THE BLOG

Channeling "Tito the Builder" in Miami

06/08/2009 01:08 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The media and the Democratic Party would have us believe that Dems will clean up down here at the Sunshine State's tip, and as NPR's "All Things Considered" put it a couple of days ago, "they see signs that South Florida's strong Republican Cuban-American voting bloc may be crumbling."

We'll see -- it may be more like flaking around the edges. In fact, you'd stood in line for more than two hours with me during yesterday's early voting at the Coral Gables Public Library, you'd have to wonder. I found myself in a bubble of bigoted Bush and McCain groupies, most of them Spanish-speaking. Behind me, a dusky Cuban-American woman was telling someone indignantly, "I went to vote in Homestead two days ago but everyone there was black -- can you imagine!" (Can you imagine indeed, señora, what many of your fellow Republicans think of you.) Ahead of me, a family of Cubans clutched McCain-Palin bumper stickers and made approving noises as someone came down the line passing out "Yes On 2" flyers (in favor of a constitutional amendment outlawing domestic partnership of any kind along with same-sex marriage). It was way scarier than anything I saw at the Halloween blowout later that night on Lincoln Road in South Beach.

Until recently, most of the animus against Barack Obama I'd noticed among Latinos hereabouts has been race-based, as in the time I heard a political argument in Spanish behind me in line at the supermarket that included the classy line, "Oye, si crees que voy a votar por ese negro asqueroso, estás loco!" (Hey, if you think I'm voting for that disgusting black man, you're crazy!), or my friend Ghislaine telling me about similar comments regularly slung around the offices of Televisa, which publishes Maxim and Cosmo in Spanish, among other media ventures.

But more recently, I perceive a different bit of baleful fantasy raising its ugly head, increasingly mirroring the efforts by John McCain, Sarah Palin and their merrye bande of thieves to paint Obama as a socialist, communist, Marxist, and yadda, yadda, yadda. A new and otherwise perfectly reasonable Venezuelan friend of mine, Manuel, made my jaw drop when he said, "Well, I guess I'm gonna be one of those Democrats for McCain." He was a Hillary Clinton supporter, but more to the point, he said, a political refugee from Hugo Chávez' increasingly dictatorial régime. "I was there when he was campaigning for 'change,'" Manuel told me, "and it was all very beautiful and inspiring -- but look where it led."

Now, if you've been paying attention, out in the mediasphere you've no doubt spotted the brown, mustachioed counterpart to Joe the Plumber who's been trotted out by the Republicans at several recent rallies. Tito Muñoz (promptly dubbed "Tito the Builder" -- no relation to Bob, no matter what Jon Stewart says) is a Colombian-born construction crew leader in Virginia who this past week was spouting on -- of course -- Fox News: "...and we have a candidate here, that his principles might be according to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela." And of course: "about ten years ago Hugo Chávez was running on the same campaign, change change...I know the playbook, I have seen it before, I could even smell it."

Ay, chihuahua...

Down here in Miami, meanwhile, in the pages of El Nuevo Herald, the right-wing Spanish-language evil twin of the Miami Herald, they were fulminating yesterday that an Obama-Democratic Party win (and they never leave out the "Hussein") "would be giving practically absolute control of the government to the enemies of our values" and today followed up with a front-page headline distorting a statement made yesterday by Brazilian president Lula da Silva in Havana. Da Silva was remarking how historic it will be for Americans to elect a non-white, breaking barriers as have Bolivia's indigenous leader Evo Morales, Paraguayan bishop Fernando Lugo, and himself, a humble José the Metalworker. The headline: "Obama's Election Would Be Like Chávez & Morales, Lula Declares." Boo!

And let's certainly not forget the Florida GOP, which lately has been mailing out flyers branding the junior senator from Illinois as corrupt, "a friend to criminals,"and even pro-infanticide -- all with the ominous tag line, "Barack Obama. Not Who You Think He Is."

Some of the more rabid wingnuts here have been spouting this kind of nonsense and worse for months, such as the protesters I wrote about in the Huffpo back in June ("Barack Obama, Communist and Terrorist?"). But now I'm worried to see that at least some of these shameless scare tactics seems to be sticking with too much of the Florida Latino population, right up and into the voting booths. My friend Manuel finally came to his senses, because he realized, he said, that "McCain is an a-hole." But in the vicinity of the line in front of the Coral Gables library yesterday, I spotted nary a sign, bumper sticker, or any other reference to Obama (albeit several did tout the local Democratic congressional challenger, Colombian-American businesswoman Annette Taddeo). Indeed, there was a bevy of rightwingers politicking with homemade signs; one woman had scrawled in English, "Cuba Got Change in 1959 - Careful What U Wish 4." In front of me, at one point I caught the half-addled family grandma -- commie-loathing yet no doubt a beneficiary of Medicare and Social Security and whose family buys gas at Venezuela-owned Citgo -- mumbling to no one in particular, "Obama's going to open up relations with Cuba, you'll see..."

It's clearly too late for the Obamacons to turn such malignant idiocy around three days before Election Day -- either among rightwing Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and others of similar mindset in the Hispanic and Anglo segments of the U.S. population. But it's hard to see how the willfull ignorance and vehemence that's been so recklessly stoked by an increasingly desperate GOP can simply dissipate harmlessly. One half of me would like to think that assuming the election isn't stolen out from under our noses again, what happens after January 20 will disprove, soothe, and remove much of that bitterness, hatred, and mistrust. But the other half fears that the Republicans have so poisoned the well that the next four years have the potential to make the era of the Clinton-haters seem like a palm-studded piña-colada paradise. The cool, unflappable Barackian temperament may well be up to the challenge. Let's hope so -- but in the meantime, get ready to fasten your seat belts.