It was the first time in history that candidates in a presidential campaign addressed Latino voters on Spanish language television. The drum beat of buzz around this event began several weeks ago, and anticipation has been building up in Latino media about the “historic event”. Historic it may have been, but groundbreaking it was not. After watching the YouTube debate and the PBS forum, the Univisión event seems like más de lo mismo — more of the same. The only real difference was the terrible simultaneous translation and how hard it was to differentiate the candidates’ stances on issues, as they all seemed to be either parroting their closest neighbor in the responses, or punting questions to avoid straight answers. I guess it’s only fair that the Latino community get the same treatment as the rest of the U.S. — dancing around issues and excuses made for prior fouls.
Speaking of fouls, the boulder hurled at Clinton and Obama as to why they voted for the border wall left both candidates repeating their same old lines: “border security is necessary for immigration reform”…”Immigration reform benefits immigrants because it provides a path to citizenship.”
Still it’s hard for Latinos whose families — or even they themselves — have crossed “illegally” via the Mexican-American border to understand why increased migra presence is the right thing for them. When abuses are committed by border authorities and La Migra are such a part of the Mexican immigrant experience, saying that a wall needs to be built and there needs to be increased patrolling isn’t going to be a popular proposition, even among Latinos who believe immigration reform is necessary. Most, like myself, believe that immigration reform is, in fact, possible without building a medieval wall between two countries and without making the border a more conflictive place than it already is.
Before the debate began, I had two predictions: Bill Richardson would shine, given his natural leg up — a familiarity with the community and his “Mexicanness” — and that Hillary would, like in prior encounters, flatten the rest of the candidates with her well-rehearsed answers. Neither happened (or maybe it did but the clumsy voiceover impeded me from getting any of that).
I’m not sure if it was the fact the event was dubbed — making it necessary to depend on the “interpretation” of the translators to judge the responses, and therefore impossible to decipher tone — or because the candidates don’t see enough value in the Latino community to get pumped up, but after the first 45 minutes of the debate I was pretty much done. Hillary didn’t kick ass, the most interesting thing that Richardson did was whine about not being able to speak Spanish, and I found myself dreaming of a Mike Gravel presidency. Gravel showed he knew something about his audience in his first response by, before replying, extending his condolences to the family of U.S. Army Private Armando Soriano, who was killed in Iraq and whose parents now face deportation.
To tell you the truth, I know nothing of this Mike Gravel, but in watching the debate tonight the only times I felt myself perk up were when it was his turn to answer a question. Sure, comparing his French-Canadian upbringing to the experience of a monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrant was a bit trite, but he spoke words tonight that resonated with me. When asked about whether immigration reform would be a priority for him in the first year of his presidency, he made a comment that no other candidate had made up until this point: that the immigration “issue” is a mere scapegoat for the myriad problems we have in this country, both something to be blamed for our healthcare, crime and education woes, and also a distraction from our national disgrace, Iraq. Amen, Mike.
Immigration wasn’t the only issue tonight. I was happy to hear the Hugo Chavez question come up again. While the “star” candidates gave their party line of alienation (if I recall correctly, John Edwards even called Chavez a “dangerous leader”), only Gravel gave an answer that resonated with me at all. He said that Chavez isn’t an enemy of the U.S., but that the U.S. makes enemies of countries like Venezuela and Iran. And in the [presumably] largely Cuban-American audience, he even went so far as to say that the same thing had happened with Castro, and that instead of making enemies he’d extend an olive branch to the left-leaning governments of Latin America.
Hey, I know Mike Gravel doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell in getting the nomination, so don’t think I’m smoking something over here. It’s just that I found his responses to be the most refreshing out of everything I heard tonight, most of which was, más de lo mismo. Lots of empty promises, canned answers tweaked to fit the audience and no strong stances on the serious issues, other than Iraq (everyone wants out but disagree on timetables).
I have to agree with my co-editor in that Chris Dodd hit the nail on the head in citing NAFTA and other U.S. policies as catalysts for the massive influx of immigrants into this country in recent years. It’s not a popular thing to say, and I’m glad he said it.
Call me a cynic, but I get the feeling that the candidates didn’t see this as an important platform them. Is it a coincidence that most didn’t seem on their game, or is it because they feel the Latino vote (that’s citizens, which constitute only one part of the Univisión audience) is already in the bag?
The Miami-Dade Democratic Party helped organize the event, and according to the International Herald Tribune, party head Joe Garcia said prior to forum: “The Hispanic community is the most significant swing constituency in American politics…Univision is as important to political elections as NBC, CBS and ABC. You get invited, and you show up.”
In my opinion, they were there, but they didn’t show up.
First image: Joe Raedle — Getty Images Photo
Subsequent images via Yahoo! Reuters