Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Racism isn't just a GOP problem

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Anti-immigration Republicans are spoiling the Grand Old Party
  • Navarrette: Some Democrats say race is a reason for failure of immigration reform
  • He says racism isn't limited to one party; it never has been in history
  • Navarrette: There are anti-Latino elements in Democratic and Republican parties

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- There are two groups of Republicans: Those who pander to nativists by encouraging anti-Latino prejudice and exploiting the fear and anxiety that come from changing demographics, and those who tolerate the first group.

Both groups are spoiling the Grand Old Party. And they're making life too easy for Democrats, who -- while never particularly good at addressing the needs and concerns of Latino voters -- have lately excelled in the neglect department. The more Latinos are antagonized by Republicans, the more they get ignored by Democrats.

Ain't that swell? The result for America's largest minority is a political paradox, where the media insists this community has tremendous power while those of us within the community know the opposite is true. We're not getting stronger. We're getting weaker.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Such is the misfortune of today's Latino voter, and it's the goal of Democrats to bring it up. When you don't have much to offer, you cling to what little you have -- even if it's just a bumper sticker slogan: "Vote Democrat. Because we're not as bad as Republicans."

Look at what happened with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, when he made remarks about Republicans and racism on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

And recently, Pelosi was asked by reporters if she thought race factors into how Republicans deal with the Obama administration.

Pivoting to a hot topic, Pelosi responded: "I think race has something to do with the fact that they're not bringing up an immigration bill."

Inside Politics: Ukraine, Sebelius, GOP

First, that took chutzpah. This is the same Nancy Pelosi who, when she wielded the gavel from 2007 to 2009, deliberately kept immigration off the congressional agenda. This was no secret. Her top lieutenant at the time, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who talked openly about his reluctance to engage the issue, went so far as to label immigration the "third rail" of American politics.

Did the Democrats' failure to bring up immigration during the two years they controlled both houses of Congress also have something to do with race?

It seems only fair to ask, given what Pelosi said about the GOP. The real reason Democrats put immigration on the back burner wasn't racial but political. Labor leaders give lip service to backing the idea of giving legal status to the undocumented, but the rank-and-file aren't sold. Democrats are no more eager to divide their party than Republicans are to divide theirs.

Democrats benefit from Republican missteps. If the GOP acts as an obstacle, it saves the Democrats from having to play the villain.

Pelosi is right about race -- or more precisely, ethnicity, since Latinos aren't a race -- having a lot to do with why House Republicans won't bring up an immigration bill.

Since most immigrants to the United States, both legal and illegal, are now Latino, Republicans are afraid that -- whichever way the debate goes -- they'll be painted as "anti-Latino," which will lead to another beating at the ballot box. Besides, if they restart the immigration debate, Republicans can count on someone in their party saying something idiotic or incendiary that will turn off Latinos.

Then along comes Israel. When asked by reporters to comment on what Pelosi had said (notice how helpful the liberal media can be in advancing the narrative that Republicans are hostile to minorities), Israel said, "To a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism. And that's unfortunate."

Israel has a point. Many Americans approach the immigration debate by succumbing to racism. They have for 250 years, starting when Benjamin Franklin railed against the Germans in the mid-1700s. That's a ready made constituency. In the last 20 years, a faction of the GOP has stepped up to service it. And whereas, a hundred years ago, the political piñata would have been the Irish or the Italians, today it's the Latinos.

Yet, that's only half the story. Here's the rest: Racism isn't limited to one party. It never has been.

Today, you'll find anti-Latino elements of the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians are careful not to say anything ugly. But rank-and-file Democratic voters are more uninhibited with their comments. Travel the country, as I have, and you'll hear the same remarks from Democrats that you hear from Republicans -- about how Latino immigrants are defiant, dangerous or deficient. This is why you see resistance to legalizing the undocumented from normally liberal voters in the South, Midwest and Northeast.

Listen up, Latinos. We don't have political power, and we're suffering through a litany of bad choices. But there's a way to improve our lot, and it has nothing to do with demographics. We have to avoid oversimplifying our predicament by blaming only Republicans for the poisonous mood of the immigration debate. Over the years, leading up to the Obama administration's dubious record of deporting 2 million people in five years, Democrats have done their share of damage.

Are racism and nativism part of the immigration debate? Of course they are. But the antidote to such bigotry isn't tolerance or open-mindedness. It's respect. And there is only one way for Latinos to get it, and that's by staying in play and making both parties compete for our votes.

That's not politics. It's common sense. And oftentimes, one doesn't have anything to do with the other.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT