Posts Tagged ‘Election’

Barack, Hillary, and the Latino Vote

February 6, 2008

A bit of a depature from the obstensible subject matter of this blog, but of interest I imagine to potential readers as well.

I’ve just turned off tonight’s primary coverage. If I have to hear Wolf Blitzer’s awkward rambling or trite references to “The Best Election Team on Television” one more time, I may turn off from this primary season all together. Yet one aspect of this race that continues to capture my attention is the supposed black/latino split between Obama and Clinton supporters.

One commentator on Charlie Rose has just claimed that Barack Obama earned 80% of the African-American vote. And much has been made of the Clinton camp’s success among latinos. In New York for example, Hillary carried 75% of the Latino vote. Perhaps this isn’t the best indicator, given that Hillary had an “incumbent” advantage among New York voters. Nonetheless, it is clear, despite chants of “Si Se Puede” periodically heard at Obama rallies, Clinton has received majority support from the voto hispano.

I find this result surprising in many ways. Above all, in the most recent debate between the two remaining Democratic candidates, Barack Obama articulated positions on a number of issues that one would think would be more latino-friendly.

At one point, both candidates were asked the following question: “There’s been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?”

In typical “uniter-not-a-divider” fashion, Obama shifted the focus of the question to the greater economic insecurities that have faced all American workers – immigrant, African-American, white, latino – in recent years. He continued, “Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth. And so I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we’re seeing, in inner city unemployment for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not subscribe to.”

Hillary, on the other hand, played to more populist politics, arguing that it is important to acknowledge that the low wages afforded to latino immigrants have in fact displaced some African-Americans from jobs in communities across the country.

Is not Barack’s open stance against scapegoating a more likeable position for latino voters? Is it not Obama that has come out steadfastly in favor of allowing undocumented migrants to receive drivers licenses? (Clinton opposes this position.)

Why is it then that Clinton did so well with latinos tonight? Skeptics are quick to point to the issue of race. Latinos, it is widely assumed, are suspicious of African-Americans and are thus much more reluctant to support an Obama candidacy, regardless of his policy proposals.

It’s not that I don’t think there may be some substance to these suggestions. But to leave our answer simply at a question of race 1) relies far too heavily on stereotype and vague insinuations for my liking and 2) grossly underestimates the capacity of Latinos to think critically about their choices above and beyond whatever stereotypes or prejudices they may hold. I think it’s safe to say that Barack Obama – Harvard grad, distinguished lawyer and politician, eminent orator, and (let’s be frank) lighter-skinned – does not conform to Latino stereotypes of African-Americans as prone to crime, gangs, violence, and drugs.

Others offer more mundane suggestions for Hillary’s apparent Hispanic success – everything from the legacy of Bill Clinton’s popularity among latinos to extensive outreach in latino communities (via Spanish-language media and other means) to endorsements by notable latino leaders like Antonio Villaraigosa (mayor of Los Angeles) and Senator Robert Menendez.

But neither do these explanations satisfy my curiosity. Hopefully as this campaign season continues to unfold, we’ll continue to gain insight into this fascinating – and evolving – dynamic.

Finally, the aspiring academic in me compels me to say that the idea of a black/Latino divide is a myth – or at least a misnomer – for yet another reason. Plenty of Latinos – from countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Colombia – are of African heritage as well!

Should Politicians Boast About Supporting the Peru FTA?

January 31, 2008

In the South Carolina Democratic primary debate held in late January, former Senator John Edwards tried to take his competitor, Senator Barack Obama, to task for voting in favor of a recently-approved free trade agreement with Peru; Edwards condemned the Peru FTA as part of his condemnation of free trade agreements in general, dismissing both the Peruvian agreement and NAFTA(the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, which created a free trade zone from the North Pole to the Mexican border with Guatemala). Obama fought back, arguing that NAFTA and the Peru FTA were distinct agreements and that while he agreed with Edwards that NAFTA was a failure, he was proud to support the Peru agreement. Should he be? Peruvian agricultural workers

The Peru FTA, originally envisioned by the Bush administration as an extension of the NAFTA model into continental Latin America, was first proposed in 2003 as part of a whole slate of agreements with the region – Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Bolivia, along with Central American nations, were to be brought to the negotiating table as well. In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration secured the approval of a Central American Free Trade Agreement, which also included the Dominican Republic. But after failing to garner sufficient support for a hemispheric-wide Free Trade Agreement of the Americas – demonstrated most clearly at the Mar del Plata Summit in November 2005 – a country-to-country trade approach was adopted as a last hope for expanding the trade agenda in the Americas. Although deals with Colombia and Panama have been negotiated, they have been stalled in the American Congress. Ecuador and Bolivia, having elected populist presidents in recent years, have expressed little interest in negotiating. Thus far, since the passage of CAFTA-DR, only an agreement with Peru has been brought to a vote in the Congress, which accounts for Edwards’ particular (if somewhat odd, given the breathtaking range of issues facing the American public, and thus the next American president, in 2008) focus on this particular agreement.

The Peru agreement initially faced the same Congressional obstacles that the Panamanian and Colombian deals have failed to overcome; in December 2007, however, Congressional leaders reached a compromise with the White House, and the bill was passed. Barack Obama supported the compromise and voted for the agreement, as Edwards repeatedly pointed out. Specifically, Democratic congressional negotiators demanded changes to the labor and environmental standards included in the agreement, provisions which were initially nearly identical to NAFTA labor and environmental standards (despite being nearly 14 years old). It was to these changes that Obama pointed in justifying his support for the trade agreement.

Frankly, these changes do not seem particularly substantial or innovative. One should assume that environmental standards would be improved since the early 1990s, what with the technological innovation, corporate support, and consumer concern that has become increasingly central in the American political arena. One would similarly hope that labor standards would have been tailored to and strengthened on behalf of Peruvian workers.

Furthermore, while there is absolutely no argument to be made against protecting workers’ rights anywhere in the world, the provisions that Obama mentioned do not address the larger labor-related issues inherent in deals like these – namely, that there may be a net loss in American jobs, particularly in industries that are already struggling, such as heavy manufacturing and small agriculture, and that American wages are driven down (and wages in the other country stay down) as this outsourcing takes place.

In fairness, it should be mentioned that Senator Hillary Clinton also supports the Peru FTA, for many of the same reasons that Senator Obama does, and that she was not similarly pressed to explain her views for political reasons, not because they were substantively different. John Edwards was conveniently not a member of the United States Senate to cast a vote on NAFTA or the Peru FTA.

Should Obama have been so proud of this vote, on balance? It is certainly a start that the troubling parts of NAFTA were not allowed to be replicted unchanged, but this cannot be enough. For the United States, as well as for her trading partners in Latin America, a new model for free – and fair – trade must be constructed.