Reaction from Hispanic leaders suggests President Barack Obama’s charm offensive with Latinos in the run-up to the 2012 election may be falling flat.
Polls indicate that far fewer Hispanics say they’ll cast their vote for the president than did so in 2008.
|Ruben Navarette Jr.
One prominent observer of the Latino community, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, Jr., is calling on Hispanics to launch a third-party movement to ensure their interests receive genuine representation rather than political pandering.
In a USA Today op-ed on Thursday, Navarrette stated that Latinos are increasingly disillusioned with Obama’s promises to push immigration reform.
“America’s largest minority needs to take a cue from the Tea Party movement and start an insurgency challenging both political parties -- the one that takes them for granted and the other that writes them off,” he wrote.
In a Tuesday speech in El Paso, Texas, Obama indicated the border was secure and called for immigration reform. He charged Republicans would “want a higher fence. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat.”
Frustrated Latinos in Arizona have formed a nonpartisan “Tequila Party” movement. The group, whose primary objective is boost the Latino voter turnout in 2012, was created by a self-identified Republican.
“We believe the immigration issue has been used as a political football, and as a result of that we think it is time for politicians to work harder for the Latin vote based on issues that are important to us,” the TequilaPartyTour.com website states.
There are rising indications that Latinos may not be as susceptible to Obama’s political courtship as his advisers apparently assume. Following Obama’s speech, the nation’s largest conservative Hispanic organization, Somos Republicans, released a statement that it is “skeptical” the president “has a real intention of fixing the problem.”
Analysts have long acknowledged that Hispanics tend to share the GOP’s socially conservative agenda. But Latinos say they are deeply offended by Republicans’ support for deporting illegals even when it means breaking up families.
In March, the 6,200-member San Antonio Tea Party elected the nation’s first Hispanic tea party president, George Rodriguez. Rodriguez tells Newsmax that many Mexican-Americans remain vehemently opposed to illegal immigration and amnesty.
“Immigration has rules and we have to play by the rules,” says the 62-year-old Rodriguez, whose work for the Reagan-Bush Justice Department included a stint at the erstwhile Immigration and Naturalization Service. “We must maintain the rule of law.”
Rodriguez tells Newsmax that many Tejanos -- the ethnic term many Latinos in Texas prefer -- are frustrated with President Obama’s political pandering and lip service on the topic of immigration reform. But he also chastises Republicans for the attitudes they often bring to the debate over immigration.
“I’m tired of Republicans being so condescending to Hispanics in trying to win them over,” he says. “Just tell the truth. And quit talking to us in Spanish. We speak English just fine.”
Rodriguez’s comments suggest a rising frustration among Hispanics with both political parties. That sentiment could make it more difficult for President Obama to bring them back into the fold, ultimately benefitting the Republican nominee in 2012.
The struggle over whose agenda is better for Hispanics reflects their growing power at the ballot box. The Census Bureau reported earlier this year that the Hispanic population in America is growing faster than expected. It reported the U.S. Hispanic population grew 43 percent, from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010.
Hispanics tend to vote heavily Democratic. Obama’s immigration-reform pledges helped him win 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 -- despite the fact that his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was thought to have a strong appeal to the Hispanic community.
Obama apparently has good reason to fear Latino support could waver in 2012. A recent poll by Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia showed Hispanic approval of Obama remains high at 70 percent. But the poll contained a worrisome sign that no doubt alarmed the president’s political advisers: Only 43 percent of Latino voters said they planned to vote for Obama next year.
One reason Obama may be in trouble with this part of the core Democratic constituency: The flagging economy continues to hurt Latinos. Jobs are even more important to Latinos than immigration reform, many experts say.
Republican leaders say it’s obvious that serious immigration reform can’t occur until the United States gains control of its southern border. They say Obama’s transparent effort to exploit the issue politically -- after all, Democrats ignored immigration reform when they controlled both chambers of Congress -- is actually hurting the interests of Hispanics.
Ken Blackwell, the former secretary of state for Ohio who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, is staunchly critical of Obama’s politicization of the issue.
“The Obama administration has been a total disaster on the issue of immigration and border security,” Blackwell tells Newsmax. “This is a political ploy so flimsy and transparent in its insincerity that those who he would naturally be allied with are saying ‘Enough already.’
“And those of us who have been pushing for a more aggressive and clear establishment of an immigration policy that is based on making sure that we radically reduce the number of illegal immigrants, are saying this is nothing more than another Obama flim-flam,” he adds.
Even some pro-immigrant organizations blasted the president’s speech as vacuous and blatantly political.
The New York Immigration Coalition, for example, released a statement that: “The President’s speech today was, unfortunately, much ado about nothing; his expressions of support for immigration reform sound like empty promises to immigrant communities since they’re not backed up by action.”
The sharpest GOP criticisms, by contrast, were triggered by the president’s characterization of the border as more secure.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the president’s speech was out of touch with the reality of life near the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The President is not giving the American people a complete picture of security on our border with Mexico,” said McCaul. “While we have more resources, the border is more dangerous.”
Unfortunately for Obama, the statistics he cited in support of his view the border is safer than ever stand in rather sharp contrast to recent news headlines:
• The day before the president’s El Paso speech, a group Mexican marines stumbled upon Zeta cartel members along the lake on the Mexico-Texas border where American David Hartley was gunned down while jet skiing with his wife Tiffany in September. A fierce gun battle this week left 12 cartel suspects and one Marine dead. More than 20 guns, including several assault rifles, were seized after the shootout.
• Just days after President Obama gave his speech, two border patrol agents died in Maricopa County, Arizona, after their SUV was struck by a freight train while they were pursuing a group of suspected illegal immigrants.
• Arizona state Attorney General Tom Horne said Wednesday the United States should designate the Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. Two administration officials rejected that proposal, however.
• Steven McGraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told Congress the drug cartels are as barbaric as al-Qaida. In the past 16 months, he said, there have been 22 murders, 24 assaults, 15 shootings, and five kidnappings in Texas directly related to the cartels.
• On the Friday before Obama’s speech, three illegals were indicted for the second degree murder near Rio Rico of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Terry was a member of an elite tactical squad combating violent robberies in the area.
Blackwell tells Newsmax that Republicans may have an opportunity to capitalize on the growing Latino skepticism toward Obama’s promises on immigration.
“I think there really is a window of opportunity for Republicans,” he tells Newsmax, “because I don’t think the president is going to work himself out of the economic tailspin.”
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