Asian immigrants show support for undocumented students in Chicago. Photo Credit: Jee Hyun Suk
By Samantha Nguyen
With the U.S. election right around the corner, how are we as Americans to feel about choosing the figure that will lead our great nation for the next 4 years? What to do if you’re an incumbent president running for reelection with few accomplishments to your name? You’re presiding over the most anemic economic recovery in 70 years. Unemployment is still above 8% three years after the recession supposedly ended. Your signature stimulus and health care bills are massively unpopular, and your approval rating hasn’t broken 50% in months.
That’s the challenge facing President Obama as he campaigns for another four year term. Gone is the “hope and change” rhetoric or the pledge to “change the way that we do business in Washington.”
Gone indeed is any attempt by the incumbent to offer a strategy to improve our common economic circumstances and prospects. In its place, Obama is attempting to assemble support with patronizing appeals to separate pieces of the electorate, hoping he can tape together an electoral majority. He has overladen this approach with a healthy dose of cynicism and class warfare rhetoric designed to focus the public’s anger on other Americans – anyone besides the man in charge.
I cannot help but feel President Obama is picking and choosing strategic communities of people that are desperate for some loving and using them to gain votes. Just who are the specific targets of his strategy? Here's my list:
Liberals. Let's begin with President Obama’s relentless focus on the “1%” of wealthy Americans who he constantly attacks and, worse, implies are responsible for our poor economic circumstances. Never mind that the 1% already pay approximately 37% of all federal income taxes. Never mind that his plan to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and implement the so-called “Buffet rule” would have virtually no impact on our long term deficit picture or create one single new job. The ploy here is purely political, designed to pin the economic blame elsewhere through class warfare and fire up far-left liberals who favor economic redistribution policies. This is perhaps one of the most frightening because liberals now feel entitled to shove their ideology down everyone's throat in the name of false progress.
Women. There has been a gender gap in America for years so it must be because Republicans are waging a “war on women”. Obama’s weapons here focus heavily on yet more federal laws supposedly mandating equal pay for “similar” positions. (Note: Equal pay has been the law of the land for many years.) He is also placing heavy emphasis on free contraception and access to abortion drugs, going so far as to require every health plan to cover these costs. Obama is even willing to throw the Catholic Church and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom under the bus in pursuit of another wedge issue. I am all about giving women the right to choose their own destiny, but I think this rhetoric would receive more credibility if an actual woman spoke such fine words.
African Americans. At the recent NAACP convention, Vice President Biden renewed a 25 year old feud with retired Judge Robert Bork, who currently serves as co-chair of Governor Mitt Romney’s justice task force, attacking Bork for wanting to roll back civil rights in America. In 1987, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a budding presidential candidate, Biden attempted to ride to the White House with attacks on Bork’s judicial record. He succeeded in defeating Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, but his presidential aspirations were cut short when he was caught plagiarizing his speeches from a British politician and quickly dropped out of the race. At the same NAACP convention last week, Attorney General Eric Holder lashed out at GOP-inspired state voter registration laws requiring individuals to show an ID before voting, arguing that such laws would be harmful to minority voters. Though Democrats are skilled at playing the race card, the dance is more complicated this year since, for political reasons, Obama will have to utilize surrogates like Biden and Holder to handle this grubby business.
Latinos. Having done nothing for four years to effectively reform immigration, Obama issued an executive order this year suspending arrests of certain categories of undocumented aliens. Obama also sued Arizona over a state law that essentially requires the state to help enforce federal immigration law, something the feds have refused to do themselves. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law’s centerpiece and rejected Obama’s position. While I don't agree that undocumented people deserve the same freedoms hard-working U.S.-born Americans are entitled to, Obama's rhetoric on giving DREAMers a fighting chance to DREAM is sad. Like my liberal friends have commented in the past, more work and less talk. These kids are seriously going to spend their days DREAMing away because public opinion very much is opposed to offering criminals freebies.
Gays, Lesbians. In 2008, Obama made a big deal of his “opposition” to gay marriage. Most everyone suspected he didn’t mean it, and indeed after “careful consideration,” he now supports gay marriage just in time for this election. Most Americans rightly see this as a purely political conversion. He was against it before he was for it. Obama’s views even on issues of this magnitude are disposable and interchangeable. Again, I'll believe that Obama cares about the gay community when he signs a little piece of paper stating they're allowed to marry across the board.
Asian-Americans. This community, perhaps equally as ignored as the Native American community, is small in numbers and makes up no more than 4% of the population. 68.4% of Asians in America are between the ages of 18-54. Nearly 73% of Asians are foreign-born and rarely interact outside their respective ethnic community. As this group struggles with English-language classes and, slowly but surely, assimilates to American values, it neglects to actively engage in civic society. To many, the Asian-American vote is not significant enough at this point in U.S. history: maybe in a few years.
The common denominator with all of these piecemeal campaign strategies is that they form no coherent whole, no larger vision for America. All are primarily designed to enhance the Obama Campaign talking points and contribute very little toward solving the major problems we encounter. Worse, they divide Americans because their primary purpose is to focus blame on anyone and everyone but President Obama.
Politics is a rough and tumble business, and thankfully, Americans tune out most politicians and political promises. But any Obama victory based on this lame duck strategy would be achieved at a high price.
His divisive plan would have no mandate for anything positive, allowing the country’s downward drift to worsen while he scrambles to address the great economic crises we face. Bipartisan cooperation would be difficult to achieve, and the 2012 election would have provided little focus or clarification for any way forward.
This year, the only thing worse for Obama than losing this election might be winning. Let's hope and DREAM for the best.
Undocumented student from UCLA protests in favor of the DREAM Act, June 2012. Photo Credit: Dave Park
By Samantha Nguyen
What’s the solution to the GOP’s election-year problems with Latino voters over immigration policy?
Recently, I watched several interviews with Senator John McCain on Univision, CNN, and Fox News Latino. The interviews put many things in perspective, particularly those regarding the Hispanic vote. McCain, who ran as the Republican presidential candidate against Barack Obama in 2008, is a longtime GOP leader on immigration reform. Many consider him a strong leader, a fervid patriot, and a man of many experiences. However, he isn't the most popular guy among Latino voters.
McCain has represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate for 25 years. With an estimated 1.7 Million Latinos, 30 percent of the Grand Canyon State is Latino, making it the fifth largest Latino population in the country. McCain’s past success with Latino voters makes him a Republican elder statesman and guide when it comes to talking about immigration and winning Latino votes. He hasn't quite reached the Latino population's favoritism, particularly among the undocumented group.
Sen. McCain wants Republicans to stop being defensive and turn the tables on Democrats who have not been supporters of immigration reform. Four years after his failed presidential bid, the Arizona senator believes it’s time to shift the blame for years of federal failure to implement immigration reform to Democrats in Congress, and specifically President Obama.
He has a point.
McCain has credibility on the issue from years of fighting for immigration reform. He took a big risk in joining President Bush and the late Senator Ted Kennedy to make a major effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2005.
The bi-partisan bill never got out of committee. Much of the blame was put on conservative talk radio opposition to “amnesty” for people who broke the law. These people, mostly those who've been coming here illegally from Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Poland, are criminals in the eyes of many.
In 2007 a Democratic bill in the Senate could not get the 60 votes needed to end debate and force a vote.
There has been no progress made in Congress since then.
In both 2005 and 2007 the hard-right did make it extremely difficult for the GOP to develop a cohesive, unified message on immigration reform. Even modest reform proposals got labeled by some Republicans as “amnesty.” An amnesty is not a solution to our problems with illegal immigrants, who are multiplying since Obama became in favor of the DREAMers and their goal to take over the American education system (and society for that matter).
In Fox's interview, McCain reminded viewers that that groups on the left, notable the Farm Workers of America, and trade unions with strong ties to the Democrats also opposed to his guest worker program.
“The greatness of Ted Kennedy, as you know, was that he was willing—he and I agreed to vote against amendments that we otherwise might support. And I saw him speak rather sternly to then-Senator Obama, when Senator Obama proposed the amendment to quote, sunset, in other words, end the guest worker program.”
In Univision's interview with McCain last February, Jorge Ramos asked the Arizona Senator, who endorsed Mitt Romney in January and has made campaign stops on behalf of the former Massachusetts governor, if he agreed with the Republican presidential candidate's immigration policy. McCain stated that he is "not the first Republican to distance himself" from Romney's immigration comments.
McCain mentioned that even though the media focus remains on right-wing opposition to guest worker programs and overall immigration reform there is little reason to think that opposition from the left is any less an obstacle than it was in 2005. I've met some liberal Democrats who detest the DREAMers and their cause but are very much in favor of women's rights and LGBT marriage. This just shows you can't always have it all.
But of all of the topics touched on, one drew a visceral response from McCain. Hispanic congressional leaders, such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, describe McCain as a partner who in recent years “left the table” of negotiations over immigration reform. And Gutierrez blames Republicans for exploiting the immigration issue to create fear and fan anti-immigrant fervor. Gutierrez, who many believe to be Mexican, is actually an American of Puerto Rican heritage. Despite his background, his actions very much reflect the current Democratic party: too much talk and not enough action. Chicago, the windy city, deserves someone with so much wind in his system.
When the interviewer asked him, “Are people right to criticize you as having abandoned the immigrant [and], immigrant community?”
McCain was literally taken aback. He said “Well I hope not. But, I do also understand that there have been increases in border security.”
To win the support of Latinos, McCain speaks about “humane treatment” of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. And then he highlights three aspects of the immigration debate that he feels are ignored by Democrats but devastating to the Latino community: illegal drugs, drug violence, and human trafficking.
He said “There are a hundred guides sitting on mountaintops right now in Arizona, guiding the drug cartels as they bring the drugs across the Arizona/Mexico border." While the majority of these drugs end up in the hands of upper-middle class white youth in suburban America, the man has a point.
And then there is the human cost. “The young women are raped, they’re put in drop houses in Phoenix, Arizona, where they are kept in the most unspeakable condition, and held for ransom.”
“The human rights abuses,” Sen. McCain said, is the part of the illegal immigration problem that the Obama White House and the liberals do not understand. By embracing illegal immigration and the DREAMers, we are encouraging more young women to be victims of human rights violations: this is very, very wrong. This doesn't even consider the undocumented men and women without driver’s licenses traveling on roads in the state who pose a danger to all motorists.
Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 law is not popular with Latinos. But McCain praises the law and Governor Jan Brewer for her commitment to border security. He also eagerly awaits Marco Rubio’s Republican draft of an alternative to the DREAM Act. Rubio, one of the few Latino politicians I admire, is a household name that will save the Latino population. Not only is he articulate and knowledgeable about the issues of the times, he is also a strong figure that can take a factual side on many arguments, including immigration, which is often difficult for many current political leaders.
Sen. McCain said Republicans will not lose Latino support by talking about the need for border security as a necessary precedent to any immigration reform. Despite a sharp decline in illegal crossings from Mexico into the U.S. and increases border security under President Obama he said all Americans want to know that the borders are protected. I would add that the Mexico-U.S. border isn't our only concern: immigrant hot spots like California and New York also attract thousands of illegals from Asia and Europe, which pose a threat to America's safety.
McCain agrees that if Mitt Romney is to defeat Barack Obama in the presidential election he will have to have shift the perception that his immigration policies are harsh, including his support for “self-deportation", and his opposition to the DREAM Act (the proposed legislation offering citizenship to undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children and now in school or the military).
A Pew Research poll last month found that Hispanic voters favor President Obama over Romney by 40 points: 67 percent to 27 percent. McCain lost Latino voters to Obama in 2008 by just 13 points.
McCain’s strategy, to force Democrats and liberals to take responsibility for the failure of immigration reform and the rise of illegal immigrants, has a big hill to climb with Latinos. But it may be the best hope for Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans.
I hope to see much more from Marco Rubio in the coming months. If he ran for president one day, he would get mi voto.