino community to get in the way.
In a presidential election that must be assumed is going to be close, every potential margin must be maximized. There is no doubt that the HispanicLatino vote will be in President Obama’s side of the ledger – but to what extent? What is the base under which Obama cannot fall among HispanicLatinos if he is to win re-election? Anything below 62 percent is approaching the danger zone.
The candidate who resonates most authentically during the campaign most likely will win the 2012 election. And so aside from his own appeals to the HispanicLatino community, Obama must have visible HispanicLatinos genuinely voicing their own support. These validators must ring true, and though most HispanicLatinos do not use Spanish as their every-day language, they respond instinctively to an individual who uses it confidently and without hesitation.
In Menendez can be found someone who eclipses most HispanicLatinos in his informational command of the issues and his ability to respond quickly to questions. He possesses the advantage of being able to be a micro-second ahead of a conversation or discussion – enabling him to engage effectively.
Any reticence to use him in HispanicLatino communities that are overwhelmingly Mexican American is silly and could prove a folly. This speaks to a larger issue: The future of relations between the various groups that make up the HispanicLatino community.
The demographic changes occurring in the country demand a more effective and unified HispanicLatino voice. Regional and/or sectarian thinking should not roil the development of the leadership the HispanicLatino community and country so desperately need – in this case the successful re-election of the President.
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