The Veep Matters

I love Frank Bruni.  The columnist for The New York Times writes as to invoke envy.  He is smart.  He is creative.  I look forward to reading him.  But his column, published Saturday, July 3, while not wrong, was incomplete.  With the best of his writing, he dismisses the importance of whom Hillary Clinton selects to be her running mate.  Utterly inconsequential, he declares.

If you live in the context of Bruni’s world, you also would be wholly on point, correct and logical.  Except that other things are going on in the country that he and others under-appreciate.  I do not have to go too far to prove my point that perhaps major opinion-shapers like Bruni do not know it all.  The surprise Donald Trump sprung on the entire eastern establishment of writers and television experts of CNN, MSNBC, etc. and on seasoned political operatives more than suggests that perhaps the veep-pick-is-unimportant  view, too, is not altogether correct.

I remember, after Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, having lunch with the editorial page editor of a major eastern newspaper.  I proposed that I join his staff to write about Hispanic/Latino affairs.  A new demography, I said, led by Hispanic/Latino population growth, had taken hold of the country and would change it forever.  He listened politely but in the end said, and I quote:  I do not think that there would be enough to keep someone busy writing about Hispanics full-time.  By then, of course, a significant part of the Hispanic/Latino vote already had helped George W. Bush win.  Like so many pundits who dismiss the importance of the Hispanic/Latino vote, who do they think got Bush so close in Florida to win by 500 votes?

My meeting with this highly-placed and influential journalist was not as eye-opening as depressing.  He confirmed my view that some of the most provincial people live in our supposedly most cosmopolitan cities.  And they are not alone.

I met at the coffee shop of the Capitol Hilton not long after Gore’s defeat with a former member of Clinton’s Cabinet.  I told him that a national anti-Hispanic/Latino reaction would seize the country in one of the next few presidential cycles.  I explicitly said it would be in the vein of California’s Proposition 187 that in 1994 was aimed at immigrants but which everybody understood was specifically anti-Hispanic/Latino, and more specifically anti-Mexican and anti-Mexican-American.   I did not get very far with him.

And so, as much as I love Frank Bruni, he and others who should know better do not understand the whole picture. Part of what he does not understand – beyond the reading of the polls that show Hillary Clinton racking up significant support among Hispanic/Latino voters – is that there is also a new undercurrent of thought within the Hispanic/Latino community that is changing it.

A telling story about the roiled times we live in and how the Hispanic/Latino community is changing occurred in Miami a couple of years ago at a meeting of about 100 or so influential Hispanic/Latino leaders from throughout the country.

The meeting was called to discuss the future of the Hispanic/Latino population, and so the attendees were mostly of Mexican origin, but with a heavy Cuban host contingent.  The attendees were mostly businessmen and businesswomen, both Democratic and Republicans.  No elected officeholders nor the usual political consultants were present.  The conference was meant to think and reflect, not preen nor forage for business.  The environment lent itself to mature, calm exchanges.

The most salient moment for me was when a highly visible Cuban American stood and said to the mostly non-Cuban group:  “Now we understand what you are talking about.”  His reference was to legislation that Alabama and Georgia were then considering that was clearly aimed at Hispanic/Latinos.  A significant number of Cuban Americans live in Atlanta and, of course, the Cuban community’s representatives gather in the legislature in Tallahassee just down the road, not far from nearby Tampa.  They heard the confederate gunfire. The sheltered experience of Cuban Americans finally caught up with the rest of the Hispanic/Latino history in the country.

When these most Republican of Hispanic/Latino voters began to understand the threat Trump poses, they set the stage for something much more important and historic:  The unification of Hispanic/Latino groups and their increased participation in the civic life of the country.  And from that is coming a new kind of energy that can work on behalf of a ticket already destined to make history, especially if Hispanic/Latinos could see on the ballot a name like Becerra, Castro, Peña, Pérez or Salazar.

Polls surely are picking up how Hispanic/Latinos feel about Trump, but that is only part of the story.  I wrote in another blog that this moment is of existential importance for Hispanic/Latinos.

Whom Hillary selects is not utterly inconsequential to us.

Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.

The Education of Marco Rubio

A friend of mine called to yell at me about Wednesday’s blog on Marco Rubio, whom, my friend supposed, I was defending.  Well I was, in part.

We cannot live in a nation in which people bend to the fringe, in this case the same whacko-birthers who would disagree with Christ Himself if he appeared and told them President Obama is a citizen and is legally entitled to hold his office, having won the votes of more than 69 million of his fellow Americans in a fair election.

When does this nuttiness end?  Now, because a senator’s parents were born outside the United States he cannot be Vice President or President?  Nonsense.  The other side of me, however, disdains the politician who wants to have it both ways – and Rubio clearly does.  But there is much more to the story.

Note: the author served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

In conveying the idea that he is part of the Cuban exile community that fled Castro when in fact his parents departed Cuba for purely economic reasons, Rubio spun the kind of narrative that candidates for high office require.  But his pushing back is against The Washington Post, whose editors published the story that now threatens to ensnare Rubio in his own deception – and not the birthers.

In so doing, Rubio might not be worthy for higher office because he does not appreciate the larger truth:  That the birther movement is the angry expression of the part of the nation’s population that is reacting to its new demography.

Rubio evidently does not realize that throughout the country too many of his fellow party members, like the birthers, are reacting to the nation’s changing demographics in the kind of negative, predictable ways that good leaders would decry – except that Rubio does not.  Yet large segments of his party seek to diminish HispanicLatinos and their standing.  For that same reason, any of the Republican presidential candidates who have not denounced the birthers are giving aid and comfort to anti-HispanicLatino sentiment. The promise of young and talented men and women like Rubio is that they might be able to help the nation transition into a new chapter in its life, not enable the crazies.

However the Post might confront one important HispanicLatino with lofty aspirations, it is not as damaging as the actions of Republican-controlled legislatures passing real laws that push minorities back into the 1950’s with regressive new laws on voter registration and identification that will restrict the very freedoms at the ballot box that Rubio’s parents did not enjoy in the days of the military dictatorship that preceded the Castro regime.  Republicans in states they control are slashing education budgets and in the process myopically crippling America’s future.

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke at the Reagan Library last month in California, I thought I saw its former governor, Pete Wilson, sitting on the front row.  Wilson was the man who in his re-election bid in 1994 ushered in the modern-day reaction against HispanicLatinos that has now swept the nation.  I wonder if Wilson was in the room at the same library in August when Marco Rubio gave his own coming-out address that, no, by no means, was meant to signal that, yes, yes, he is very interested in being on the national ticket.

Rubio is very much eligible to be Vice President of the United States.  But he might not be qualified for the demands of our times.  Nevertheless, his rights should be defended.  Too bad he cannot bring himself to do the same for others.

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From Castro to Rubio: The Attack of the Birthers

So what to make of Marco Rubio’s problem.  First, to his defense:  Some reason other than respect for the Constitution must motivate the attack of the birthers who believe he is not eligible to be vice president.  They think that Rubio’s parents being born in Cuba disqualifies the Republican U.S. senator from Florida from being nominated by his party.  But, of course, anyone born in the country can run for office – any office.

The trouble brewing for Rubio is not the whacko crowd.  Yet even someone already being compared to Ronald Reagan can have an issue or two, and one of Rubio’s is that he misstated when his parents emigrated from Cuba.  It seems that he has wanted people to believe that they were part of the exiles who fled communism and Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959 – except that his parents had left in 1956, when Fidel was in Mexico in exile reorganizing and trying to find support for his revolution.

The facts do not add up for Marco.  But they do add up rather nicely for others, some of whom could easily be found in the Democratic White House or in the camps of some of his Republican rivals.  They know that Rubio is running for vice president.  Anyone who does not believe it does not know how this works, despite his denials as late as this week.

For the White House and his rivals, Marco Rubio would be a nightmare.  For President Obama, the Republican spin machine is capable of convincing enough HispanicLatinos that the GOP better suits their interests – enough to tip Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia and perhaps New Jersey but certainly Florida.  For Rubio’s potential rivals for the vice presidency within the party, they already face GOP strategists who want to balance their party’s anti-immigration and anti-HispanicLatino rhetoric with a telegenic HispanicLatino on the ticket who is the son of immigrant parents.

The odds for Rubio’s selection most likely are tied to how the economy performs.  If it, as expected, does not improve by late next year and Obama’s standing in the polls remains wretched, Rubio’s chances diminish.  But if Obama is within striking distance and the GOP senses that Democrats have done a good job organizing the HispanicLatino infrastructure, Rubio will be on the ticket.  It is an ironic paradox.   The more effective Democrats are at organizing the HispanicLatino vote, the greater the chance that the GOP will choose Rubio.

So it is to the White House’s advantage to cripple Rubio now.  Other parties interested in waylaying Rubio easily could be supporters of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.  After lightning struck Sarah Palin in 2008, the list of would-be GOP vice presidential hopefuls could run into the dozens.  Thus the fight is on, and Rubio’s current problems are significant – because he has significant opponents.

Rubio’s supporters have their work cut out for them and they should invest some time and energy to see if any former Presidents or Vice Presidents had parents born outside the United States.

After that, they can start to figure out how these many years later they can corral enough voters of Mexican descent who make up almost 65 percent of the HispanicLatino population to support his revolutionary candidacy.

Note:  Next week, a more detailed essay on the 2012 election will be available on this website.

Blogs published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or invariably in between.