CHICAGO—It’s May 2015, which means the start of the 2016 presidential campaign season is only a blink away. Already hopefuls are throwing their hats into the ring.
So far only one person has mounted a challenge to Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee—though why Bernie Sanders, a self-styled democratic socialist and the independent junior senator from Vermont, would allow his pro-working class, anti-imperialist message to be subdued by a party that is only nominally those things is beyond me.
I’m sure Hillary and Bernie will be joined by others, probably former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and maybe New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, to name only two. Unfortunately for progressives hoping for a candidate to get even mildly excited about, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been riding the populist coattails of the Occupy movement, appears steadfast in her refusal to run for president next year.
On the Republican side we have a cast of clowns that has become characteristic of the party’s presidential bids. Among the declared candidates are two Latinos (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida) and they might even have to make room for New Mexico governor Susana Martinez and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, two other big Latino names on the red team considering a crack at the White House.
For his Mexican-born wife Columba, his “compassionate” stance on immigration and his ability to speak fluent Spanish, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, younger brother of George II, has been awarded honorary latinidad by some Latino conservatives and those who don’t know any better. Should he run for president too, as he’s expected to do, and should he and Hillary face off in November 2016, the United States will see its top office become a hereditary title. But first Jeb has to resurrect the Bush name, left a smoldering, smelly mess by his driveling dauphin of a brother.
For her part Dolores Huerta, the elderly stateswoman of Latino activism, has already made clear it’s in Latinos’ best interests to pick Hillary over any of the Latino Republican candidates, even if we have to wait till astronauts walk on one of the moons of Saturn before the country elects its first Latino commander-in-chief.
“Yes, [Latino Republicans] can win because they have a Latino name, because they can speak Spanish,” Huerta said in a recent interview. “But our community has to be more educated to be able to know that those candidates, like Jeb Bush, who speak Spanish and also have a child who speaks very good Spanish, lack a Latino heart.”
On her support for Hillary, Huerta cited Clinton’s experience (former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state) and her past support among Latino voters. To those Latinos who see a two-party system that consistently betrays their values and are discouraged from voting altogether, Huerta gave a plea: “Your vote is worth a lot. You can decide who’s going to president of the United States.”
She’s right, of course. The Latino population has exploded in the past 15 years, and the Latino vote has been one of the deciding factors in at least the last three presidential elections, beginning when George W. hauled in 40 percent of Latino voters in 2004—a feat no Republican candidate has come close to matching since. (Obama pulled in 67 percent and 71 percent when he was elected and reelected.) More so than women and Millennials, whose vote the GOP realizes it has no chance of winning, the Latino electorate has become a highly coveted battlefield on which neither party wants to cede too much ground to the other side.
The Democratic Party has received the lion’s share of Latino votes since FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, and while Latino Democrats outnumber Latino Republicans in the House 22 to 7, the GOP boasts two Latino senators (to the Democrats’ one) and more Latinos in statewide office, including two governors (to the Democrats’ none).
Nonetheless, Latino Democrats in Congress tend to receive the same begrudging support from Latino voters that the party as a whole does. Here in Chicago, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez represents a predominately Latino district and has never received less than 77 percent of the overall vote in his over 22 years in Congress, but that didn’t stop most Latinos from labeling him a traitor and a sellout for co-chairing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign against Jesús “Chuy” García a couple of months ago.
Then there’s the story of Rep. Loretta Sánchez, competing in the California Democratic primary for the retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat. While meeting at an Indian American caucus last weekend, Sánchez tried to joke about how she had thought she would be meeting with Native Americans, patting her mouth and mimicking a Native American battlecry. The whole thing was caught on camera, as was Sánchez gradual escape from reporters as she sprinted in high heels.
Apparently this isn’t the first time Sánchez has made racially insensitive remarks. Back when the incumbent Latina congresswoman faced a Vietnamese opponent, she told Univision that “the Vietnamese” were trying to take her seat.
Reps. Sánchez and Gutiérrez, and Latino Democrats like them, are the canaries in the coal mine indicating a much larger yet hidden poison permeating the Democratic Party, which is that the Democrats are only a marginally better Latino ally than Republicans. At the end of the day, neither truly acts in Latinos’ best interests nor cares much about the issues facing much of the Latino population, such as unjust immigration laws; education disparity; income and wealth inequality; systemic prejudice and discrimination; and much more.
To secure enough Latino votes, the Democrats will either dangle the hope of passing fair and comprehensive immigration reform (like Obama did last year, and in 2012), or they’ll try to convince Latino voters of how much worse it would be with a Republican in the White House.
Hillary has shrewdly chosen Amanda Rentería, a second-generation Mexican American, as her campaign’s political director, and Jose Villarreal, former board chairman of the National Council of La Raza, as treasurer. And yesterday the Clinton campaign announced that Lorella Praeli, advocacy and policy director for United We Dream, an immigrant youth group, would direct the campaign’s Latino outreach.
Clinton’s record on immigration seems pretty Latino-friendly, except for her former objection to giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. (In April a campaign spokesman said Hillary had since changed her mind.) But it’s not her domestic policy that worries, however the Clintonian corporatist she may be. What strikes me as anti-Latino is foreign policy, specifically her stance toward Latin America, as evinced during her tenure as secretary of state.
One of the first overseas crisis she faced as state secretary was a military coup in Honduras. Obama and Clinton both publicly condemned the coup, but as Clinton revealed in her recent memoir Hard Choices, she pulled enough strings to make sure the democratically-elected leftist president wouldn’t return to office and that, when the dust settled and order was restored, the golpistas would be in power.
Not only has Hillary’s dim view of democracy in the region been proven, her dim view of regional leaders is also well documented. Discussing the contents of a leaked cable written by Clinton, author Nikolas Kozloff wrote that “whether American diplomats are dealing with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or Honduras’ Manuel Zelaya, leaders are referred to as petulant children holding naïve ideas about the world.”
Her time as secretary of state and the hawkishness she has displayed since the 2008 presidential candidate offer us some clues as to what the Clinton Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine might be should she become president.
Latino voters may be here in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about what happens back in ancestral homeland. Nor can anyone deny that whatever policies are enacted in Latin America, and whatever violence and despair is inflicted upon the Latin American people, it usually finds its way back to the United States, mostly in the form of immigrants desperate to escape such circumstances. (Must I mention last year’s refugee crisis along the Texas border, the one Clinton felt that the minors who came here should have been sent back home?)
If Hillary is the best that the Democratic Party has to offer Latinos in 2016, and if the Republican Party insists on being the Republican Party, then maybe Latinos should place their votes somewhere else.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.