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CEPEDA: Hold the election crowing

Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

CHICAGO -- Just as tone-deafness is a bipartisan ailment, so is hubris -- and I suspect some Hispanics are flying perilously close to the sun.

I've lost count of all the prideful, boasting and sometimes menacing commentaries, blog posts and social media comments about Hispanics' role in President Obama's re-election.

It started out as simple joy that Latinos actually turned out in large numbers, proving decisive in what seemed like a neck-and-neck battle going into Election Day. This alone, after months of fretting about voter suppression and disillusionment, was reasonable cause for celebration. But it quickly devolved into the same true-but-still-unhelpful rhetoric that has so far failed to deliver the respect Latinos hope for in both society and politics.

In the days after the election, the litany of demands began in earnest and just kept coming. "Time for Obama to deliver for Latinos" and "Obama won on the backs of Latinos, he owes us one," read two headlines. Another blared: "Payback Time for Hispanics?"

Then the Pew Hispanic Center released data projecting that the Hispanic electorate is likely to double to about 40 million eligible voters by 2030. All the talk about the so-called "sleeping giant" started sounding as though the giant woke up feeling more vengeful than gentle.

But before we get too full of ourselves, Latinos need to put this most recent victory into historical context. Back in mid-November of 2010 -- two years after Latinos were instrumental in getting Obama elected the first time -- I wrote this in the weeks leading up to the most recent failure of the federal DREAM Act:

"You owe us" is not exactly a compelling argument for legislative action, but this is really all that some immigration reform activists have left to goose Democrats to make something -- anything -- happen during the lame-duck session of Congress."

I went on to say that the chest-thumping and chit-calling that followed after Latinos helped Harry Reid hold on to his Senate seat in 2010 would probably be as ineffective at getting real, bipartisan immigration reform passed as the demands to stop deportations and legalize all illegal immigrants had been in the previous five years.

Ironically, it turned out the DREAM Act got enough Republican votes to pass but Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership failed to keep five of their own from voting against ending debate on the bill. And it tanked.

In other words, we've been "owed" before.

Sure, it might feel good to gloat after years of hearing outspoken representatives from the nativist wing of the Republican Party call Hispanics a plague on our country's values and making little differentiation between legal Hispanics and illegal immigrants -- not that legal status warrants comparing a group of people to wild animals who need to be culled from our population.

If crowing really is necessary, let's get it out of our systems quickly. Two wrongs don't make a right -- waving census statistics and dashing off hot-headed missives that sound a lot like "Ha, ha white people, you're in for it now!" isn't going to serve anyone's political interests, and the self-puffery turns off other minorities, too.

The last thing our country needs right now is more divisiveness resulting from the misperception that all ethnic groups cackle diabolically every time a GOP operative says that older, white Republican voters are "dying off."

The people who have spent the better part of the last two years trying to get non-Hispanics to understand that immigration is not the Latino community's most important voting issue -- but that the tone of this debate is what really matters -- should modulate their own voices. The focus must be on meeting the challenges ahead with grace, intelligence and a shot of humility.

The ultimate sign of having officially "arrived" is that others proclaim it for you so you don't have to make the announcement yourself. Congratulations, we are there: Latinos are a mighty political force to be reckoned with and every white political pundit and voting expert on news talk shows has been saying so for weeks. But what comes next is what really matters.

Moving forward, tone will be important for both sides. It will ultimately determine whether the post-election opportunity for Latino voter respect and inclusion leads to more cooperation between parties or whether the dialogue on hot-button issues like immigration devolves into the tired old roles of victim and oppressor, or worse -- bully versus bully.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Comments

notblind 1 year, 5 months ago

By hijacking the 14th Amendment you have basically hijacked the country's political system. It's absolutely astounding that this was able to occur with no real outcry from Washington.

And the truth is that immigration IS the hispanic hot button issue.

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kevin 1 year, 5 months ago

Funny how folks could care less about holding politicians to the fire or kick them out of office for not abiding by their oath (on a Bible so less) to uphold the laws and the Constitution. Says something about the moron voters in this country.

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notblind 1 year, 4 months ago

Actually, the hispanics are illustrating that if a politician comes out in favor of enforcing our laws they will make him pay.

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Mack711 1 year, 4 months ago

But in the long run all of us will pay for the illegal's who are here in higher taxes and services that these immigrants are not entitled to. We have become a nation of entitlements because of things like this, or as some say the need to buy votes.

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notblind 1 year, 4 months ago

The hispanic voters are another of the demographics that the [D] are buying. In this case the freebie is the promise of citizenship and full voting rights.

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news2me 1 year, 4 months ago

Cepeda, Illegal aliens cannot vote. They NEVER will be able to either! For the last time, this vote was about revenge and specific entiltements that legal hispanics are NEVER going to get. Hispanic voters are going to get exactly what they voted for -- NOTHING! Once legal hispanic voters discover that have been lied to and used as a pawn they will never vote again. The Democrats have the most to lose.

This election was really a wake up call for the Democrats, not the other way around. The shock and awe of barely winning this election has giving the Dems a false confidence that will come back to haunt them.

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notblind 1 year, 4 months ago

Your crystal ball must have come with kool aid.

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