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Luis Gutierrez is a congressman from Illinois, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a man with a mission. He is threatening to bolt the Democratic Party and form a new Latino-based “tequila party” if Congress does not pass the so-called “Dream Act,” which will grant amnesty and a path to citizenship for an estimated 2 million illegal aliens.
Is Gutierrez serious or merely trying to corral votes for the Dream Act? Whatever his plans, obviously the threat must be seen as serious by fellow Democrats if it is to succeed in changing votes. We have arrived at the logical end of identity politics when the leader of a congressional ethnic caucus can say, “Give us what we demand or we will form our own political party.”
Republicans will be tempted to reply, “Make my day!” But clearly, that is not going to happen, because Gutierrez is bluffing. He will certainly engage in some histrionics if the “Dream Act” is not enacted, but he is not leaving the Democratic Party. That party is the natural home of identity politics, and those groups are not so foolish as to abandon that ship. If each ethnic group and racial minority established its own political party, they would diminish their influence, so it’s not going to happen.
There is no real threat of separate political parties based on race or ethnic identity because the present system works well for their purposes. The tail wags the dog but the dog doesn’t mind; he thinks it is natural.
Gutierrez’s posturing and histrionics should alert us to a deeper problem, the power of identity politics to exercise an effective veto over public policy. The irony is that the agenda of such groups has little to do with race or ethnicity itself. In truth, it’s all about “victim politics,” building coalitions based on invented grievances derived from a socialist concept of government’s obligations to citizens.
Identity politics is a variation of socialist politics, which is why conservatives and Republicans resist it and liberals and Democrats embrace it. Conservatives look at political issues and ask, how will that policy affect me, my family, my business. They never ask, how will it affect my race or my ethnic heritage.
Back in 2006, when the U.S. Senate was considering the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill, the New York Times ran an editorial supporting the bill, which in itself was not surprising. What was surprising was the candor in explaining why the country needed the amnesty bill enacted. One reason was that the Democratic Party needs a new infusion of victims and clients for the welfare state.
This is why the amnesty debate has degenerated into a transparently partisan argument. With 80 percent of Americans saying that any amnesty program will be disastrous as long as we still have open borders, Democrats like Gutierrez respond with a temper tantrum acted out in a lame-duck session of Congress. Good public policy is kicked to the curb in favor of “smart politics.”
But what is considered smart politics for the Democratic Party is clearly dumb politics, even suicidal politics, for the Republican Party. Trying to woo Hispanic votes based on amnesty legislation is smart for Democrats and stupid for Republicans because identity politics is a losing strategy for Republicans.
Identity politics is a losing strategy for Republicans for two reasons. First, because it is bad public policy and citizens in the Republican base know that. But equally important, identity politics will not work for Republicans because they cannot outbid Democrats in that game, and it is stupid to try.
According to every survey done of Hispanic voters in the 2008 presidential race, Hispanics ranked immigration policy as sixth or seventh on a list of priorities. Hispanic citizens, as distinct from protesters at National Council of La Raza rallies, care most about jobs, education and small business opportunities, the same issues as other Americans. Even the Bush-Cheney campaign of 2004 understood this because they did not spend one dollar for advertising in Spanish-language media to talk about Bush’s immigration proposals.
Republican candidates for Congress in 2010 won an average of 38 percent of Hispanic votes, up from 29 percent in 2008, and several new Hispanic Republicans were elected to Congress. None of them campaigned on an amnesty platform. It is a myth that Republicans must sound like Democrats to win Hispanic votes.
I hope Rep. Gutierrez does not leave the Democratic Party. He fits well in the Democratic leadership. Moreover, he serves as a good example for Republican Hispanics. His tactics and his demands illustrate why Republicans reject identity politics. Somos Americanos!