So the year ends and so does this blog on a regular three-times-per-week basis. In the year that begins tomorrow, change and events will continue to rock our world. Sadly, television too soon will break into our lives with news of another mass shooting. The possibility that Israel will launch its already-planned attack on Iran’s nuclear installations becomes probability as each day passes. By the end of the spring, the fragile economy might have been harassed back into recession by obdurate House Republicans whose political near-sightedness obscures the electoral razor atop their noses. Still, despite the immediacy of these events, the most transcendental if not outright existential story for the country remains how HispanicLatinos develop socially, economically and politically. And so from time to time a thought or two on the subject will appear in this same space.
The beginnings of the HispanicLatino storyline appear old already. The drumbeat of demographic change has become monotony. Yet the story is just beginning. The objective of this blog, which began in the late summer of 2011, intended to advance foundational thought and reflection beyond the routine talking point of a Hispanic/Latino population remaking the country. HispanicLatinos, after all, will prove more important than the next mass shooting or the combined competitive evolution in the near future of the Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and Mexican economies. HispanicLatinos must succeed for America to survive.
The HispanicLatino phenomenon, though, is not easily captured. It seems an apparition in slow-motion, though it is not. Millions of HispanicLatinos are making millions of individual decisions in their lives daily – from diet to debt – that in the long run will be more important than whether the European Union survives. The composite meaning of those decisions escapes the attention it deserves for many reasons, not the least of which is the slow, drawn-out understanding by HispanicLatinos of their importance to the country. The failure of the majority of HispanicLatinos to not understand the historic proportion of their existence relative to the rest of the population threatens the country. It is, in fact, a matter of national security.
As the Republican party continues its autopsy of its epic failure to unseat an incumbent Democratic President laboring under the worst economy since the Great Depression, it should keep in mind the figures 124 million and 62 million. If at least 124 million Americans vote in a presidential election, they are almost certain to put Democrats in the White House. In truth, President Obama could have given up as many as four million of his 65.6 million votes last month and still won. In the 48 months between the election of 2012 and 2016, another 2.4 million HispanicLatinos will turn 18 and most will be eligible to vote. These new voters represent an increasingly politically-engaged group that last month voted more than 70 percent Democratic. That is how real and deadly the future seems for Republicans.
In many ways the future is unmanageable for the GOP. It is one thing to gaze at the spectacle of House Speaker John Boehner dealing with the Tea party in the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives. That is bad enough. But even if Republicans at the national level can somehow moderate their views on issues of importance to HispanicLatinos, women, gays and lesbians and independent voters in general, they will have to deal with radical Republicans at the state level – which for all practical purposes in a digital, 24/7 world can produce unrelenting chaos. Any story coming out from any state capitol or county courthouse can become a national sensation in a microsecond. Think Joe Arpaio in Arizona or Todd Akin in Missouri. That is what makes the 62-million figure important.
The political bickering over the fiscal cliff looks small, and it is, in comparison to the larger demographic cliff the country already has sailed over with greater implications by far. The fiscal crisis in Washington today is just the beginning of the deeper financial plunge ahead – unless the economy is transformed to create new jobs with better-than-average wages to increase revenues, that is to say, expand the middle class. The Congress and the President can negotiate tax rates but they can do little about the birth, death and obesity rates changing the country and its fiscal foundations far more profoundly than current balances in the federal government’s accounts.
The largest of the combined financial problems, of course, are Medicare and Social Security – whose futures look problematic since the elderly are living longer, minorities are not earning enough to support these programs and the young are incurring obesity-related health-care costs scores of years before they should. When looked at analytically, the precise importance of the HispanicLatino population to the nation’s future becomes glaring. You do not have to know the actuarial and budgetary numbers to understand that the current fiscal abyss is part of the much larger problem. You cannot expect a growing HispanicLatino population with low, static incomes to support the growing cost of everything.
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?
Two standard phrases crop up the instant that lawmakers, bureaucrats and the media begin to talk about immigration: Resolve the problem and comprehensive immigration reform. Talk in Washington about resolving any large-scale challenge is rather ambitious given the city’s ever-steepening warps in its already pockmarked ideological-rhetorical terrain. Immigration is not an easy subject to talk about dispassionately, and so how Washington gains traction on immigration no doubt will be affected greatly by how lawmakers and the President manage the fast-approaching fiscal cliff.
The 2012 election, it is said, opened Republicans to accept the possibility that they might have to compromise on immigration, something that most of those commonly referred to as the Tea party adamantly oppose. The corporate side of the Republican equation, however, is in favor of something being done, and corporate America has more of the power now. It is not surprising that it also is driving a good part of the discussion of how to avert the cliff.
Are we fitted into the times we are born into? So asks Abraham Lincoln in the new film that should be required viewing for all – more so for modern-day Republicans than anyone else. The Lincoln in Lincoln is the dream of any Democrat or Republican. A nation so divided as ours is today, riven by intense ideological rivalries and regional, sectional differences, could use an individual who commands the respect of all to ask the eternal question we ask of ourselves with often vague success, How and where do we fit? Lincoln did not ask the more important question that has dogged humankind since it attained the power to reason, What does it all mean? No, he asked the one that we should be able to answer, for we do have the power to control our lives. Incumbent in Lincoln’s question is the degree to which each citizen and resident of the United States understands his or her responsibilities.
The attention that the HispanicLatino vote received during the presidential campaign and future demographic projections of its growth have caused the media and obsessive politico-types to speculate about when the first President of HispanicLatino descent will be sworn into office. The strategic placement of the HispanicLatino population in critical states has made a deep impression on political strategists that appears lasting and could accelerate the election to the Presidency a member of a group that only this year surpassed 10 percent of the national voting electorate. It seems absurd that people on television are fantasizing about future administrations, but the emergence of the telegenic Castro twins of San Antonio on the national scene had fueled the chatter.
As the composition of the new Congress that convenes in January becomes clear as the last of the contested races for seats in the House of Representatives are settled, the complaints by Hispanic/Latinos that they are underrepresented sound quaint — especially with the election of new gay and lesbian, Asian, Muslim and bisexual candidates. A new set of fresh HispanicLatino faces will go to Capitol Hill, but they are the products of a system that is not working despite the continuing diversification of Congress itself.
The truth is that HispanicLatinos are vastly underrepresented in Congress. Up until the 1970’s congressional districts were drawn by state legislatures with no equity in mind. In one district, 50,000 voters would elect a representative compared to 500,000 in another, making the votes of the 50,000 ten times more valuable. Once the Supreme Court ruled in the 1960’s that each citizen’s vote was equal to another, it was not long before each person, regardless of voting status, was to be represented equally. Today, congressional districts are roughly equal in population, currently standing at about 715,000 each. But equal numbers in population do not translate into equality for HispanicLatinos.
Marco Rubio has gotten himself into a pickle, hasn’t he? Is the shine off the apple, or is there something behind that Bush? These questions forced the first of the faux 2016 presidential candidates to show up in Iowa 10 scant days after the election to give a speech. Rubio officially found out on Nov. 6 that Americans rejected the fearful-anxious movement that catapulted him onto the national scene in the first place. The Tea party is not dead but it does not have as much of a future as the ink it gets.
What Marco Rubio said during his transparenttrip to Iowa last week is not going to cut it for him or his party – or the nation. The country today needs real leadership – political brinksmanship, even – not the cautious catnip Rubio offered last week. The country needs more from all of us. It needs us to be less ideological. It needs the no-tax pledge signers to understand fiscal reality. It needs environmentalists to understand natural gas development. It needs a new integrity. It needs less media. It needs a new way to fund campaigns. It needs a lot more than what we are giving it. And it certainly needs more from young telegenic Hispanic/Latinos like Marco Rubio who are supposed to be a great part of the future.
Ceaselessly, the babble goes on about the crossroads the Republican party faces after its rejection by almost 64 million voters. And, of course, the discussion misses the point. The usual post-election hand-wringing in the wake of a political defeat has gone beyond usual recrimination. Desperation has turned bitter. Ill-informed and/or cynical political strategists and pollsters had hoodwinked the party’s faithful into thinking they were going to win an election with a nominee who truly considers half of the nation way, way beneath him. Despondency has conflated into screeching on the radio about the old America dying. The resentments that right-wing gasbags with microphones spew into the air unfortunately cloud the opportunity that America has before it.