Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Hispanic vote: stupid and easily bought

That's the basic message that continues to reverberate through the corridors of power in DC, through punditry-land, and through the media in general. The argument is simple: a failure to pass legislation providing for widespread amnesty--of one sort or another--will have a profound effect on that part of the voting public who identifies as Hispanic. And since it is Republicans who are standing in the way in this regard, they will be the ones who suffer when it comes time for reelection.

Various Democrats in Congress--like Schumer, Menendez, and many others--are making a veritable meal out of this argument, constantly admonishing Republicans to pass a good bill "or else." And many Republicans in Congress appear to accept the argument as well, as does an entire crop of pundits and journalists on the left and the right.

So let's take a closer look at the argument and what it really means. It rests on an assumption--somewhat buttressed by polling data--that Hispanics as a group want immigration reform that first and foremost provides relief to the millions upon millions of immigrants currently in the country illegally. And this assumption is itself based on the assumption that the great majority of these illegals are themselves Hispanics. But even more importantly, the first assumption takes it as a given that racial/ethnic groups vote as a bloc as a matter of course.

On issues where a particular race/ethnicity (and really a particular sex or age group, as well) can find common ground, this argument assumes that they will find common ground and members of the group will cast their votes accordingly. To put it another, the arguments assumes almost all members of a given race/ethnicity vote not for their individual self-interest, but for the self-interest of the larger group, first and foremost.

Thus when it comes the political parties, the group will vote in near lock-step for the party whose platform is perceived to be the most beneficial for the racial/ethnic group. Other particulars of the platform or of the actual candidates are secondary. Supposedly.

But I'm not really concerned about the truth value of this argument. For the record, I don't believe it is always true. It can be true under certain circumstances, but it needn't be as a matter of course. So whether or not the Hispanic vote hinges on the issue of amnesty is not my concern. Rather, I'm interested in what this argument itself says about the people offering it.

Because here's the real deal: if the Republicans decided to support legislation that was exactly what the Democrats and Obama wanted, if such legislation was passed, the Hispanic vote would not suddenly swing to the Republican's favor. It just wouldn't. All of the pundits on the left, all of the Dem politicos making this argument know this to be true. If they got exactly the legislation they wanted, the support breakdown of the current Hispanic voting bloc wouldn't change one iota. Why? Because Republicans, after caving to the Democrats' desires, would not be able to campaign on the issue. The argument would be instantly inverted.

Once the left got the legislation they wanted, once Republicans began courting the Hispanic vote by trumpeting their role in passing that legislation, the same politicians and pundits now pushing the above argument would say something like this: "Those Republicans only went along with amnesty because they wanted to buy the Hispanic vote; don't be fooled by their act, they never wanted amnesty and they don't really support it."

And frankly, that kind of statement would be absolutely true, for the most part. The Republicans who changed their positions would be doing so to essentially "buy" votes. Moreover, it could be easily argued that--in this scenario--the Republicans were treating Hispanic voters as children, who only cared about this one issue and no others.

Thus, the reality is that right now, those pundits and politicians who are busy telling the Republicans that they must support some sort of nationwide amnesty program or they will never be able to get the Hispanic vote are guilty of the same basic assumptions about the typical Hispanic voter, that such a voter is both stupid and easily bought.

And in context with the current President, it's a fascinating bit of hypocrisy. For when Obama was running for President--both in 2008 and in 2012--polling data showed him enjoying near-unanimous support among black Americans. Recall then the outrage over suggestions that such support was wholly about race, that black voters supported Obama only because he was black (and thus represented in their minds a candidate who would serve their interests, the interests of black American first and foremost). Here's noted intellectual giant Touré on the subject in late 2012:
In order to think blacks reflexively support Obama because of race you have to ignore so much evidence. You have to close your eyes to his black critics from the brilliant Cornel West to Michael Jones, the undecided voter at the debate who asked why he should vote for him, to the clueless Stacey Dash. You also have to believe that whites never take race into account which would suggest that the Bradley Effect doesn’t exist and demand you dismiss a recent Esquire Magazine/Yahoo poll in which 26% of respondents said they personally know someone who’s not voting for Obama simply because he’s black.
See, he actually has a fair point. Blacks didn't vote for Obama just because he's black. Some voted for him because he is black, is a democrat, and was running against opponents who were neither. Or at least that is what can be easily surmised. But it can't be proven absolutely, anymore than can the claim that Hispanic voters will vote in lock-step for candidates who support amnesty.

Both claims treat minority voters not as individuals in their own right, but as mere tools in achieving an end. Their personal identities are subsumed by their group identities, they are part of a herd, something less than human.

So allowing that Touré and others sharing his opinion are fundamentally correct, that supposing blacks only voted for Obama because he is black demonstrates a casual kind of racism, what can we say about people who argue that not voting for an amnesty bill will absolutely cost Republicans the Hispanic vote?

Ah, are a harsh mistress.

Cheers, all.