The ‘Latino’ fraud and political manipulation

By Michael Medved

Is the prejudice against Hispanic Americans so intense, so pervasive, that white Anglos will never vote for a Latino candidate, no matter how qualified or charismatic?

Or are Latinos themselves so inept and uncompetitive that the only way they could win election is in special districts deliberately rigged to favor someone – anyone – with a Spanish surname?

An outrageous USA TODAY report of August 27 leads inevitably to one of these two conclusions – both of them idiotic and indefensible.

Under the headline, “REDISTRICTING FALLS SHORT OF HISPANICS’ HOPES,” reporter Tom Squitieri writes: “Despite promises from Democratic and Republican leaders, the redrawing of congressional district lines to reflect the 2000 Census has produced few new opportunities for Hispanic candidates to win election.”

In other words, Squitieri – who is usually a solid political journalist – here buys into the assumption that Hispanic candidates will find “opportunities” to win election only in districts specifically carved up for ethnic manipulation. This is ridiculous on its face, of course.

In the congressional district in which I live (the 8th district of the state of Washington), a well-qualified Latino would stand every chance of winning election – so long as he reflected the suburban Republican outlook of most of the voters he’d represent. It hardly matters that less than 2 percent of those voters classify themselves as “Hispanic.” In the state of Minnesota, less than 2 percent of voters are Jewish – but that doesn’t mean a Jew can’t win a Senate race, since both major candidates in the current race (Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman) happen to be Jewish.

We should all feel embarrassed by the thinking that says that a Latino can only win in a Latino district, a Jew can only win in a Jewish district, a candidate with an Italian name (like Squitieri) can only win in an Italian district, and so forth. When USA TODAY complains that redistricting “produced few new opportunities for Hispanic candidates to win election,” what they really lament is the lack of “affirmative action” in representative government – guaranteed slots reserved for Latinos exclusively. The real complaint isn’t about districts in which Hispanics can’t win, it’s about the lack of new districts in which Hispanics can’t lose.

In the midst of such discussions of the political clout of “disadvantaged minorities,” no one bothers to question the deeper illogic behind the common idea that ethnic voters will always be most appropriately, most effectively represented by a politician of similar heritage. This implies that no white Anglo legislator can properly stand up for the “people of color” in his district. If that argument carries weight, then one must also conclude that no Hispanic congressman can possibly represent white Anglos, and that no black senator (like prospective Sen. Ron Kirk in Texas) could possibly represent the majority of his constituents who boast no African ancestry whatever.

Actually, I feel well-represented in Washington by my current member of the House – the dynamic Jennifer Dunn – even though she’s a single female and I’m a married male. Surely, the differences between single outlook and married outlook – between the life experiences of women and men – amount to more significant distinctions than the contrast between Latinos and Anglos.

Which brings us to the ultimate stupidity in the entire line of reasoning behind the all-too-typical USA TODAY article: the easy acceptance of the meaningless designation “Hispanic” or “Latino” as some sort of significant category. The article appeared with photos of four prominent “Hispanic” candidates – all four of whom look every bit as European, “white” and prosperous as, say, Wellstone and Coleman in Minnesota.

Many prominent Latinos (like the courageous conservative activist and one-time Labor secretary-nominee Linda Chavez) speak not a word of Spanish. Knowledge of Espanol is, after all, not required for federal recognition as “Hispanic” – nor is a Spanish surname (which is fortunate for the famously “Latino” candidate for governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson). The government also allows Filipinos to choose to identify themselves as Hispanic – since Spain held imperial sway over the Philippines for several centuries.

Never mind that any artificially assembled group that includes Cubans and Portuguese, Ecuadorians and Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, Dominicans and Basques remains nearly as diverse as America at large, with few indications of some coherent “Latino” race or culture. Even religion offers scant unifying force, since increasing numbers of Hispanics identify as evangelicals or Mormons rather than Catholics, and Sephardic Jews (whose ancestors left Spain in 1492) also can claim Hispanic status.

The entire label, especially regarding compensatory benefits and special treatment by government, constitutes a gigantic fraud. Why should a wealthy candidate named, say, Montoya, whose family has been in the United States for more than 200 years, count as a more “disadvantaged minority” than an impoverished (and possibly more swarthy) Greek immigrant who has just learned English? In fact, New Mexico did elect a senator named Montoya nearly 50 years ago, without anyone making a big deal of his “Latino” identity.

Even without House-district gerrymandering, Hispanics already enjoy equal opportunity in an arena that counts far more than Congress: the ability to think clearly. Exercising that ability, however, first requires rejection of brain-dead assumptions about unassailable inequality and phony ethnic distinctions.