Viewpoints

Ruben Navarrette: Why Latinos sense hostility from GOP

SAN DIEGO – Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., are quite the political odd couple.

They came together recently when Gutierrez appeared as a guest on Kelly’s show, “The Kelly File.”

Kelly is a smart and pragmatic conservative, albeit one who has bursts of moderation. On one occasion, she scolded Fox News colleague Lou Dobbs over his Ward Cleaver-era notions about female breadwinners. On election night in 2012, she cut off Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor, when he refused to acknowledge that the race was over and Mitt Romney had lost. Kelly’s brand seems to be about honesty, straight talk and common sense. She drives liberals crazy, but I’ve also heard right-wingers say that she’s not conservative enough. That’s a good place to be.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez is an unrepentant liberal who has been one of the loudest voices in Congress in support of immigration reform. But he has sometimes had trouble juggling his support for immigrants with loyalty to his party. During President Barack Obama’s first term, Gutierrez was twice arrested outside the White House for protesting Obama’s overzealous deportation policies. And yet, during his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Gutierrez fell back in line and praised Obama for giving undocumented young people who were brought here as children a temporary deferment from deportation.

During his appearance on Kelly’s show – where Gutierrez discussed the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen blocking implementation of Obama’s recent array of executive actions to slow deportations – Gutierrez did not cover himself in glory. Instead, he was evasive, combative and inarticulate. And those were his good points.

Days earlier, the congressman had essentially blamed Hanen’s decision on the Republican Party and told a gathering of supporters that the judge’s ruling was indicative of how “mean and xenophobic” the GOP could be when it comes to immigration.

Kelly wasn’t having any of it and asked Gutierrez what he meant by that. She seemed to not understand why Gutierrez would say such a thing, and the congressman didn’t do a good job of explaining.

Allow me. Even though I think Kelly got the better of that exchange, it seems she could benefit from a tutorial on why so many Latinos feel that Republicans are hostile to immigrants – especially those from Mexico and Latin America.

Three reasons:

– History. Ever since Benjamin Franklin railed against German immigrants in the 18th century, the preferred narrative of many Americans has been that immigrants are inferior. Today, such thinking is often advanced by GOP lawmakers – at the local, state and federal level – who compare Latino immigrants to animals and insects including dogs, pigs, cattle and grasshoppers. A few years ago, Tennessee state Rep. Curry Todd was so upset that health care providers do not determine the citizenship of babies before treating them that he complained that illegal immigrants “can go out there like rats and multiply.”

– Anxiety. With Latinos expected to make up more than a quarter of the population by 2050, many Americans are terrified of changing demographics. See: Arizona. The GOP has opened its door to this constituency and used the immigration debate and coded language promising secure borders to begin the courting process. Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who was in his day one of the most outspoken nativists in Congress, figured this out. In 2006, Tancredo said of Miami: “It has become a Third World country. You just pick it up and take it and move it someplace. You would never know you’re in the United States of America. You would certainly say you’re in a Third World country.” Among those who took umbrage: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely 2016 GOP presidential hopeful.

– Enabling. Edmund Burke may have had it right. The 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman supposedly surmised, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” There are good people in the Republican Party. But not enough of them have the stomach to confront the crazies and the racists in their midst. They pretend not to hear what is being said on their side of the aisle. They play dumb. They change the subject. And in doing so, they take a tiny faction and empower it to the point where, suddenly, it’s not so tiny anymore.

That’s what Gutierrez should have told Kelly. And that’s what more Americans need to be saying out loud to anyone who will listen – and especially to those who would rather not.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

  Comments