The GOP has failed the Hispanic community in a number of politically important ways. They have refused to reach out to Hispanics at a grassroots level - a failure that began to surface in the southwestern states during the 2008 election. They have not punctuated the premise that Hispanics and conservatives share many of the same moral precepts – a component vital for a genuine and lasting alliance. And they have failed to address the fabricated image of being the party of and for the rich. If Republicans expect to capture more of the Hispanic vote in future elections, they need to take these problems seriously and resolve them quickly.
According to the 2003 U.S. Census Bureau, the national median income level for Hispanic households was $34,241, about $15,000 less than non-Hispanic households; 21% of Hispanic households fell below poverty level, which was twice the level of non-Hispanic whites; and the uninsured rate for Hispanics was at 32%, about three times the level of non-Hispanic whites. These statistics suggest that the Hispanic community continues to be an underprivileged demographic, a fact that has been exploited by the Democrat Party for decades.
The most recent example of class exploitation was fueled by Politico’s interview with John McCain when they asked how many homes he had owned, an answer he deferred to his staff. Notwithstanding, Obama exploited the gaffe, defining McCain as "out of touch" with working families. Taking a similar cue, the AFL-CIO hurried out bulk mailers that highlighted McCain’s wealth and a presumed inability to identify with the working class.
This example is no exception to the rule of liberal politics. By dividing the nation into a neat, rich-poor dichotomy, Democrats have taken a play from the Marxist handbook. During hard times, they use a complicit media to overstate crises in order to mobilize the proletariat masses for radical change. In particular, business owners take the brunt of the onslaught. They are not viewed as those who provide jobs and financial stability to working families; they are the “other” that routinely manipulate, harass, and greedily exploit their employees for unadulterated profit.
In November of 2008, Barack Obama secured 67% of the Hispanic vote, besting John Kerry’s 59% four years earlier. The disparity has caused many to reconsider the Democrat Party’s continuing success with Hispanic voters – a notable achievement despite fundamental differences in their traditional values like faith, family, and freedom. In particular, foreign born Hispanics stand to be the more serious problem for the GOP. This demographic represents 33% of all Hispanic voters, and they are 50% more likely to register as Democrats.
The statistics above suggest that conservatives need to formulate a good plan of attack to address the Hispanic community. The first step ought to include a widespread grassroots effort to make a meaningful connection. Distant or lazy marketing will not work, but rather reinforce the stereotype of GOP elitism. Just as discussion is easier among those who share interests, a grassroots effort can only work by expressing and reinforcing common values.
As it stands, conservatives and Hispanics share a culture of Christian faith, the right to life, a traditional family structure, and a solid work ethic. If the Christian faith is the common connector, then it’s logical that a grassroots effort is best served at church-sponsored gatherings. This means that conservative politicians need to reach out to Hispanic pastors who are willing to serve as a liaison to congregants - not to promote a particular candidate, but to provide greater clarity to a politician’s moral and civic positions. Importantly, politicians ought not to wait for election season to get familiar with Hispanic groups. They should be treated like part of the family. This means that when Hispanic non-profits or other community organizations invite politicians to events that are mutually beneficial, Democrats shouldn’t be the only ones showing up. This is one of the more disturbing problems in GOP leadership today.
The second stage of attack should include a focus on exposing democrats for their role in class exploitation – in particular, their assault on those who provide jobs. It is often said that the GOP is the party for the rich. This is not true. The GOP is the party for entrepreneurs and businesses; this distinction is important and should be reinforced. Entrepreneurs and small businesses turn the economic wheel, not unions and not government.
Each minority group has developed their own unique hang up with the GOP. For African-Americans it’s racism, and for Jews it’s Christianity. These obstacles are deeply ingrained into their collective conscience through family and culture, and they are not likely to go away soon. For Hispanics, however, their loyalty to the Democrat Party is not deeply ingrained through family or culture, but is rather a response to the behavioral tendencies of the GOP and an unchallenged stereotype grounded in class divisiveness.
Far too long, the Democrat party has divided our country for political power. A populist message designed for the unlearned ear can only be defused by proper education and wise marketing. But this must occur at a local grassroots level. Hispanics need to know that there is someone in their corner, providing them with the right tools to fight against today’s adversity. With liberals at the helm of Congress and the White House, there isn’t a better time than the present to fight for the soul of the Hispanic community.
-March 2, 2009
Aaron Rodriguez is a WPRI guest commentator and blogs at The Hispanic Conservative.