SAN DIEGO — “Voting is the best revenge.”
Such was the charming piece of advice that President Barack Obama gave to Democratic supporters before the election.
Latino voters took those words to heart. Apparently, they live by a creed: When politicians use the immigration issue to make you feel like a second-class citizen in a country where your ancestors have lived for centuries, don’t get mad. Don’t get even. Just get organized and get down to the polls. Then get even.
Disappointed in both parties, I urged Latinos to “skip the line” and vote for every office except the top one. Rather, they turned out big for Obama, giving him – according to exit polls – 71 percent of their votes.
That’s not the highest percentage of the Latino vote earned by a presidential candidate; Bill Clinton got 73 percent against Bob Dole in 1996. But it was still more than enough for Obama to run the board on Mitt Romney to the point where the Republican couldn’t win.
Romney received about 27 percent of the Latino vote, a far cry from the 35 percent his campaign was aiming for. He never worked for those votes, and he had at least four strikes against him: the fact that the GOP brand is toxic with Latinos; his shenanigans in the GOP primary, where in an attempt to kneecap Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, he painted himself into a right-wing corner with harsh rhetoric about not giving “amnesty” to “illegal aliens”; his sophomoric comments at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., in May suggesting that he’d win the presidency if he were Latino; his glib suggestion that illegal immigrants should simply “self-deport.”
Meanwhile, Obama had one major asset going for him with Latinos: He wasn’t Romney.
The constituency that was supposed to decide this election turned out to be a cheap date. Given his repressive immigration enforcement policies, and the rhetorical hocus-pocus he uses to cover them up, Obama has not done right by Latinos. He has not been there for them, but they certainly showed up for him.
And so, we learned that the creed has limits. Because Latinos are intensely brand loyal to the Democratic Party, only Republicans are punished for misbehaving.
Both parties need a spanking.
Most Latinos don’t seem troubled by the fact that Democrats are running an elaborate con game on them – pursuing the party’s interest (keeping organized labor happy by stalling immigration reform, which would create competition for jobs by legalizing illegal immigrants) while portraying loudmouth but largely powerless Republicans as the obstacle. Just as most Latinos don’t seem to mind that Democrats took a powder on fixing the immigration system during the two years that they controlled both Congress and the White House (2009-11) or that five Senate Democrats killed the DREAM Act by voting against cloture or that the Obama Department of Homeland Security has rounded up and deported a record number of illegal immigrants and divided thousands of families.
So, the day after the election, supporters of the president found themselves circulating contradictory narratives. When it comes to punishing Republicans, we are told, Latino voters care only about immigration. But when they have the chance to punish Democrats, well, suddenly they care about other issues beyond immigration.
I said they were loyal, not logical.
Another reason that Latinos are confused is that, for Obama, the “D” on the ballot stands for deflection. That is the president’s gift. When you come to his door with a complaint about something that he has done or hasn’t done, he points you in the direction of his opponent and tells you: “Hey, don’t look at me. I’ve got your back. Look over there!”
This only works for so long. Already, Latinos and others who support comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, are demanding that Obama finally deliver on his 2008 promise and make it happen – preferably in the first year of his second term.
Don’t hold your breath, folks. The political dynamic hasn’t changed. Unions are still afraid of competition from immigrants, and Democrats still cater to this fear. Besides, it’s bigger than politics; it’s human nature. When someone has betrayed and mistreated you, and you take them back without consequences and without conditions, they usually wind up respecting you even less than they did before.
And if you’re determined to go down the road of reform, that’s not a good place to start.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at [email protected]