“Hispandering”: What the GOP doesn’t get about Latino (and Asian) voters

More than a week of soul-searching and grieving has passed since Obama shocked less than half the nation by winning re-election. Demographics has caught up to politics—a fact clearly evidenced in the exit polls and even in the images we saw of the two campaign election watch celebrations the night of Tuesday, November 6 (this vs this). Obama won the popular vote and the electoral college vote through a coalition of women, ethnic minorities, labor, the LGTBQ community, and young people. The GOP knows it needs to bring more people to the polls in order to win—the coalition it counted on for victory is just not wide enough.

Cue the Hispanic vote. We’ve heard numerous GOP members and conservatives muse about how to get more Hispanics to vote Republican. But, as the strategizing goes openly on in public, the GOP has misdiagnosed the problem they have in the Latino community (and, I suspect, in the Asian community).
[Hispanics] should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example). The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. (Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post)
More Latinos voted in this election than in any previous election and this is a growing population (half of the U.S. Census growth from 2000-2010 came from increases in the Hispanic community). We’ve already seen the numbers from this election: Romney got somewhere between 25 to 27%of the Latino vote (worse than McCain and way worse than George W. Bush in 2004, who walked away with 44%).

The Flawed GOP Solution: Immigration Reform Isn’t the Silver Bullet. Like Hannity, many conservative leaders are “evolving” on immigration. They’ve edged away from Romney’s harsh stance on “self deportation” and are trying to find a way to make immigration reform not just the province of the Democrats. This is going to be good for everyone.

But the GOP lost the Latino vote on something deeper than just immigration; they lost it on meanness. The whole Birther Controversy over Barack Obama’s citizenship, birth, and Americanness—something that has deep grassroots traction with the base—cut to the very heart of the experience of the Hispanic community in the United States. And I suspect this is also why the Asian-American community supported Obama with the same numbers. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal got it right today when he said, "If we want people to like us, we have to like them first."

We’ve heard for years that Barack Hussein Obama seems somehow not a “real” American. The son of an immigrant, he’s got a foreign-sounding name and there’s been a constant push to get him to prove that he was really born in the U.S. (and publicly released official documents have not staved this off). But look at the Obama story from an immigrant community’s perspective: this is a kid who had to deal with having a strange name, who came from a non-wealthy family, who worked really, really hard, got into Columbia and then got into Harvard.

Obama’s story is the immigrant’s dream. And when it’s denigrated as somehow not being “really” American, this cuts deep into the experience of families from Latin America and Asia. Hispanics, Asian-Americans, immigrant communities from everywhere have made a deeply conscious choice to be American and yet in the rhetoric from the Right, they are doubted and rejected. Immigration reform offered as a quick palliative to convince Latinos to vote GOP comes across as simplistic pandering and not a deep enough heart change. The question that the GOP faces is one of hospitality and community, not just one of policy. Without the heart change, the immigration reform smacks of insincerity.

This is what the GOP needs to change to draw Latino and Asian-American voters: to view immigrants and the children of immigrants as real Americans.

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2 Responses to “Hispandering”: What the GOP doesn’t get about Latino (and Asian) voters

melissa said...

The GOP is also missing a very important point in their simplistic approach to politics: the brand of individualism they uphold and promote is antithetical to the community-oriented spirit and tradition in Latino and Asian communities. Additionally, the Pioneer myth about bootstraps and an antagonistic attitude towards one's government finds no parallels in those communities either. The Republican ideology simply is not resonating with very many groups of people these days.

Anonymous said...

I'm a legal immigrant. Not Hispanic, but of Anglo-Celtic descent from another "new world" land of immigrants.

I can relate. I think you're spot on. The whole notion of two classes of citizen - one that can be president and one that can never be - is an anaethema to me, as in my homeland of Australia, anything a born citizen can do, so can a naturalised one. The current leader is a woman born in Wales for example.

So yes, the whole birther movement just smacked me in the face personally. Reminding me that even if I ever decide to become a citizen, I'll never be truly American. I can only imagine what it did to the millions of Hispanic-Americans.


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