Guest Columns

CISNEROS: IS OBAMA TALKING DOWN TO BROWN?

Only McCain has put his political career on the line to support Hispanic immigration

It’s not often I quote Jesse Jackson. But after listening to Barack Obama’s speech to La Raza on July 13, I finally understood what Jackson was saying. This time, however, Obama was not speaking “down to black people.” Instead, he was speaking down to brown people — to the Hispanic community. It’s not what Obama said, but more importantly, what he didn’t say that is so troubling.

Sure, Obama, like John McCain, said we must legalize the status of the millions of people working and contributing in this country. Unlike McCain, however, Obama hasn’t exactly “been there” for us. It’s not called the Obama/McCain immigration bill, now is it? Obama could have demonstrated courage and actually put his name on this bill. Instead, he took the easy route. It wouldn’t play so well in battleground states or with swing voters. Ask yourself one simple but integral question before voting in November: Who sacrificed potential votes to do the right thing?

Advocating legalization is a necessary condition for Hispanic support, but it is not sufficient. Support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, also is critical. NAFTA is the goose laying golden eggs. The economic power of NAFTA raises all boats by increasing productivity and, thus, living standards. It ushered in the longest period of economic expansion I have seen in my lifetime. U.S. Latinos, in particular, are well-positioned to capitalize and reap gold. If our youth value their bilingual heritage, we have a natural competitive advantage in the industries of the future.

Hispanics must demand support for NAFTA for another reason. Its continued implementation will increasingly undermine the economic motives fueling illegal immigration. As Mexico’s middle class grows, Mexicans will be seen as partners rather than demonized or scapegoated. McCain understands this. Since NAFTA’s adoption, Mexico has experienced, for the first time in history, low interest rates and a stable macroeconomic profile. If it can continue to deregulate, for the first time in the history of this ancient land, it has the potential to create a middle class, energized by the Mexican work ethic that is so abundantly apparent here in the U.S.

So, with all these benefits, why are Democrats engaged in anti-NAFTA rhetoric? It’s code. By opposing NAFTA, candidates can convey to white voters in battleground states that they share their “concerns” about the Hispanic problem without ever having to actually say anything racist.

How do I know? Anyone who knows anything about trade knows the United States has signed dozens of trade deals since NAFTA. Yet, Democrats aren’t calling to renegotiate the Israel-U.S. free trade agreement or the World Trade Organization agreement, which allowed China access to the U.S. market. Why is that? Think about it. Anti-NAFTA is anti-Hispanic.

Which brings up another issue “glossed over” with soaring rhetoric. In the late 1970s, 65 percent of Hispanic young men dropped out of high school. Since that time, literally billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on programs supposedly designed to address the dropout rate, most of which was pocketed by teachers’ unions and public school administrators. What’s the dropout rate today in the Denver Public Schools? Still 65 percent.

How exactly can Obama address this problem while he takes money and support from the very people who are educating our children as if the only jobs they should aspire to are as maids or gardeners?

Finally, Obama’s speech tells me that he does not understand us. In spite of the fact that Hispanic Americans are very diverse, we share one commonality. We love the United States — and not because we want to be on the public dole or to be cared for by some new social program.

Many Latinos share the unpleasant experience of coming from countries ruled by the sort of corrupt, bloated government that engenders unstable economic conditions, high interest rates and valueless money. We know that too much government spending makes it impossible to run a business or make a living. The United States is looking down the barrel at a Democratic Congress.

Only McCain — someone with proven integrity and guts — offers the hope that this same malaise won’t eventually overtake the U.S. economy. A balanced budget and stable macroeconomic climate are our chief imperatives.

Gil Cisneros is chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Colorado and principal of Grupo Cisneros Internacional.