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Politicians' Latino strategy: Blame the other guy

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
  • Ruben Navarrette: Candidates try to enlist Latinos by taking pot shots at opponents
  • GOP got itself branded anti-Latino by pandering to racism with extreme rhetoric, he writes
  • Democrats aren't keeping promises to Latino constituents, Navarrette writes

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to

San Diego, California (CNN) -- With just days until the midterm elections, political parties aren't doing Latino outreach. They're taking the easy way out and doing Latino "outrage."

Instead of bragging about what they've done right to address concerns of Hispanic voters, such as jobs, health care, education, immigration, they just point fingers at the other side for what it has done wrong and try to make Latinos angry at their opponents.

President Obama employed that strategy last week during an interview by Spanish-language radio giant Eddie "El Piolin" Sotelo on an Univision radio program. In a provocative line that sent many Republicans into orbit, Obama said, "If Latinos sit out the election, instead of saying we're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us .... then, I think it's going to be harder."

He warned that if Latinos stayed home and didn't vote in the upcoming election, they'd be doing the unthinkable: hurting Democrats who support comprehensive immigration reform and helping Republicans who oppose it.

The GOP doesn't like talk of "friends" and "enemies," because they're afraid that, to many Latinos, they resemble the latter. With Latinos likely to account for 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2040, Republicans tremble at the future. They know they're headed for a series of spankings for decades to come. When they do win elections -- as they're likely to do next week when they claim perhaps as many as 50 congressional seats -- they'll have to do it on the backs of non-Latino voters, the number of which is shrinking in this country.

The Republican Party dug that hole all by itself by pandering to racism with extreme rhetoric on the immigration issue, which makes it appear to be "anti-Latino" instead of "anti-illegal immigration" or "pro-border security." And it's interesting that while Republicans think Democrats should be held accountable for defying the will of the American people by ramming through health care reform, they don't think they should be held accountable to voters for poisoning the immigration debate with nonsense, nativism and negativity.

Unfortunately, Democrats aren't much better at serving Latino constituents. During the interview, the president disputed Sotelo's charge that he cared more about health care reform than immigration reform -- and that this is why he was able to help pass one but not the other. Obama said that, "on immigration reform, I can't get 100 percent of Democrats. I can get 90 percent of Democrats, but I can't get 100 percent."

At that point, Sotelo should have asked the president why more Democrats don't support immigration reform and how he intends to change their minds. Instead, he let Obama paint Republicans as the main obstacles to fixing the immigration system.

"That's why this election coming up is so important," Obama said, "because we essentially have to say that those who are politicizing the issue, who are supportive of the Arizona law, who talk only about border security but aren't willing to talk about the other aspects of this, who don't support the Dream Act, who are out there engaging in rhetoric that is divisive and damaging that -- those aren't the kinds of folks who represent our core American values."

Mr. President, how about the value in telling the truth and taking responsibility for our failures and shortcomings? Or in keeping your promises so you don't have to make excuses later?

Let's put to rest this convenient narrative that it is Republicans who have thwarted immigration reform. You know very well that Democrats in Congress are selling out Latinos to please organized labor, which opposes any reform effort that includes provisions for guest workers. You know this because, during the brief time you were in the Senate, you were part of the problem and even proposed "poison pill" amendments intended to kill immigration reform and help you sew up union support for your 2008 presidential bid.

And you know this because, when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 -- which all but required racial profiling and might as well be called the "Mexican Removal Act" -- and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to respond by rallying support on Capitol Hill for immigration reform, you undercut him by telling reporters aboard Air Force One that there was no support for it. Despite lip service about how determined you are to find a solution to the immigration problem, those of us who have been paying attention to this debate know that you're not the solution. You're part of the problem.

So, Mr. President, if you want to talk about friends and enemies, let me ask you this: With friends like you, why would Latinos need enemies?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.