Sunday, July 06, 2008

Obama's Fiesta Platter

HistoriAnn recently had a snarky critique of Barack Obama’s not-so-sudden swing to the political right. Maybe it was more snark than even I dare give out, but she had a point. Given that I never really imagined Obama as the “progressive candidate” that people claimed he was, this move does not surprise me (I was not, as I am sure you all remember, a Clinton supporter either. I would likely be as displeased with her had she been victorious – Remember: gravitas).

Certainly, though, I have been less than impressed by Obama’s ill-advised attempts to attract white conservatives to his cause. Moreover, I was literally made nauseous when Obama announced plans to continue the “faith-based” shit initiated by George W. Bush. Why? WHY would he support the faith-based initiatives when even Republicans didn’t really care for them? Actually, given that George W. Bush is the most hated president that we have ever had, why would any candidate endorse anything that he has done? If I were running for president, I wouldn't even admit to wearing the same brand of shoes as George Bush. Whatever the case, collapsing the distinctions between religion and government makes both worse.

As a gay man who has seen the religious right use their faith as an excuse to eliminate my basic civil rights, I am particularly horrified to see any politician wanting to give religion a bigger role in government (plus tax money). It made Obama look like he was wants to get into bed with the bigots. Yuck! And if he knew anything about their religious beliefs, Obama would know that they are strongly opposed to being in bed with him.

While I still intend to vote for Obama, support for such measures is making it difficult for me to do so. After that faith-based nonsense, it is only my fear of John McSame that keeps me in the Obama camp (for the time being). McSame is a bitter old man trying to buy power with his wife's beer money. The nation won't survive another four years of that horror. Push me a bit further, though, and I might not be able to stomach Obama's right wing tendencies either.

If I feel this way – Somebody who will support the Democrats for pragmatic reasons despite being much more on the left than they – I imagine that he is in danger of alienating a great number of the voters who would be most likely to bring him to the White House.

Pandering to those who would rather die than see him take power is a one-way road to doom. Talking to people who want him to succeed is a better choice.

Obama would be well served to remember that conservative white men are the minority in this nation. A real winning strategy for the Democrats (and I often wonder if they actually want to win elections) would involve getting out the majority of voters in this nation. Yep, the majority of voters are the combined strength of left-leaning racial minorities, women of all backgrounds, and the racially-diverse GLBTQ community. Do all of these groups vote 100 percent Democrat? Obviously, no. But majorities in all of those populations do -- which, when we combine them, means a majority of the nation does. If we all voted (or were allowed to vote honestly (which is a topic for another post)), we would easily defeat the right wing over and over again. Mysteriously, appealing to these groups, the core of the Democratic Party and the nation, seems to be Obama’s biggest failure right now.

This problem didn’t appear out of nowhere. Obama showed that he had serious problems during his never-ending primary with Hillary Clinton. He never could get the gays on his side, for instance, despite the fact that his and Clinton’s position on “queer issues” were virtually indistinguishable (and equally offensive). Even more telling (and even more foreboding) was his failure to attract Latino/a voters.

The media, of course, spent considerable time discussing the “Latino Community’s” support for Clinton. Yet, despite the many hours of wasted video tape that went into the issue, they never offered any significant reasons about why Latino/as preferred Clinton. That would have involved talking to actual Latino/as -- and the major networks really prefer not to do that.

Part of the answer, of course, is that there is no such thing as a monolithic “Latino Community” or consistent bloc of “Latino voters.” Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and the various other groups that fall under the racial umbrella of “Latino” have distinct histories and interests that result in different voting patterns. Cuban Americans have more often voted Republican, for instance, than other Latino groups (despite the fact that Republican victories have cut or eliminated things that are critically important to Cuban Americans like affirmative action or bilingual education (poor whites don't have a monopoly on voting against their own best interests)).

Any attempt to attract Latino/a voters requires a recognition that they have a diverse set of concerns. Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans in New Mexico, whose concerns center on a century-plus of U.S. imperialism in their homelands, might or might not connect their concerns with second-generation Mexican Americans or Colombian American voters. Economic class, likewise, can be as divisive within the “Latino Community” as in any other segment of the population.

So what is the key for a political victory among “Latino/as”? Hell if I know. If I did, I would rule this nation with an iron fist. Alas, though, I can only comment on how pitifully Obama has been in his efforts to this point.

I am surprised that Obama has found it so difficult to understand the complexity and diversity of Latino/as in this nation. His own personal history reveals a greater diversity within the “African American” community, another group that is often imagined to be flat and monolithic. Why has he been unable to transfer his personal experience and identity to his political message to minority groups?

Instead, Obama depends on the most broad statements possible. Recently I visited Obama’s campaign web page to see how he tailored his message for Latino/a voters. It turns out, he really can’t be bothered to do so. There is a paltry Spanish-language section that was seemingly last updated weeks ago (!). It offers a fraction of the information that is offered on the Anglophone site.

In addition to the pitiful Spanish-language section, there is also a separate English-language “Latino” section comparable to his sections for “women” and “environmentalists” (because politicians still prefer the notion of separate and easily distinguished marketing niches). For Latinos, his staff apparently could only come up with half-a-page of text to explain why Latino/as should support Obama’s campaign. Compare that half-of-a-page with the 12 pages of text devoted to "Americans Abroad" or the 7 pages of text under the "Women" section.

Much of that measly text aimed at Latinos, moreover, is entirely boiler-plate. If you deleted the word "Latino," you would have no idea that it is supposed to be addressed to a specific group.

In his “[Latino] Education” paragraph, Obama does not endorse bilingual education, address Latino/a dropout rates, discuss access to higher education, or the need for diversity in the curriculum. Instead, he promises a vague English-only policy as he will “hold schools accountable for teaching English-language learners.” English-language learners? Does he mean like George W. Bush?

Such calculated prose seems designed to cater to skittish white voters who fear a multilingual nation rather than actually providing real bilingual education (which, btw, would help white students as much as Latino/a students compete in the global market (if that is our goal)). He doesn't even come close to addressing Latino/as' real frustrations with their place in the U.S.-education system (the Latino dropout rate hovers around 20 percent -- Meaning that one-fifth of Latinos in the U.S. education system will not graduate from high school(a dropout rate three times higher than whites)).

Obama also touts his Health Care plan and his Iraq policy in the Latino section, but offers nothing specific about why Latinos would see those issues as important. In terms of Iraq, he might have mentioned a 2003 Pew Hispanic Center study that indicated that Latinos serving in the U.S. military are over-represented in the categories that get the most dangerous assignments (infantry, gun crews) -- and make up over 17.5 percent of the front lines despite being only 9.5 percent of the enlisted forces. Or he could have even noted a study that showed that nearly half of all Latino voters have somebody close currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As for health care? “You Latino people get sick, right?," the site might as well say, "I mean, we aren’t certain about that as the market research hasn’t come back. But we are pretty sure that you get sick. If you elect Obama you will be marginally less likely to be completely devoid of health insurance.”

Finally, Obama offers vague wording about immigration that promises to fix “our broken immigration system” and “enforce our laws" and "reaffirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants.” The rabidly xenophobic Lou Dobbs could just as easily support that empty statement as Latino/a voters. Hell, Lou Dobbs could have written that statement.

Here is a hint to the Obama campaign people: When the words “fix” “immigrant” and “problem” appear in close proximity to each other, Latino/as are almost always left with the assumption that this is going to involve a program of racial profiling and police harassment regardless of citizenship status. Why? Because that has been the history of such rhetoric in this nation for the past 160 years. It doesn’t help matters that Obama signed onto the same immigration bill as John McSame.

Now, I am not naïve. I understand that modern politics is about building as vague a message as possible to attract the greatest number of voters. In the case of Latino/as, though, I get the impression that Obama isn’t even trying. This is supremely foolish.

Latino voters could potentially swing a number of states, including places like Michigan and Ohio (The Mexican/Mexican American section of Detroit, for instance, is one of the few places in that urban wasteland that has experienced economic growth). Instead, Obama seems content to either ignore Latino/as entirely or to depend on crude stereotypes and assumptions.

Let’s take a look, for example, at the campaign ad that he ran during the Texas campaign:

Really? Mariachi singers? Really? For real, that is all that Obama came up with for tejano voters? Could he have aimed for a bigger stereotype? Was Speedy Gonzales unavailable that day? Did the Frito Bandito declare in favor of Clinton?

Who on the Obama campaign decided to get the costumed mariachi singers? Alas, it wouldn’t totally surprise me if some Latino in his campaign came up with this idea, but they should be fired for doing so.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like mariachi music a great deal. It is just one of many musical genres unique to the Mexican-American community. Trotting out costumed mariachi singers, however, raise red flags when they are deployed by somebody who obviously has no connection with Mexicans/Mexican Americans. Mariachi singers suggest that Obama thinks very little about Latino/as beyond stereotypes. Tell me, how much different was that Obama ad verses a recent Taco-Bell campaign?

Was Obama really surprised that Mexican Americans rejected such ploys? Sorry, Barack, we've been served those same old beans and cheese since ¡Viva Kennedy! in 1960. We expect more.

If Obama really is the “savior” candidate that his self-created hype promises, I want to see a new vision of the United States from him. A Democrat who tries to sound like a Republican is neither progressive nor likely to enter the White House. A Democrat who sounds like he spent more than two seconds thinking about the diversity of this nation could make me feel a lot better about having to vote for him.


Greg said...

Thanks for the gravitas.

I was starting to come 'round on the idea of voting for Obama, through a detailed campaign of not thinking about it too much. I appreciate you setting me right about it.

Susan said...

I never drank the kool aid on Obama: I preferred him to Clinton, but I've come to accept that a Democratic politician with a chance of winning will not be my dream candidate. Where I have been enthusiastic about Obama is his ability to articulate a vision of Christian faith that opens to social justice. There are a lot of religious voters who are not right wing crazies. Just like Latino voters, religious voters are a large and complicated group. An increasing number of evangelicals, for instance, are concerned about eliminating poverty and protecting the environment, using biblical sources. (Some of us "liberals" got there years ago, but still, this is good news.) So I think it's good that Obama is trying to speak to them. And I thought it was terrific that when Obama talked about faith based initiatives, he also talked about limits on what faith based organizations could do (including talking about no employment discrimination).

So much of what we think we know about people is created by weird polls. It's like history -- if you assume something doesn't exist, you often don't ask the questions which allow you to find it out. Years ago I was polled coming out of voting in the primary. I was fascinated by the form, which allowed people to have religious commitments which supported their voting only as evangelicals or Catholics. Faith could lead you to vote on abortion, but not economic or racial justice. As a mainstream liberal Protestant, I thought for a while, and then described myself as an evangelical voting for Jesse Jackson.

So, Obama is not the savior. But we need to be more sophisticated about religion and religious people. WHile some people use religion to take rights away, other people have used religion to fight for those rights. And, if Obama can de-fang the religious right, that would be great.

historiann said...

Hey GayProf--thanks for the linky love. The fact is that Democratic presidential candidates always lose the white male vote--they win because of their strength with women of all ethnicities and non-white men, who of course are the majority of the country. I just don't get this obsession with major Dems about white men--they act like victims of domestic violence, always begging for attention and wondering what they've done wrong to alienate "him," when "he's" not and never has been their path to victory.

Sad. But, unless and until men of color and women make Dems see that they'll pay a price for bartering away our privacy (sexual, personal, and otherwise), control over our uteri, and our Civil Rights, then the Dems will continue to assume that they can beat us up and we'll still come home on election day.

historiann said...

Oh, and p.s.--I don't think my post is as much a "snarky critique of Barack Obama" as it is a snarky critique of those in the liberal blogosphere and mainstream media who convinced themselves--in the absence of any evidence--that he is the Progressive Jesus Messiah of the Democratic Party. That delusion was mostly fed by Clinton hatred rather than evidence that Obama was or is a progressive. He's just doing what I predicted in April--I don't like it, but you can't say I didn't warn you all...

Alan Scott said...

Maybe Obama thought, after seeing the Taco Bell ad, that women are turned on by mariachi singers?
Has John McSame even acknowledged that Latino/as exist? We certainly know how he feels about gays.

Chad said...

While I was outraged when I first saw the headlines, I think the AP, as would be expected, and other agencies have exaggerated how little Obama's plan, in execution and spirit, will actually be a continuation of Bush's policy and downplaying the caveats. Also John Scalzi makes some really good points on how it makes sense from a pragmatic campaign perspective, which I broadly agree with.

Also someone somewhere (can't remember who now) made the really good point that at least in his speech outlining this Obama actually made the point that the government has a moral obligation to assist the poor, a sentiment unknown to (or at least unspoken by) so many modern American politicians. That at least makes Obama worth not writing off, in my opinion.

Antonio said...

Excellent critique of Obama's outreach to Latino voters. This post should be forwarded to his campaign headquarters.

His support for faith-based programs is fine by me. I think he has ability to ensure it doesn't violate separation of church and state. A key point of his speech is that he'd strengthen the pre-Bush safeguards that were in place.

Mel said...

Antonio, in theory giving federal funds to faith-based groups to provide secular aid sounds doable, but to think that it's workable in practice is just wrong. While there are certainly moderate or liberal denominations that would refrain from using it as a platform to push their beliefs, I suspect that evangelicals are more likely to step up to the plate to try to access these funds. After all, any chance to proselytize is better than none.

And while safeguards could theoretically be put in place to make sure that secular, rather than sectarian, aims are being furthered, enforcing these creates an entirely new and entirely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and jacks up the cost of running these programs. This means that funds that could have been used to help people will just end up going to maintain bureaucracy.

So when there's a budget crunch on, as there is sure to be, who's going to get the shaft first? The people who need the most help, naturally.

GayProf said...

Greg: Spreading the gravitas is what I do best.

Susan: I feel what you are putting down. It is true that religion motivates many people to fight for social justice and that is often ignored.

All the same, I am not interested in the government financing religion regardless of the circumstances (I also think churches should pay taxes). It is hard for me to see the Obama move as anything other than an attempt to distract from his "problems" with religion (the silliness over his former pastor; erroneous claims that he isn't "Christian"; etc., etc.). According to the AP, Obama is also willing for religious organizations to use "faith" as a legitimate reason to hire or fire in their "non-government-funded programs." Who and how one would monitor this distinction seems murky. There is also an editorial about it here

Finally, I am also annoyed that "faith" is code for "Christian" in all of these discussions. Let's hear Obama discuss explicitly how his programs will fund Muslim charities (Yes, I know they would, but I will bet you $10 he isn't going to bring it up).

HistoriAnn: The Democrats seem to have a serious problem that they always listen to Republicans. They forget that the winning strategies for Rove and company are not winning strategies for Democrats. Republicans depend on white anger and low-voter turn out (or outright disenfranchisement). Democrats need the opposite, but can't seem to remember that. Of course, given that the media is controlled by conservative white men, it is not surprising that their message is the loudest.

And it was a wee bit snarky. Not that I mind snark or a good "I told you so."

Alan: Yes, John McLame and Barack Obama both shared a stage to address Latino/a issues on the weekend of June 29. Sadly, their messages were not dramatically different.

Chad: Nope, I am not on-board with the government funding religion under any circumstances. Most candidates have talked about "helping the poor," so I am not sure that makes Obama unique. Remember that Bush's justification for faith-based funding was to allegedly help the nation's poor. Bill Clinton said he was interested in helping the poor, and then he helped them right out of government assistance. Would you endorse this same faith-based initiative if it was proposed by John McCain?

Antonio: I am really confused about why Obama has made so little effort with Latino/a voters. Doesn't he have any Latino/a friends in his life?

Mel: I agree -- The nation has an obligation to help the poor, but it should be administered through entirely secular organizations. This doesn't mean that religious groups can't also provide their own services, but they don't need government funding.

Chad said...

Most candidates have talked about "helping the poor," so I am not sure that makes Obama unique.

Most have not expressed the belief that the government has a moral obligation to help the poor, which I think is a crucial distinction.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think Obama is a revolutionary, but I think it's easy to fall into the trap on the other side of the spectrum and see him as entirely anti-progressive simply because he is trying to appeal people on the other side of the political spectrum.

Would you endorse this same faith-based initiative if it was proposed by John McCain?

Let me put it this way: I'm willing to respect a faith-based initiative if Obama shows awareness of the problems and takes a fairly nuanced position on it, and if I think in the overview he's still a very good candidate for the White House.

Roger Green said...

I think this piece in Salon describes well the Obama psyche, moving to the right, etc.

H said...

The vast majority of Cuban-Americans do not consider themselves "Latinos" but "Hispanic." Likewise, they tend to not support Affirmative Action from my personal experience in the Miami-based community. I'm not sure about bilingual education. There's a vast racial/ethnic/class-based difference between calling one's self "Latino" (seeing oneself as different and independent from Spanish colonial powers) versus identifying as "Hispanic" (proud of the Conquistadors and the Spanish colonizing heritage) and this speaks to Cuban-Americans' reasons for usually tending to vote for Republicans (of course JFK's disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion still takes the cake as the #1 reason). Nonetheless, Cuban-American Democrat here!

adjunct whore said...

yes, i agree with you and with Historiann (particularly the messiah comment)--i've been downright disgusted. not because i thought Obama would disappoint--he is, after all, a Democrat; but because the speed with which he worked to court the far right stunned me. i would not have a problem with faith-based shit (though i secretly hurl) if it really meant broad-reaching policies and focus on different groups. but it is and always has been "Christian" and certain kinds at that.

yuk, scary, yuk.

Earl Cootie said...

Not very surprised about any of it. But very disappointed about his new position on the FISA bill. But what am I going to do, vote Republican? Will there ever be a progressive candidate in this party? I don't think we've got much time left.

pacalaga said...

"You Latino people get sick, right?" Pardon me while I stop laughing long enough to breathe. I do love you so.
I think it just stands with my long-held opinion of presidential candidates: anyone who actively wants to hold the job of president is unqualified due to mental instability. As it is, I'm still voting for Whoever Isn't McCain.

kim said...

For a bumper-sticker take on the Obama move to the center/right check out what the folks at Edge of the American West have made:

Frank said...

Obama's lack of outreach to the Latino communities (see what I did there? You're rubbing off on me, GayProf!) is rather baffling. Do you think for some odd reason his campaign has bought into the "the Latinos are racist and will never vote for the black guy" thing?

Compared to what we've had, and what the other choices have been, I think Obama is the best choice we've had for president certainly in my lifetime. Let's not get our inevitably high hopes or our raging cynicism obscure that.

Alan Scott said...

GP, both Obama and McSame were in Washington, DC yesterday talking to LULA. The president was on TV this morning (wearing a fabulous hat), giving her impressions of the two candidates, which were very non-commital. Wondering if you had any feelings on their performance.

GayProf said...

Chad: Then we simply disagree.

ROG: I don't have a problem with pragmatism -- I am just not convinced that these recent declarations by Obama are actually going to help him.

H: You bring up another good point that some people don't think of themselves as "Latino/a" at all. Some individuals in New Mexico also propose that their identity is like the one that you mention for Cuban Americans. There are complicated assumptions about one's relationship to whiteness and economic class.

Adjunct Whore: Beyond being bothered by the faith-based shit (which really bothers me), I am stunned by how clumsy Obama has been in these efforts to court the right. It also seems like he is kinda weak when people challenge him on it. He either blames the media for "misrepresenting him" or claims that he is truly progressive because he takes right-wing positions.

Earl: I know -- McSame is just not an option being such a mean spirited individual. We can only keep pressure on Obama to at least listen to the progressive cause (something that would be pointless with McLame).

Pacalaga: The "whoever isn't" ticket has historically been a winner.

Kim: That was pretty much my take on the Democratic primary -- Clinton would betray us in totally familiar ways. Obama would betray us in new and unexpected ways.

Frank: I have no idea why Obama is so clumsy with addressing Latino/as. Perhaps he is taking their votes for granted. It could be that nobody in his campaign has the knowledge to address their multiple concerns. Or maybe he just doesn't care. If he were worried about racist voters, though, he would have given up on the white working class by now.

Alan: I only read about the news coverage of their LULAC appearances. I am sorry, too, that I missed the hat.

Based on what I read, though, it doesn't seem like Obama really improved his message over what is on his pathetic web-pages devoted to Latino/as. He noted that Latino/as might decide the election (something we have been hearing since 1960), but doesn't really seem to take Latino/as seriously. I also don't know why he keeps pushing his "border security" shit. This does not endear him to me.

McCain is clearly anti-immigrant/anti-Latino/a. Nonetheless, he already has Spanish-language ads running in New Mexico. How useless is Obama to have permitted this to happen?

Anonymous said...

Another great post but I think it was all said midway in your post when you said, "Pandering to those who would rather die than see him take power is a one-way road to doom. Talking to people who want him to succeed is a better choice." I think he has forgotten about his supporters since becoming the "presumptive" nominee. Much of his time has been concentrated since then has been geared toward the wrong people, er voters.

The Mariachi band ad was a terrible choice. Placing an ad with him just holding a football (knowing that Texas is "football central") would have been a killer of an ad. ;-) Not that that was a stereotype. ;-)

Laverne said...

It all comes down to education (not that I'm biased). We have a responsibility to educate ourselves; but few of us do so. We go with the candidate who looks the best, who makes us "feel good."

Look at the comments on your posts. When you are being a little silly, and talking about Wonder Woman and your dish fetish (which I adore, btw), you get far more comments than when you talk about politics or something in an academic way, far fewer folks comment.

The bilingual education issue is the one that really burns me up. Study after study has been done to show that children who don't learn to read in their first language, never catch up in reading and writing (and therefore school itself) in their second, adopted language.

My city, and my state was the first to make it illegal to teach in any other language than English.

We are going to pay and pay for that as the years go by.

Homer said...

Here in Tucson mariachi bands are popular, many parents have their children join them, and they have an international festival. It generates a lot of pride in the community- so perhaps whoever did that commercial was exposed to that.

adjunct whore said...

clumsy indeed and you are so right--you put into words the thing that is so irritating--that his move to the right is somehow radical.

i haven't even seen the new yorker cover and already had quasi-arguments about it. BAH, what a small group of wankers we become.

it is a loss, at base, a loss.