There’s really nothing much more comical/offensive than reading political analysts (invariably Anglos) speculating about how Romney picking Marco Rubio has the potential to peel the Latino vote away from Obama. The stupidity that this implicitly attributes to the Latino electorate(s) is genuinely staggering.
First, it assumes that Latinos have such short memories and that they are going to be so enthralled at the thought of a “Latino” (I’ll explain the scare quotes below) occupying a largely ceremonial post that they will suddenly ignore the anti-Latino rhetoric and legislation that Republicans in state-after-state have been championing for the past 24 months. Marco Rubio is not going make Latinos forget which party has made millions of Latinos nervous about traveling or going to the grocery store or taking their children to school. Marco Rubio is not going to make Latinos forget which party demonized Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearing as a racist. This is not to discount Obama’s historic campaign of deportations and its impact on Latino communities, but the likely effect of that policy on Latino voting has already been priced into the market, so to speak. And the opportunity that it presented to Republicans to make inroads into the Latino communities has been squandered by the sheer hatefulness of the rhetoric and policies that Republicans have hurled our way since 2010. There’s also the little problem of Mitt Romney’s enthusiastic embrace during the primaries of the authors of these policies. Obama’s badness on immigration doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize something worse when we see it.
Second, the Rubio-luring-Latino-voters narrative ignores the great diversity among the Latino communities. Rubio is a Cuban-American. Most Latinos in the U.S. are Mexican (by a wide margin), followed by Puerto Ricans, and El Salvadorans. Cubans come in fourth, and they are more concentrated geographically than the others (with the exception of the Puerto Ricans). They also tend to be seen as “different” by other Latino groups because of the unique circumstances of their arrival in this country. I can’t count how many times Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans have told me that they do not consider Cubans to be “Latino” in the full sense of the term. Although the Latino category is a problematic one for any number of reasons, I do think it has some validity in certain contexts. Nevertheless, to expect the selection of a Cuban-American as VP to be a game changer in this election is to ignore the very real fissures among the Latino communities. Rubio may make a difference at the margins (and, if picked, he may well have an impact on the race in Florida), but he’s not going to pull a huge chunk of, say, Mexican-American voters in California over to the R column.
OK. I just had to get that off my chest. Thanks for letting me vent.