News reports in the weeks leading up to the election in November about obstacles being placed to obstruct HispanicLatinos and other minorities from voting terrified a friend of mine in New York. I assured him that the Obama people were on top of the situation. Of course, the Obama team had a lot of it covered, filing lawsuits left and right. More important, though, minority voters reacted and voted in greater numbers than in 2008. Does that mean that efforts to intimidate minority voters will stop? Of course not. The Obama campaign is not going to prosecute the issue, and the individuals who ramrodded these unnecessary, nonsensical laws, aided and abetted by simplistic slogans about drivers’ licenses and boarding airplanes, are motivated not by civic sensitives as they are by racial and ethnic animosities. And that is a lasting feature of life in America today.
That kind of accusatory statement seems to be as pejorative as the unkind statements Tea party types make about minorities. But the anti-voter laws became an avalanche as a reaction to Barack Obama’s win in 2008. Previous superficial social conventions were the products of a belief that the country would never elect a black man President in the first place. So, after his victiry, disappointment gave rise to strategies intended to prevent his re-election by taking aim at all minotities. The motivation of the voter-intimidators was made evident by the fact that these anti-discriminatory laws were enacted not just in swing states but in states that Obama had no chance of carrying. So voter intimidation laws also are aimed at HispanicLatinos who live in swing states and in states that in due time will feel their states pulled into a new political orbit. HispanicLatinos have to be on guard. Maximizing their political power is critical for their social and economic advancement.
But beyond keeping these tactical imperatives in mind and keeping Republicans’ — especially HispanicLatino Republicans’ — feet to the fire, what are the larger issues that HispanicLatinos should dog?
It is hard to see how and why the leadership of the Republican party does not see the danger at hand for its future. Its leaders are not aware that their party could be only a few years from extinction. Things do die. Larger entities than the Republican party – whole empires and powerful corporations, in fact – have disappeared through history. A political party disappearing is nothing. On this business of the fiscal cliff, the country already is suspicious of Republicans by a 2-1 margin. So within a few weeks, the country could blame Republicans for throwing the economy back into recession. And let us say that another storm like Sandy brews up in the Atlantic next summer, pushes past Florida and instead of wrecking New York and New Jersey parks itself over Atlanta this time. Already caught in a demographic squeeze as the nation’s population changes, embroiled in an extended Bush recession and then pasted by another blow from the change in climate that Republicans deny – the GOP could be at the precipice leading into the 2014 midterm elections. They just lost an election that if President Obama had had a better night in Denver one evening might have turned into a landslide. And now, another storm named Hillary already is beginning to vent its first soft but undeniable breezes for 2016.
In my mind the Supreme Court is at the precipice. A majority of the court has come to personate Mitt Romney’s lack of understanding of the new world around us. In deciding to accept a case out of Alabama in order to rule on the constitutionality of critical parts of the Voting Rights Act, the court is placing itself in judgment. No one with a pip of integrity can believe that changes in election laws leading up to the 2012 presidential election had any other purpose – and their authors any other motivation – than to suppress the constitutional rights of certain American citizens whose ballots were to be denigrated if possible.
The willingness on the part of many citizens – and state attorneys general – to engage and use anti-Constitutional means to limit the rights of voters persists, and it can be found in almost any part of the Union. The most blatant example this year occurred not in the southern states and other localities specifically covered by the Act but in Pennsylvania, which is barely included in provisions related to Spanish-speaking citizens. The law that sought to thwart better the rights of voters was enacted in Harrisburg, 100 miles from Philadelphia, the cradle of this country’s liberties, and 40 miles from Gettysburg, where the most anti-democratic force ever organized on American soil was defeated, marking a turning point in the civil war between North and South. To that same Gettysburg did Abraham Lincoln lumber to dedicate a shrine to the fallen of that battle but where, in fact, he rededicated America to the justness of the war and to itself.
Years ago as a young boy in the small town of West Texas where I grew up, I would daydream along the railroad tracks in the shallow valley below our home. I would wait for the high, mighty trains that I imagined came roaring from Los Angeles from the west or Atlanta from the east. The trains would slow down as they sped by an old salt lake but even so would displace enough air to create a powerful force that on occasion sent my thin, reedy body reeling and crashing into the brown dirt. While other boys were sniffing glue, I was getting off on sudden blasts of air from caravans of steel that the day before might have sat idling near the Pacific or come from the other side of the country where Sherman ran roughshod over the Confederacy.
One day, one of the trains slowed to a pace slower than usual. A clump of rail yard workers not far from me waited. One of the crew stood by a thick iron stick that he pushed away from his body. As he did, the tracks moved and separated in part. I watched with fascination. A new set of tracks appeared suddenly and diverted the massive train to another set of tracks. That decades-old image came to mind as I sat with my old college roommate watching the returns of the election of 2012 that some observers have characterized as a status-quo election. It was anything but. In fact, it was a shattering election – far more important than the pedantic conclusion that Democrats retained control of the White House and the Senate and that Republicans maintained their majority in the House.
Whether President Obama wins re-election tomorrow, some electoral post-scripts will be engaged immediately. We will know if the HispanicLatino vote was important as expected, especially in the swing states. One of the two campaigns clearly will not have done enough to win – while hundreds of thousands of HispanicLatinos who did not vote could have made the difference. In either case, the HispanicLatino vote becomes ever more important. On the very day after the election, they will add more potential voters for 2016 proportionately than any other group.
If Obama wins with the HispanicLatino vote having proven decisive, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will shoot to the head of the pack in his party, and his political action committees will begin to attract immediate money. Just as important, he will draw additional, competent political advisors with national experience to make sure the young legislator does not misstep and try to turn his party away from its harsh anti-HispanicLatino rhetoric. For those reasons, Rubio and sophisticated political analysts – not necessarily the ones on television every morning – will look closely at the results from three distinct congressional races across the country to read tea leaves about the future and to consider other possibilities.
On the weekend before the election, it feels it is going President Obama’s way. My own sense of how it ends, made earlier this week, is only an educated guess. The inside-the-Beltway crowd insists the election is a close contest. The savants in the newspapers and on television assert that the election is a near standoff between an aroused Tea party financed by this century’s version of robber barons and the presumably more sophisticated Obama ground game. That is a simple narrative that might prove imprecise. After all, the Tea party derived its sweep in the 2010 midterm elections from a smaller and therefore different electorate.
In 2010, about 91 million people voted – 38 million less than the 129 million who voted in 2008 when Obama won by almost 10 million votes. It seems it would take less effort among Obama supporters to generate as many Tea party voters. So the worry about lagging enthusiasm among Obama’s supporters that the pundits fuss over probably is not as appropriate as they surmise. Obama would have to lose close to 100 percent of his winning 2008 margin and suffer other desertions from his ranks to lose the election – ranks that have grown naturally, too. It could happen, of course.
Before President Obama’s self-admitted off-night in Denver, when he allowed Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate to conjure himself into someone he is not, some writers were hinting at and others were outright using the ‘L’ word. So sloppy had been Romney’s campaign and so error-free was Obama’s leading up to that night in Colorado that a burgeoning Democratic lead in the polls was building the narrative of an inevitable Obama win, perhaps by a landslide. But that seems to have changed. Now what?
Romney supporters and some knowledgeable observers use the 1980 Carter-Reagan election – when the bottom fell out from under incumbent Jimmy Carter in the closing two weeks of the campaign – as the model to project a Republican win next week. Other pundits think the 2000 Bush-Gore model will predominate. In that scenario, George Bush lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote, a result that could retain Obama in office. Other observers influenced by a Romney surge are proposing a Romney landslide. Hmmm. For my part, I am thinking 1948, when incumbent President Harry Truman came from behind and walked away with a hard-earned victory over Tom Dewey. I think this for several reasons.
In Monday’s perhaps decisive presidential debate on foreign policy, its participants mentioned the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Had Richard M. Nixon been elected in 1960 instead of John F. Kennedy the world almost certainly could have come to an end two years later. Nixon was an insecure, neurotic man who would have sided immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff who – to a man – wanted to bomb Cuba the sooner the better. The Russian reaction against American bombers would have triggered a nuclear catastrophe. Kennedy was the stronger man. He withstood the pressure of the less visionary around him, and he risked the judgment of an American people freaked out over communists lurking in every closet.
It does matter who gets elected, and in recent years across this country at many levels of government the wrong men and women have been elected for as equally a potentially conclusive moment in American history – when the very concept of community is at stake. And the problem might be compounded in less than two weeks when the country votes for President. Regular readers of this blog know that its central tenet is the impact and potential of the country’s new demography. And the new demography is on par with any experience the country has faced. It is not as compelling as missiles off the coast of Florida. Rather, it is a slow-motion event not given to searing images or dramatic news footage, and it is happening against a backdrop of publicly-elected individuals who are fearful of the demographic change the country is undergoing and who certainly are no longer willing – as generations past did – to help pay for the success of the community of the future.
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.
Posted on Thursday evening for Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.
I wrote late last year that I sensed that the HispanicLatino finally was turning the corner to become part of the national consciousness. The geographic concentration of the vast majority – about 75 percent – of the HispanicLatino population in eight states historically worked against its inclusion in the normal affairs of the nation. For that and other reasons, HispanicLatinos for decades have been absent from national commercials, television news sets and the decision-making processes of government, organizations large and small and corporations of any size and their boardrooms. And from opportunity itself. It is as if a group of individuals in the millions whose forefathers arrived in all of the Americas more than a century before Jamestown did not exist for much of the nation. The misplaced notion that most HispanicLatinos conducted their daily lives in Spanish abetted their lack of consideration in the normal, day-to-day thinking of managers, bureaucrats, business owners and corporate planners.