The forum that Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas of Univision hosted last night in Miami featuring Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was one of those non-events that should have been more than what it became. The proposition that Romney had something meaningful to say to a national HispanicLatino population – that the polls suggest has made up its mind in this election, almost to the point of steadfastness – never reached professional seriousness. Anyone viewing the event might have thought that Romney has hidden but burning support in HispanicLatino precincts across an entire nation when in fact it seemed the audience for last night’s peculiar program came from one precinct off old Southwest 8th Street in Miami. And Miami does not the national HispanicLatino population make — by a long shot.
Ramos and Salinas tried their best to inform voters through their tough questioning but Miami has a long, unflattering tradition of sectarian, one-issue voters used to thinking that shouting and yelling equates rational thought and resembles sound debate. The obvious cheerleading by an audience that represents a contracting minority of HispanicLatino voters for Romney nationwide pushed the event into the realm of the surreal. Somehow the members of the audience thought they could help the collapsing Romney campaign by turning the night into a campaign rally. Desperate times call for desperate actions.
Within seconds of the start, almost any professional observer would have concluded the hour would be a useless waste of opportunity. Univision breaking in for commercials hardly helped but, more important, the event served to demonstrate how difficult it is to manage translations and bridge wait-times for responses. Critical, small moments of delay gave the audience the opportunity to pounce, generating a disequilibrium from which the forum never recovered.
Look for a more civilized event this evening when Ramos and Salinas host Obama – unless the audience wants to equal its counterpart with purposeless expressions of support for Obama or contempt for Ramos and Salinas in a vain attempt to accomplish, what?
Ramos and Salinas are both fair journalists, and they are ahead of the curve on the sensibilities of politics and governance. And so the disjointed nature of the event last night revealed the state of HispanicLatino political and media sophistication in Miami more than anything else. It is true that during the Republican presidential primary fight mostly non-HispanicLatino audiences revealed their true hate-filled feelings on immigrants, gays and lesbians, veterans, women, etc. But the raucous decorum last night felt and sounded disturbing because it so distorted the feelings of the vast majority of HispanicLatinos throughout the country. Univision was helpless to balance its transmission that confected an astounding superficiality.
Perhaps tonight will be different. Perhaps tonight the audience will receive the nation’s president warmly and respectfully and then HispanicLatino across the country can listen to what he has to say. No doubt Ramos and Salinas are sharpening their questions in advance. And they should not hold back. And perhaps the audience will let them and the President conduct a real forum and not cough up another fiasco. In retrospect the event last night was symbolic of the Romney campaign: Everything it touches turns to trash.
Given that, I would not be surprised if someone from last night’s audience snuck back in to infiltrate tonight’s event to cause a moronic sensation.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.