Washington Post Writers Group
January 31, 2008
Having polarized blacks and whites, the Democratic primary campaign
was already becoming sleazy. And now that Latinos have been added to
the mix, it's become surreal.
We're being told that Latinos won't vote for Barack Obama because
he's black. The implication is that Latinos are racist.
Sergio Bendixen, a Latino who conducts polls for Hillary Clinton,
suggested during an interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker that
"the Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has
not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates."
John B. Judis, writing in The New Republic, insisted that Latino
voters could be a firewall for Hillary Clinton in part because of "a
legacy of an older Latin American prejudice against blacks that has
been transplanted to this country."
And, in The New York Times, Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer
cited "a history of often uneasy and competitive relations between
blacks and Hispanics, particularly as they have jockeyed for
influence in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York."
Nagourney and Steinhauer neglected to mention that each of those
cities have, in the past, elected black mayors who captured the
majority of the Latino vote.
It's true that in most polls, Hillary Clinton has a 2-1 advantage
with Latino voters over Barack Obama.
But does the Eastern media really expect us to buy the idea that the
44 million people who make up America's largest minority have a beef
with African-Americans? Does that include the Latinos who backed
Obama in his campaigns in Illinois, and those who now support his
presidential campaign? If anything, Latinos -- especially those
whose families have been in this country for generations -- tend to
have a keen understanding of racism, which makes them more likely to
identify with the plight of African-Americans.
Next thing you know, pun dits are going to tell us that Latinos are
too macho to elect a woman president.
There are plenty of reasons why Latinos might support Hillary
Clinton. Her husband won two national elections in which he earned
more than 60 percent of the Latino vote. She has racked up scores of
endorsements from prominent Latino officials, including Los Angeles
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and
former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Not that there isn't racism in this election. That's the surreal
part. There certainly is. But none of it involves Latinos. Rather,
it's the kind that has been the most prevalent in U.S. history --
whites versus blacks.
Things got really nasty in South Carolina, where former President
Bill Clinton dealt a whole deck of race cards before -- and even
after -- the vote. And yet Obama cruised to victory with more than
80 percent of black support and nearly a quarter of the white vote.
This despite the ex-president's despicable efforts to scare off
Obama's white supporters by trying to define the Illinois senator
solely by race. Bill Clinton tried to portray Obama as someone who
draws his support almost exclusively from African-Americans and
speculated that South Carolinians would vote along racial lines.
After the votes were cast, he took one last shot by comparing
Obama's victory to those enjoyed in South Carolina by Jesse Jackson
during his 1984 and 1988 presidential bids.
Hurricane Bill couldn't have done more damage to his wife's campaign
if he had tried. Wait. Maybe he did. Maybe the plan was to write off
South Carolina, knowing that black voters would turn out
overwhelmingly for Obama. Then Hillary comes off as a victim of
identity politics, and white and Latino voters become more
sympathetic to her in future primaries.
The Clintons could be counting on Latino voters to make up the votes
they're losing from African-Americans.
In 1968, Richard Nixon embraced a Southern strategy that used the
race issue to carve up the electorate and scare up support from
white voters. Republicans turned to the strategy time and again
until the South was largely in their hands.
Well, with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California all holding
primaries or caucuses next week, this could be the Clintons'
Southwestern strategy -- an elaborate racial bank shot that is just
as divisive and unsavory as its predecessor.