The current election, however it turns out, presents an opportunity for progressive-minded activists to confront their sometimes-hidden fear that HispanicLatinos could form an antediluvian, conservative wave as they become a larger share of the national population. Indeed, if HispanicLatinos vote in the near-70-percent range for President Obama and he wins re-election, they might give progressives the wrong idea. Worse still would be if Obama loses re-election and progressives see no need to develop the HispanicLatino vote for elections to come. If HispanicLatinos remain within the Democratic fold in future elections as they might on Nov. 6, they undoubtedly could make the years ahead grim for Republicans.
The degree to which HispanicLatinos become truly progressive/liberal is a key question for progressives and Republicans alike. And so now is the time for both to appreciate fully the power of the entire changing demography of the country – not just of the HispanicLatino population – and therein lie lessons to be learned regardless of how the 2012 elections turn out. An indication of how HispanicLatinos might be trending politically comes of late from researchers at the Pew Center. They reported last week that 52 percent of HispanicLatinos approve of same-sex marriage – a turnaround from 56 percent opposed six years ago. Among HispanicLatino Catholics, approval was higher, at 54 percent — a little higher than the national norm..
The center issued its report as Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz climbed into the ring for a fight outside Orlando, Florida, to the cheers of a hugely supportive crowd. Cruz revealed he is gay prior to the fight, with some reports saying he was influenced by the decision of popular singer Ricky Martin, a fellow Puerto Rican, who confirmed his own homosexual orientation almost two years earlier and that he and his partner are raising a family in South Beach. All this is fine and good if the arc of the HispanicLatino continues to move politically in the progressive direction. But like all political stories, the HispanicLatino saga is not as easy to write as present circumstances suggest.
The essential reality after Nov. 6 is that both sides will have to keep working the HispanicLatino community because of an even deeper truth, that HispanicLatinos like everyone else are formed by their experiences – experiences that keep changing as each generation absorbs more of the American Experiment that includes altering long-standing social mores such as those concerning same-sex marriage. The difference for HispanicLatinos is that their ranks are replenished consistently by first-generation births – and might continue in the near future if the American economy turns around and becomes, again, a magnet for HispanicLatino immigrants from throughout the hemisphere. Thus HispanicLatinos – even in their current rendition – will be a permanently moving electoral target.
With future elections being decided by whether enough HispanicLatinos stand substitute for a receding Anglo population in Republican precincts, Republicans should feel they can win future elections – if they understand the psychology and geography of the HispanicLatino vote. Psychologically, a deep and wide conservative strain runs through the double helix of the HispanicLatino political DNA. Geographically, the lifeline that HispanicLatinos are throwing the country – that is, saving it from demographic ruin – is conversely and politically perversive the same lifetime they are throwing to the key battleground states in this year’s election. States like Ohio will always be important because so much of the HispanicLatino population lives elsewhere. In any case, the country might be at the start of one of its historic electoral realignments. Already, according to The Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday, the electorate is more racially polarized than any since 1988. It is a sign of things to come: States with more Anglo voters will tend to vote more Republican in the future.
After all the public attention to same-sex marriage on national English- and Spanish-language television, radio and the internet, the 48 percent of HispanicLatinos still opposed to gay marriage might lag behind the new social norm. But they form a large-enough bulk to salvage the Republican party’s strategy going into the future if it first rids itself of the anti-HispanicLatino rhetoric that plagues its politics. If Romney wins the election, he would be in a Nixon-to-China position to co-opt HispanicLatinos by doing the unthinkable: Enacting comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship,a move that is of the most interest to those closest to first-generation – and therefore more conservative – HispanicLatinos.
If the GOP magically could substitute the anti-HispanicLatino segment of their party with enough of the 48 percent of the HispanicLatino population that remains opposed to an issue like same-sex marriage, its candidates could remain viable in American politics. No one should forget, too, that more HispanicLatinos are understanding the critical role they play in the nation’s future and their concern over the federal debt will grow as they grow in number – nor that however many HispanicLatino Catholics have turned away from a corrupt and misled Catholic Church necessarily means they are comfortable with the issue of abortion.
No one should think Obama winning overwhemlngly among HispanicLatinos on Nov. 6 automatically ushers in a gay old happy time. More so the case if Romney wins.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.