Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here.
Ruben Navarrette says Latinos went for Obama even though their top issue isn't on his radar screen.
SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- The presidential election confirmed what many of us knew: We live in a remarkable and wonderful country, and Americans are an interesting and complicated people.
It's a country where, as Barack Obama said this week, "all things are possible" with hard work, sacrifice and perseverance, and where anyone can grow up to be president.
And it's a country whose people sometimes vote against their self-interest, perhaps in defense of what John McCain calls causes larger than themselves.
For instance, Obama won 66 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 32 percent for McCain. This despite the fact that Latinos told pollsters that immigration was one of their top issues, and it doesn't seem to be on Obama's radar screen.
During an interview last week with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, when Obama listed his top priorities -- the economy, taxes, health care, energy and education -- immigration was nowhere to be found.
I wasn't exactly surprised. In February, while United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta stumped for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, Huerta aptly described Barack Obama as a "Johnny come lately" to the concerns of the Latino community.
No matter. For Latinos intent on electing a Democratic president, the third time was the charm. That is to say, for many of the nearly 10 million Latinos who voted this week -- at least those who consider it their duty and destiny to vote Democratic -- Obama was actually their third choice.
First came a sentimental favorite and fellow Latino, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Then, when it was clear that Richardson wasn't likely to finish in the money, many of his Latino supporters joined the millions of Latinos who were backing Clinton. And when Obama won the party nomination, two-thirds of Latino voters gravitated to his corner -- for reasons they couldn't always put into words.
Readers know that I have often praised McCain and criticized Obama. Of course, on other occasions, I've done the opposite. But that's another story.
The point is that, for those who insist on putting columnists in a blue box or a red one -- a harmful trend that, by the way, too many of my colleagues play into by offering endorsements and becoming partisan cheerleaders -- I can see how some would be tempted to place me on the right side of the aisle. And those who did so would naturally assume that I'm terribly disappointed by the outcome of the election.
Not at all. In fact, I'm very pleased. It's a glorious and faith-affirming moment for the country. This year, I defended Obama for months against unfair and racist attacks, many of them during the Democratic primaries.
Besides, as a Mexican-American who -- as the president-elect famously said -- "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills," I take enormous pride in what a 47-year-old first-term African-American senator from Illinois was able to accomplish with such grace as to make it look easy.
Of course, the road to history was anything but easy. And Obama deserves to savor every ounce of his victory. His 22-month-long journey to the White House was, to borrow a phrase, "a long, hard slog" that began with beating an opponent who, in a bruising primary battle, earned 18 million votes in defeat.
In the general election, Obama had to battle not just McCain and the Republican Party but intangibles such as suspicion, prejudice and innuendo.
Even after two autobiographies, hundreds of speeches, dozens of debates and millions of dollars in television ads, many Americans aren't sure who Obama really is. And, frankly, his campaign didn't seem all that eager to clue them in.
Here is who I think Barack Obama is: a dedicated husband and father, an inquisitive and disciplined intellect, a natural politician with skills to burn, someone who has struggled with and conquered identity issues over what he believed and where he belonged, an inspirational figure who obviously loves his country and may just have the chance to transform parts of it -- and, not least of all, the embodiment of the American Dream.
Felicidades, Mr. President-elect. Congratulations.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.
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