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Fernando Espuelas Headshot

Latinos Must Help Unify America - by Voting in 2012

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Not that you'd know it by the pie-throwing contest in Washington over the last few weeks, but America is actually not falling apart.

The ideologically pure politicians in the Congress, with their ability and lust to disagree on even such idiocies as to what French fries should be called in the Congressional cafeteria, have resorted to a form of verbal terrorism to describe the nation's state.

We're told that America is one step away from Greek insolvency - a fact-free claim that nevertheless gets amplified through the national media and the Internet echo chamber. China is a few "smart" - and undemocratic - decisions away from replacing the U.S. as the world's super power. Our kids, some of these craven cynics tell us every day, will grow up in a significantly poorer America, poor in opportunities and hope.

What a bunch of dribble.

Yes we face many real, pressing issues that we as a nation must resolve. Everything from public education, to the underfunding of the sciences, to the third-world level of basic national infrastructure, to myriad other issues, the United States has to get to work. We need non-ideological, pragmatic solutions to what are imminently resolvable problems.

Hearing the hysteria coming from Washington, however, you'd think we've become a nation of incompetents. Yet that is not at all what is really happening. The problem is both more simple and much harder to resolve.

While I doubt we've inched up in the collective national wisdom index over the last few weeks, it is also not true that we've lost our inherent capacity to act, to visualize solutions and implement them.

I am constantly bemused by the Tea Party trope that our nation's government is not only the cause of all our problems, but is moreover utterly incompetent in everything is does. The reality is quite different. While Government waste and occasional dopiness is part of the reality, we also enjoy some of the most competently delivered government services of any nation in the world.

And when we look at the pure awesomeness of the U.S. armed forces, with the ability to project power across the globe, some may forget that behind every fighting man and woman there is a vast government apparatus that effectively manages everything from getting rations to the troops to deploying nuclear weapons that underwrite the security of the nation and the world.

Yes, folks, the armed forces are also part of the Government. As are many other essential services that are delivered - invisibly to the vast majority of Americans - in order for the nation as a whole to function and thrive.

But we cannot doubt that America is now facing a crisis of confidence. The Great Recession shook the nation, giving us in late 2008 a terrifying look at the abyss of economic collapse. By the 4th quarter of 2008, as George W. Bush was packing his things in the White House, the economy was shrinking at an annualized 8.9% rate. This is a number that clearly quantifies "economic collapse".

But even in this dark moment, when some of the country's mightiest corporations - AIG, Citigroup, GM- teetered on the verge of demise, our Government took action that kept the nation from collapse. Both under the Bush and Obama administrations, the Government responded with a massive bailout and the country's single largest stimulus program. While both these programs have been swallowed in ideological controversy, there is no doubt that the American economy would have imploded without them.

So while America understandably reels from the screeching puerility that has gripped our capital, we got to get a grip. If the politicians can't pull it together, then the people have to step in. And that is what happened in America across our history, from the Revolutionary War to the War of the Deb Ceiling, Americans, we the people, ultimately must bear the responsibility to make the country work.

As they say, elections have consequences. And 2012 is one of those elections in which we the people will have to step in and save the country from our own dysfunctional, mediocre and unpatriotic leaders - people that over and over again have put forward their personal and political interests ahead of their responsibility to the nation.

But 2012 will be a different kind of election. As the latest U.S. Census has shown, there is a new group of voters in America - a sector of the electorate that has been punching below its weight for decades. Latinos are not just the country's fastest growing segment of the American population, we're also an increasing proportion of the voters. This demographic phenomenon is specially true in several key states that are part of the formula for any Presidential victory.

Of course, Latinos have also been historically terrible voters. We have seen our obligation to the country, our obligation to democracy, in highly ambiguous terms.

While so-called Latinos leaders like Congressman Luis Gutierrez have encouraged Latinos not to vote, in an act of symbolic political suicide, and much of Spanish-language media, dominated by decision makers from Latin America that have a weak grasp on American politics, cheer along at any public protest while failing to drive voter turn-out, America waits for Latinos to take their citizenship responsibilities seriously and vote in large numbers.

In fact, it is estimated that by 2012 there will be some 10 million Americans of Latino descent who can vote - but will have not registered to do so. These 10 million voters could literally decide the future of Congress and who sits in the White House. These voters are the potential lynchpin in any close election - in some states, they could determine the outcome.

While there is a widely held, if ultimately erroneous perception, that Latinos only care about immigration, in fact other issues are of critical import too.

Yes, immigration is important. Not only because of the intrinsic human issues that it deals with, but because anti-immigrant advocates have adopted the sour, racially-charged narrative and imagery of anti-Latino bigotry to push for punitive laws that divide society and are simply not acceptable in a post Jim Crow world. You heard it here first - institutionalized racism will not be making a come back in the United States.

But immigration is not the only issue. Like most Americans, Latinos care about jobs, education, public safety and the general well being of their communities and the country. But for their very low voting rates, they think and behave like all other Americans.

In the roughly 14 months until the 2012 election, Americans of Latino descent, and the over 800 Hispanic-focused organizations that are involved in some form of community activism, should concentrate on a single Big Goal: to register the 10 million Latinos that are today sitting out American democracy.

Latino-Americans can no longer afford to let other people vote for them. We cannot sit back and watch things happen to America, when we have the votes to achieve a better outcome for the nation.

Latinos have the numbers to make a true and lasting change to the political system - and in 2012, America needs us to take action by voting and making the country stronger, more prosperous and still the beacon of opportunity for the world.