Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And the winner is ...

With all the talk by the mainstream news media about how both presidential campaigns deeply desire the Hispanic vote, I conducted a test.

Words are the most worthless of curriencies in an election. Action and a record of action, no matter how small, mean the most.

So I recently contacted both campaigns as a member of the Hispanic news media, asking to sign up for press releases -- on issues in general and those messages aimed at Latinos.

I have to admit that I gave Sen. Barack Obama's campaign a little advantage. I endorsed Obama in the Hispanic press before the Texas primary on the Democratic side. On the GOP side, I didn't endorse because Sen. John McCain had all but clinched the nomination.

On June 6, I sent an e-mail to Vincent Casillas, Hispanic media outreach coordinator for the Obama campaign. I entitled the e-mail: signing up for Obama campaign e-mail messages. I attached columns I had written in Hispanic newspapers from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco about Obama. I wrote the columns as a regular political contributor to Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Columns are distributed over the Scripps Howard News Service.

On June 13 (last Friday), I just called the McCain campaign in Washington after hours, at around 8 p.m. EDT.

A person in the press office happened to answer, and I gave her the information about who I was and how I wanted to sign up for McCain campaign press releases.

So Monday, I received the first campaign e-mail.

From whom?

Sen. John McCain's campaign.

Action -- even so small -- is much more meaningful than words and promises. Meanwhile, Mr. Casillas with the Obama campaign has been speaking to the mainstream press about how Sen. Obama used Spanish in a campaign ad.

Big deal! Even members of La Migra can speak Spanish. That doesn't make them friends.

The Obama campaign continues to make a huge political mistake. It continues to take the Hispanic electorate for granted. And to earn the respect of that electorate, a big investment of time and energy is necessary. Our elders like my Uncle Salvador -- a B-17 middle gunner and World War II hero -- carry a lot of clout in our communities and in our hearts. They've seen and heard a lot of candidates speak in Spanish with flowery promises. They won't be convinced by anything but respect. Yet Obama continues to waste precious time to show needed respect. He is going to lose enough of the Hispanic vote to allow Sen. McCain to win the presidency by taking New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

Meanwhile, the Hispanic blogosphere still wants Hillary Clinton as the nominee. They can't understand why the Obama campaign has yet to get its act together in regards to the Latino electorate. So why don't we just vote for McCain now so we'll get Sen. Clinton in four years? She knows and respects Hispanics from her work registering Latino voters in the 1970s in south Texas. She has invested the necessary time and energy.

Now, granted, I am a nobody when it comes to Hispanic-American journalists. I'm no longer at a mainstream newspaper of record after 10 years as a political columnist for The Tennessean in Nashville.

But I do have a lot of Mexican-American relatives in 11 states across this nation -- including Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico. And I force them to read my political blog and ask them to pass the web address onto their friends. The Internet is an amazing thing. I promise to give them coverage of Latino issues not available in the mainstream media, particularly on TV political pundit panels and newspaper Op-Ed pages.

Perhaps Obama's hesitancy with the Hispanic electorate is rooted in worthless guarantees from Hispanic politicians. Here is one certain truth: no Latino politico or politicos have the ability to bring around Hispanic voters. We are individuals, diverse by nationality and the kind of beans we eat -- black or pinto.

The Democratic Party as of late has too often taken the Hispanic electorate for granted. In the year 2000, then Gore deputy campaign manager Janet Murguia sought me out after critical columns I had written about Democrats and Gore for leaving immigrant children in Nashville public schools behind. Murguia -- who had come from the Clinton White House to the Gore campaign -- promised to look into the situation and stir federal education officials to do their job.

That promise was the last I heard from her. Either the Clinton administration failed her or she thought I could be impressed enough by meeting with someone so important. I took great satisfaction in Gore losing his home state and the presidency, despite his own campaign headquarters being located in Nashville.

And in the first six months of his administration, President George W. Bush sent federal officials into Nashville schools and declared the district to be out of compliance with a civil rights agreement on the adequate education of immigrant children. Then we got No Child Left Behind which took the education of Hispanic children out of the shadows.

Don't worry. Murguia survived, becoming head of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic civil rights organization. But I won't forget what happened with immigrant children in Nashville and who cared and who didn't.

That's why tests -- even as small as signing up for e-mail press releases from campaigns -- are important.

I agree with Sen. Obama on more issues than Sen. McCain. But McCain's name was on the last bipartisan immigration reform legislation. He shared top billing with the great Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Some Hispanic advocates claim that McCain has flip-flopped on the immigration issue to impress party conservatives. That's why he is demanding border security first. And he has the albatross of xenophobic Republican politicians hungry for more punitive treatment of undocumented workers and their families. The Bush administration has allowed the Department of Homeland Security to demean and damage Hispanic families with punitive raids of workplaces and deportation powers put in the hands of local authorities, like those in Nashville where I live.

But which political choice should Hispanic voters prefer: to be ignored as in the Obama and Gore campaigns, or to be pursued as in Sen. McCain's campaign?

I can't negotiate on issues with someone who ignores me. And I can't expect a candidate who ignores me to be around when the time comes for action. Obama also could have been the force to bridge the black-brown political divide in this nation. At least that's what I hoped in endorsing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. But the divide can't be bridged if the brown side is ignored and disrespected. It now appears my endorsement was wrong.

I haven't endorsed anyone for the general election. But Obama is making my choice a lot easier. I may not even have to endorse a candidate, because Obama will have already lost enough support from the Hispanic electorate in key states to rightly doom his campaign. McCain is within six percentage points of Bush's take of the Latino electorate in 2000.

Latinos are patient people amid all struggles. Maybe we'll just wait for Sen. Clinton four years from now.


John Lamb said...

Being ignored is a bad sign, but keep in mind that you contacted organizations with two different workloads, McCain's likely being lighter than Obama's right now. Also, you talked to a human being on the McCain side, which is different than sending an e-mail to the Obama camp. I'd like to know what would happen if you called Obama's people.

Obama gained my support through what I perceived to be his affinity for - I called it a love of - people in general, no matter who they are (see my editorial here).

Cali Tejano said...


Don't forget that John McCain voted last year to make English the official language of the United States.