The politics of the season have begun if indeed they ever ended. Back in 2008-2009, I prominently displayed two Obama-Biden stickers on my rear bumper -- one on the left side, the other on the right. Almost immediately while driving to and from work, my kids' college, dinner, I'd get hand gestures from all different angles. About ten percent of the gestures were solidly thumbs up. The rest, well you can imagine. There were many thumbs down signs. One driver even pulled a wildly expressive double-thumbs-down while his female passenger looked on with alarm. More than a few flashed phallic representations of the extended middle-finger variety as well as the full-blown thrusting-arm kind. A disturbing number of others made shooting motions with one hand while some preferred rifle, shotgun, or machine-gun pantomimes.
I expected the signing to end after the election but, at most, there was just a bit of a lull. Now, the gesticulations are back with a vengeance and, by any measure, it looks like it's going to be a bumpy ride until next November. The Latino electorate is about to be buffeted, embraced, accosted, elevated, denigrated, courted and everything in between all at once. That is the way it's always been, but with 50 million or so Latinos in the country, the social, political, and economic movers and shakers simply can't ignore us. We are in for some heady times full of opportunity as well as antagonism. How we respond individually and as a community will speak volumes about our place in American society and history. Get ready gente.
Without a doubt, the Latino electorate has increased its role in the nation's political processes. The Latino vote was key to the successful election of the last two presidents -- George Bush, the Republican and Barack Obama, the Democrat. Just observing that phenomenon is indicative of the weight Latinos now carry with each of the two major parties. Each has formulated strategies to deal with the Latino electorate but one party is in a more precarious position than the other.
How, for example, can Republicans balance attracting Latino voters when the extreme right is so antagonistic to Latino interests? The extreme right has the rest of the Republican Party by the proverbial cojones. It is no secret that at the heart of the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric saturating parts of the country sits the Tea Party and the right wing of the Republican Party. These folks advocate everything but a sane immigration policy. They don't believe in a policy that would bring undocumented aliens out of the shadows by providing a path to citizenship. That's amnesty to them and amnesty is a bad word. The DREAM Act to them is akin to treason. They beat the drums to overturn the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship at birth, the way it's been for white folks since the founding of the country and how it's been for everyone else since the Civil War. And it's not just immigration reform that stokes the right wing of the RP.
Voting rights have come under renewed attack. Witness the many states that have enacted laws at the insistence of Tea Partiers and right wing to disenfranchise minority communities, the poor, and the young. Why should the young vote when they have no life experiences, asked the most bloated of the right wing radio talk show hosts who won't be named here. Why should Latinos be allowed to vote when they aren't, you know, real Americans, asks another. Such sentiments and actions don't sound very inclusive to me.
Education is another litmus test that the RP flunks. The hue and cry to diminish government means that educational programs that traditionally have benefited the Latino community will fade away. This is no coincidence. As the Latino population grows, so does its need for effective educational institutions. As it is, today, Latinos have the lowest rates of high school graduation, the fewest number of college graduates, and the paltriest of post graduate degree holders. The need to educate Latino youth has never been greater. But the Republican Party's insistence that this country's tax burden fall primarily on the shrinking middle class results in less revenue to fund public education.
None of this means that the Democrats have the Latino vote in the bag. To the contrary, the Latino vote cannot be taken for granted by the Democratic Party. As the fact I mentioned earlier points out, Latinos broke for George W. before they climbed aboard the Obama-Biden bandwagon. My two biggest complaints about the Democrats are first, that nationally they over-promise and underperform and, second, on a local level, they often do little for Latinos other than call on them for support during elections. Whatever happened to rewarding loyalty and hard work? Those recurring issues need to change especially now, when Latinos increasingly take center stage in each and every upcoming political season. If Democrats don't remedy some of those deficits and soon, hand gestures aren't the only things that they will see from the Latino community. They'll see votes cast elsewhere.
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