Posted on Sunday, Sept. 16, for publication Sept. 17.
If HispanicLatinos active in the presidential campaigns wait until the morning after the election to make their voices heard about the direction of a new Obama or Romney administration, they will have waited too long. Obama second-term planning groups and Romney transition teams already are meeting and formulating policy for the next four years – and beyond. The time is now – before the first vote is cast and long before big-wallet donors waltz into Washington for post-election festivities – for HispanicLatinos to make their concerns known.
Democratic HispanicLatino leaders are more likely than their Republican counterparts to try to author a set of philosophical principles from which should flow demands that are community-minded and community-based. The just-concluded conventions demonstrated that Democrats are more about the pluribus than the unum. Republican HispanicLatinos, though, would do well to rethink their traditional laissez-faire approach.
The times demand that HispanicLatinos make more than incremental economic and social progress. Letting the markets as an operational, management philosophy work will not accelerate the advancement of a community still burdened by the legacies of outright discriminatory practices – practices that some in the Republican party want to resurrect from what was thought to be a dead, bygone era. The support of the vast majority of the growing HispanicLatino population in future elections will go to those who understand which party day-in and day-out has its interests at heart. The reticence or failure of Republican HispanicLatino leaders to not engage in a proactive way will jeopardize the fate of their party.
More than presenting a list of demands, HispanicLatinos in and outside the current administration and in either of the two campaigns must convert their current standing into present political power. They can do so through personal self-assertion and/or through the power of the logic of a new strategic argument about the future. More than the apparent texture of the immediate future requires changing, and neither HispanicLatino Democratic nor Republican operatives are exempt.
HispanicLatinos generally were left out of the big decisions of the past 40 years that already have shaped the future of the country. More recently, HispanicLatinos were not involved decisively in the big-ticket items for which the country will be paying off for decades: Bank bailouts, wars, health care and foreign policy decisions with long-term ramifications. Anyone who believes or says she or he was involved in the inner circle has been unusually quiet about it or is, more likely, deluded. Now comes another chance to make a difference, assume responsibility and lead. Long-term toxic consequences will ooze from the seemingly unavoidable clash now brewing with Iran over its nuclear program. And the fiscal cliff just ahead – who is helping mind the store? Unless they get engaged now, HispanicLatinos will cede to others the formation of the hard contours of the future and fail, again, to influence the course of events for generations.
It would be nice if HispanicLatios, who for the next untold many decades will have to support Medicare and Medicaid, had a say as to how the nation is going to pay for it all – or not. Are any of these now-operational working groups populated with individuals who believe that the ability of future generations of HispanicLatinos to pay for the fiscal mess the country faces might be overstated? Or understated? Has anyone said, or did I miss it?
It is almost impossible to believe individuals armed with such understanding are part of any group or task force already at work, for no one has pieced together a HispanicLatino philosophical framework about the future. Repeating nonsensical bromides about America is not a credible strategy – especially when in many parts of the country ferocious efforts are underway to kneecap HispanicLatinos politically. The frequent complaint about the absence of leadership in the HispanicLatino community is well-founded – but it exists for a reason: No one has formulated an understandable theme that should be the HispanicLatino community’s shibboleth – a common understanding of what the role of the HispanicLatino is in and for the country’s future.
An essential part of this new philosophy should incorporate a demand of how the federal government turns back the legislation enacted specifically to limit the progress HispanicLatinos make. It is almost incredible that this century – in which the responsibility of HispanicLatinos for safekeeping the American Experiment will expand decisively – should begin in a way that diminishes the status and being of HispanicLatinos and their civil rights. On the other hand, it might be precisely what HispanicLatinos need. Perhaps the need to undo the damage done will arouse their collective political energy and apply it in an elevated, concentrated and coherent way to achieve a new strategic direction altogether. The leadership at the Department of Justice is of immense importance as is any new appointment to the Supreme Court. But so is every new appointment that affects major policy directions.
It is often said that HispanicLatino leaders failed in the past. The conventional wisdom is that they were not aggressive enough in demanding attention from the politicians they helped elect and their allies. That is undoubtedly true in many cases. More probable is that in many more instances they could not mouth their concerns since they did not have a defined message or vision of the future to annunciate and articulate.
If it is to serve the country well, a new administration should reflect on the true nature of the HispanicLatino population. More important, if they are to serve their community and the entire nation, HispanicLatinos who fancy themselves as part of a new regime-in-the-making should repair to do the same – then move and act, decisively.
Jesse Treviño is former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.