The Push Pull Of Politics And The Hispanic Vote

They love me, they love me not

Having been involved in marketing directed to and designed to instill motivation within the Hispanic community since 1964; I can readily attest to the fact the National Republican community has not yet learned to appreciate the importance of the Hispanic vote.

In politics, the majority of Hispanics have always been the constituency of the Democrat party. For decades, Democrats have to apply no more effort than to re-iterate the same old tired lines delivered on cue every four years. Just as Bill Clinton was the first Black president, every Democrat politician becomes part Latino. Latinos have come to tolerate and expect the obligatory visits from ranking Democrat politicians seeking higher office. The theme or Republican villain of the day is excoriated with the select number of sound bites. Sound bites designed to capture the attention of evening news casts aimed at Latinos. These are put forth by Latino newscasters totally in sync with the Democrat ideology. Latinos are praised, indulged with promises and left in a blissful state of awe long enough to count on their vote; then, quickly forgotten until the next election. Come to think of it, Latinos have not learned much over the years either.

Courting the Hispanic vote is a relatively recent venture; if you consider starting 35 years ago recent. Richard Nixon, a Republican heading into the 1972 Presidential election was the first candidate to implement a specific strategy to go after the Hispanic vote. Most people would think JFK but JFK only had one (1) Hispanic delegate at his convention, Ed Roybal of California. Enough said about JFK courting Hispanics! The Hispanic allure for JFK is based mostly on fantasy, not fact.

Nixon, working in conjunction with the Spanish Speaking Cabinet Committee had dozens of key Latino individuals fan out across the country courting Hispanic organizations and asking for their vote. It was a strong, relentless campaign which managed to bring into the fold several strong national Latino organizations. Their efforts paid off with 35% of the Hispanic vote and a big win for the Republican Party. When Gerald Ford ran in 1976 against Jimmy Carter, the Hispanic vote was essentially not courted at all. The Spanish Speaking Cabinet Committee made up of representation from New York Puerto Ricans, Florida Cubans and California-South West Mexican-Americans was instead disbanded. Prior to disbanding, the SSCC was a beehive of activity and every nuance that related to the Hispanic needs and their vote was explored. Hispanics to this date have never been as close to White-House input as in the days of Richard Nixon.

No longer considered part of the winning equation by Republicans, Hispanics reverted to their genetic imprint. Hispanics are genetically programmed to be born Catholic and Democrat. Troublesome genes mostly inherited through parents. These genetic traits date back to union hall days when you absolutely voted for whom you were told, if you wanted to continue working. You also remained a life-long Catholic if you were serious about going to heaven. The union maintains the power to have you fired and the church has the power to have you fired up. The heat of the moment certainly adds clarity to your voting decisions. Unions and the Catholic Church still have a mind-boggling mystic hold on Latinos but we have learned to better sublimate our compulsions usually through hard work. Having been virtually ignored and not courted by either party in 1976, Hispanics of course voted Democrat. Jimmy Carter won. Gerald Ford only managed 24% of the Hispanic vote.

Heading towards the 1980 elections, Ronald Reagan took a page out of the Nixon playbook and initiated the same tactics to capture the Hispanic vote. He captured 33% of the Hispanic voting block and of course won. Being a quick study, he knew what worked and implemented the same strategy for 1984 and again won, this time with 37% of the Hispanic vote. Having learned from both Nixon and Reagan, the elder G.H.W. Bush who was an active force in both administrations, claimed Texas as his home state and spoke a few words of Spanish, sort of, went after the Hispanic vote in 1988. Not whole heartedly but enough to capitalize on Reagan’s legacy, the amnesty bill which gave a whole generation of Hispanics their life back and Reagan’s lingering charisma. Papa Bush won with 30% of the Hispanic vote. In the 1992 elections, all the ground work left from Reagan had started to vanish. Papa bush had not re-seeded his Hispanic garden while Clinton exploited every opportunity. He became the rainbow coalition candidate; Every where he went, the political magic-man, James Carville kept tugging him back on message. “It’s the economy stupid,” and of course all Latino’s knew he was talking to us. He was here to make our personal economy much better. Little did we know it all started with a huge tax increase. Papa Bush could barely bring in 24% of the Hispanic vote and he lost. Dole against Clinton in 1996 could only manage 21% of the Hispanic vote and he lost.

G.W. Bush when he ran in 2000 gathered some old friends of the Nixon and Reagan administration and revived the efforts to bring in the Hispanic vote. Bush charted a course across the states making certain Latinos were always asked to join him at events. He spoke enough Spanish to make himself understood and ask for the Hispanic vote. He evoked good humored laughter among the Latinos. Hispanics grew to appreciate his sincere efforts to tackle the immigration issue.

Hispanics for the most part prefer and encourage “legal immigration.” But, make no mistake about it; Latinos in general all have a close friend, associate or relative who is presently caught in the paper work web of Immigration Services. When the process takes in some instances 25 years or longer, who among you can honestly say, “I could wait it out”? Get real! Babies brought here in diapers grow into adults, get married, get divorced, get remarried, spend thousands of dollars and some die while waiting in line to become legal. That’s the reality. Take for instance a gentleman acquaintance born in Mexico but has resided in the United States since the 2nd grade. His father was a U.S. citizen, born in the United States who returned here after a few years of exploring Mexico. Paper-work has been shuffled back and forth, lost, re-submitted and revised for decades. His parents passed away long ago, he (the applicant) is now 74, a senior citizen and remains ever hopeful! The last request six weeks ago was for his fathers’ baptismal certificate. His father was born in the mid-1800 in the Arizona Territory. Believe it or not, we found it, Catholics keep great records. In appreciation of this understanding in regards to immigration issues, G.H. Bush, won the hearts of Latinos and gave him 44% of their votes in 2004. That’s darn near half.

In the meantime, President Bush’s party, the Republicans despite the Presidents’ objections have managed to alienate just about every Latino out there; inside and outside the United States. If an election were held today, it is doubtful Republicans could muster the 21% of the Hispanic votes Dole received in 1996.

The statistics are very clear; Republicans cannot win with less than 25% of the Hispanic vote. Republicans, please read this line again!

You can argue the point of Hispanics being more closely aligned with the “conservative values” of the Republican Party.

Thirty four percent (34%) of Latinos self-identify themselves as conservative, 54% are pro-life, 56% want lower taxes and Latinos now have over $760 Billion of purchasing power. Surprisingly, $5 Billion of that is spent on cassettes to learn English according to the Hispanic Business Research Group which documents such facts.

Does that sound like they do not want to acculturate?

Republican activists will lose every inch they have gained by becoming the prime movers for efforts to scrutinize and require all Latinos (we all look alike) to certify their legal status before reluctantly being granted the right to work, rent a home, buy a home, buy a car or simply enjoy a peaceful walk down Main St., USA. Look around you and notice cities, states and sometimes the entire nation fighting to see which law can be passed to get rid of these pesky Latino immigrants, all in the name of “Homeland Security”.

There is still time to gather momentum and begin to solicit the Hispanic vote on the part of National Republicans but they are miles away from the starting gate. There are many conservative commentators and politicians who have in essence thrown away any semblance of civility and have said so much as we do not want them, “you can have them” to the Democrats. The illegal immigrant does not have the right and cannot vote therefore their inflaming rhetoric primarily alienates legal Hispanic voters. Their consensus is Hispanics vote Democrat anyway but they forget about the 25% they absolutely need.

Historically there is no way in a national election a Republican can win without 25% of the Hispanic vote. Democrats are feverishly courting Latinos by instigating a characteristic fight between the haves and the have-not’s. As a point of reference, a Gallup poll taken a year ago in July 2006, indicates, Whites oppose this have and have not population split approach by 57%, Blacks have the least opposition to this philosophy only 31% think it is wrong. Hispanics have the strongest opposition to this have against have not divisiveness opposing such tactics by 64%.

What does all this say? Republicans have myopia and are throwing away a significant opportunity to win the Hispanic vote and Democrats are using the wrong tactic to convince the Latino communities.

If Hispanics again resort to their genetically induced voting patterns, it will only mean one thing; we are still searching for our place in the sun. Rebuffed by the Republican mainstream, we are trading our American patriotism, (Hispanics have the highest per population percentage of Medal of Honor recipients) conservative values and well known hard work ethic for a short term political expedience. Who really loves you baby? Not generally politically astute, we tend to sway and play the political game of “what’s behind door number one”? For Latinos, it always turns out to be the booby prize, more of the same. This manifests itself from dishonesty coming from both parties. The push-pull conundrum. We want your vote but not really you. Doesn’t this have a familiar sound? We want your labors but do you really have to live here?

In the final analysis, Hispanics or Latinos, whatever you are comfortable with, will have the last laugh. With one out of every four babies being born in the United States classified as Hispanic, it is estimated that we will represent 25% of the U.S. population by 2050 and we will go from 43 million now to 102 million.

Right now, Hispanics are already concentrated in states that will make a difference in the 2008 election. Nationally you can think of the Hispanic vote as only a 10% voting block but that ten percent is concentrated in key states such as California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Florida and these states will tilt one way or the other based on the Hispanic vote. Try to win a national election without putting the above states into play and be ready to lose.

The Hispanic vote is not a matter of discussion only for 2008. The Hispanic vote is a real issue, a strategic matter of contention for any party looking into the future. Republican commentators may very well be willing to write us off for 2008 believing Hispanics are only good for picking fruit and Democrats may very well be used to the fact we are genetically programmed and a little hocus-pocus will always return us to their party.

The honest truth is we are in the midst of a long-term political game with long-term stakes. The future belongs to and will be forged by the Hispanic vote. Hispanics being alienated by Republicans today are the votes Republicans will need tomorrow and Hispanics being taken for granted by the Democrats today are Democrat voters who will not show up for you at the polls tomorrow. Hispanics are a loyal, independent voting block still seeking to belong. “Round and round she goes and where she stops, nobody knows.”

(Al Vasquez is a former National Executive Director of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens-Washington D.C.), Former National Deputy Director of SER, (Service, Employment and Redevelopment-Headquartered in Dallas, Texas) and currently the CEO of Hispanic-Image Marketing Network, Indio, California).