Viewpoints

Ruben Navarrette: The gap on Hispanic outreach

SAN DIEGO – Sometimes you’ll have a disagreement with someone but you’re not that far apart.

My argument with Dallas-based radio host Chris Salcedo, who has a weekend show on The Blaze network, is not like that. On one issue, the gap is enormous: How should Republicans approach Hispanic voters? The question is tearing the GOP apart, as some candidates engage in Hispanic outreach and others disparage the very idea.

What makes the difference of opinion all the more frustrating is that Salcedo, who is also the executive director of the Conservative Hispanic Society, and I agree on three other items:

▪ Hispanics are more conservative than most people realize, even though many groups that supposedly profess to represent them are liberal.

▪ Hispanics have become rudderless and powerless and would be better served if they were in play politically and the parties competed for their votes, rather than being taken for granted by Democrats and written off by Republicans.

▪ Liberalism undermines Hispanics, just as it does African-Americans, by fostering dependence, avoiding accountability, lowering standards and excusing bad behavior.

Salcedo talks about how Hispanics are firmly ensconced in the American mainstream.

“Hispanics reflect the American culture in general,” he said. “This whole idea of identity politics is becoming such a relic. I don’t see the Hispanic culture as any different from the American culture.”

What Salcedo does see is a clear difference between the parties and what they offer Hispanics – and everyone else.

“It’s Democrats and liberals that keep the emphasis on what divides us, and not what unites us,” he said. “Democrats try to get Hispanics into the fold so they can ignore them later, in between elections, which is what happens.”

For him, there is only logical choice for Hispanics. He just wishes the party did a better job of making that case.

“Republicans have a good message,” he said. “But they don’t know how to communicate to Hispanics.”

Which brings us to the argument. Salcedo believes that Republicans shouldn’t make special accommodations to reach Hispanics, and that doing so might backfire.

“When it comes to pandering to Hispanics, my advice is: Don’t do it,” he said. “Republicans shouldn’t buy the Democratic spin that Hispanics are stupid. They should talk to them like they’re Americans and explain why their message is a winner.”

Salcedo’s message is strong.

“Hispanics are just like everyone else,” he said. “The assumption is that we have to talk to Hispanics this way or that way is an insult to me, as an educated Latino.”

For my part, I am not insulted when a political party treats me like it wants my support. I feel insulted when a candidate assumes that he doesn’t have to work for my vote. When a politician tries to woo a farmer, union member or soccer mom, we call it “courting.” But when he does the same thing to Hispanics, it becomes “pandering.” Why is that?

Right-wingers might say that George W. Bush was pandering to Hispanics when he spoke Spanish, bought ads on Spanish-language radio and television, and campaigned in Democratic strongholds. Bush got 34 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and 40 percent in 2004. This put his Democratic opponents at a huge disadvantage.

Salcedo is right that Hispanics are like other Americans. But here is where he goes wrong: What he shrugs off as “identity politics” is a proud American tradition. We want to be part of it.

And the Republican Party should want that too, if it means that Hispanics will give the GOP a closer look. Winning elections is about addition, not subtraction.

For generations, Hispanics have been told to wait their turn and that, one day, their population in the United States would be so large that they would – just like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Jews before them – be catered to. Now we have the numbers, but other Americans are scared of becoming irrelevant. So suddenly, we’re told that the rules have changed and all future catering orders will be canceled. And you wonder why many Hispanics are confused and upset. Wouldn’t you be?

Salcedo and I may never agree on the proper way for Republicans to approach Hispanic voters. But surely we agree on this: It’s better to be acknowledged than ignored, and better to be respected than antagonized.

That’s not politics. That’s common sense. The trouble is, when you examine the former, you won’t find much of the latter.

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

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