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Monday, January 14, 2008

Next Generation Latino Vote A Threat to GOP

This 18-year-old is the daughter of an undocumented Mexican. She is the GOP’s nightmare.
But for her mother, with whom I spoke about the upcoming Feb. 5 primaries, she embodies a dream that steadied her through nine straight hours of walking the day she set out to cross the border with her own mother 25 years ago.
She was 18 years old that day. The Mexico City native crossed over into San Clemente, Calif., in an arduous walk that began on the Mexican side at 9 p.m. and ended at 5 a.m. on the U.S. side. Twice the small group she traveled with was caught by la migra, now known just as appropriately as ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and returned to the Mexican side. On the third try in as many days the group made it and since then, this woman who has no legal status to be in the U.S. has raised a family while working six-day work weeks.
And next month, her American-born daughter will vote in the state primary that will propel the candidates that much closer to the White House.
It is a momentous occasion in the family, not the least because most Americans wave off electoral participation as if it were a mosquito while others clamor for a chance to be counted.
Only 30 percent of registered voters go to the polls. Tragically, most people here do not view voting as a privilege, a civic responsibility or even an obligation given the country’s importance as a superpower that can poke its rockets into anyone’s business.
But this woman considers voting a gift and has told her daughter so. The family’s first and historic vote will go to support Hillary Clinton, who has a plan for everything that matters to the family: war, immigration, the economy.
D.C. politics is a fast lane of abruptly changing signs. After one too many GOP political and religious movers and shakers were caught with their pants down in sordid same-sex relationships, and after the fervor over abortion and stem cell research failed to mobilize the GOP base, the Bush administration successfully positioned immigration as the new divisive issue.
With a Latino population that today includes more than 45 million American citizens and will have increased to more than 140 million in less than 50 years, one can see where the GOP would suddenly become paranoid and manipulate the media’s short attention span to conjure images of wild-eyed Latinos racing across the border to rob excellent toilet-cleaning jobs from red-blooded Americans.
With the exception of Cubans, who as a voting bloc are Castro-hating Republicans, Latinos in general vote Democrat. The children of undocumented workers who were born here are American citizens. As each turns 18 and registers to vote, the GOP sees its power diminishing. It is payback for the party that demonized their parents.
At the 2004 National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in Philadelphia, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean predicted that the GOP would make immigration its battle hymn of the republic. It was a warning that few heard.
Republican strategists went on to recast Latinos as a monolith of narco-traffickers and murderers in order to pull Americans on board the anti-immigration train.
The white-guy pundits joined the bandwagon and the nation’s court jesters, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report and Bill Maher of Real Time with Bill Maher countered with amusing on-target commentary that nonetheless fell on deaf ears on the conservative side. Meanwhile, on the solemn airwaves of PBS, Bill Moyers Journal has been presenting in-depth analysis into the issues of the day. But the youth vote is not watching that; it isn’t funny.
The Mexican daughter doesn’t need to be entertained into political consciousness. She was raised in it.
When Hillary Clinton roared past the pollsters in New Hampshire who had her losing by 40,000 votes and into the reality of her winning by 8,000 votes, pundits were at a loss. Polls are their bread and butter. Without them, they don’t know what to say.
But this family doesn’t listen to them anyway.
“If you don’t vote, it’s as if you don’t exist,” the mother told me. She said it with the certainty that accompanies her own personal experiences as an invisible person to most and invented menace to many. Her daughter is bringing the family out into the open.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Great candidates but can they beat the GOP?

These days were borne from the Civil Rights movement. In an American-as-pie, history-making display of e pluribus unum, the Democratic debate in New Hampshire last week featured Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. It was as inspiring as watching Armstrong walk on the moon. We have traveled far. It is an exciting time, but it is bittersweet. Clinton, Obama and Richardson are each capable of being a great president, but because of their respective gender, race and ethnicity, the White House is a mirage.
The fact remains that this country, at this time, will not elect a president whose color goes toward light coffee or darker, nor anyone whose ethnicity is anything but Anglo, nor an Anglo woman for that matter. If this were a country where race and gender didn’t matter, the immigration debate would have been civilized. Arabs wouldn’t be scared to be named Muhammad. Women would earn as much as men.
If this were a country where race didn’t matter, Springfield -- this region’s capital city -- with a population that is two-thirds people of color, wouldn’t be abandoned by its neighboring wealthy and predominantly Anglo communities.
Democrats and some independents are passionate about Clinton, Obama and Richardson, but if any of these win the nomination, the Republican machine that installed George W. Bush twice in the White House will once again rise to destroy the opponent.
Sen. John Kerry was successfully cast as a Vietnam War coward and liar, remember. What can we expect if either a woman, a black man or Latino gets the nomination?
By voters, these candidates are judged by the content of their character, their ideas and the implied trust that comes with the familiarity of shared experiences as women and people of color. They embody the dreams of our elders. But to corporate America and vapid journalists, whose influence sways the electorate, these candidates are nothing more than fascinating products that the media couches between washing machines and deodorant commercials.
Obama’s surge in polls is yet another mirage, projected in large measure by a voting bloc of white voters, some of whom bow to white guilt. And his fall is guaranteed by another white voting bloc who cannot abide a man of color in the White House. He is the Ralph Nader of the primaries.
If he were an Anglo, he would not be this popular. But if he were, maybe he could beat any GOP contender -- unless his name were still Barack Hussein Obama.
Richardson’s credentials include service as energy secretary, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, international crisis negotiator, a master of three languages. But, as with Obama, if he were to win the primaries, middle America would find problems with his Mexican-American heritage.
Hillary Clinton is exceptionally smart and prepared for the world stage, and yet, she, too, is continually portrayed a cold-hearted bitch. She has endured character assassinations since Barbara Bush first attacked her in the 1991 campaign.
Ably led into the henhouse of political assassination by Fox – regrettably, the most popular source of news in the U.S., although NBC and CNN are no better – these candidates would be incessantly attacked by the right-wing, the most organized, well-financed but uninformed segment of the electorate. And their numbers are growing.
Massachusetts stands to lose a congressional seat in 2010, along with New York and Ohio, while southern and western states with strong Republican roots may gain congressional seats.
But some of us still dream. These three candidates are among the nation’s greatest patriots. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we celebrate this month, led a movement that brings us to this day when we have a strong and diverse field of contenders to choose from. It is a good day.
But it is hard to imagine that this nation, where equal opportunity and affirmative action remain more vision than real, would elect any of them as president. Doesn’t mean we should vote anything other than our conscience. But numbers decide the outcome. There are not enough of us registered to vote.
That doesn’t mean that MLK’s dream is dead. There will come a time when the president will be a woman or man who is black or Hispanic. Clinton, Obama and Richardson are leading the way to that day.
To bring that day closer, some would say that the first step is to remove the Republicans from power so we can set about restoring this country to its promise.