Friday, June 11, 2010

Obama is No Kennedy?

As I write this my “Latinos for Obama” button sits on my desk gathering dust. Recent Gallup polling reveals a spiraling decline in President Obama’s once substantial support among Latino/as, particularly those interviewed in Spanish and likely to be immigrants. That decline seems directly linked to Obama’s tepid support of comprehensive immigration reform in a year when most Latino/as expected a strong push for change. Instead, the legislative headline of the year has been Arizona’s foray into racial profiling.

Latino/a dissatisfaction with a Democratic president is nothing new. Fifty years ago, Latino/as voted in concert to a degree not seen since the 1960s, giving John Kennedy 85 percent of the Mexican American vote in 1960. Four years later, Lyndon Johnson garnered 90 percent of that vote. Despite the affection of the Latino/a community for Kennedy, his administration ultimately frustrated many Latino/a leaders who campaigned for him and expected more Latino/a appointments and more involvement in formulating Latin American policy. Johnson, too, disappointed the Latino/a community when his hawkish and expensive military policies starved his other war, on poverty. These seeds of discontent grew into the separatist La Raza Unida Party in the late 1960s and 1970s, which viewed the two political parties as “a monster with two heads [Republican and Democrat] that feed from the same trough.” Candidates from that outsider party never entered the political mainstream, meaning our choices, particularly at the national level, will continue to be candidates who ultimately frustrate the ideals of the Latino/a community.

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