By Matt Stieglitz
For those who have avoided a computer for the past few weeks, President Obama’s social media team is gearing up for his 2012 run with his ‘Are You In?’ campaign on Facebook. Essentially, one clicks that they’re “in”, gets bombarded with options to help with the campaign, and it’s off to the races. The only problem is that not everyone is “in.” If anything, Latinos are growing increasingly skeptical of President Obama’s ability to support our community beyond a White House Latin Music Night. As a close friend of mine stated, “I’m NOT in. Obama has my vote, no doubt. But I’m still not sure if he has my money or time. What happened to Immigration Reform? On that note, what the hell happened to the DREAM Act?” His point is valid, and allows us to dispense with the elephant in the room: President Obama has yet to deliver substance on the rhetoric he employed to secure the Latino vote. But more importantly, my friend’s comment embodies the demand that Obama be the “change” president for all disenfranchised groups.
When President Obama was elected, he became more than just the president. Every minority demographic and constituency who supported him felt he was the one to address their issues, and subsequently felt their needs warranted top priority in the Oval Office. Environmentalists saw him as the one to break our dependence on oil, the LGBT community saw him as the first glimmer of hope since Harvey Milk, education advocates felt he would fix NCLB, everyone thought he would end the wars, and the list is endless. I was guilty of this as well, feeling my time and money spent for Obama justified my demand he provide immigration reform, pass the DREAM Act, and end the Cuban embargo. It was incredibly misguided for people to think he would do everything for everyone in those first two years, especially since we didn’t know how eight years under Bubbles the Clown would derail “Change We Can Believe In.”
Simply, no one could have foreseen how the healthcare debate was going to turn into the actual Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, or how the economy was going to put nearly all American policy progress on hold. And of course, no one could have predicted a Republican Party platform of ‘Do absolutely nothing until Obama is out of Office.’ Even as we see a rebounding economy and know we’re much better off under Obama than we would have been under McCain, hardly anyone is happy. The tone of compromise and bi-partisanship looks like weakness, and has caused previous Obama season ticket holders to cancel their subscriptions. They’re still fans, just not willing to pay top dollar for an underperforming product. Indeed, it’s mind boggling to know that the Obama administration botched a prime opportunity to galvanize voters after Arizona kicked off a domino effect that showed the Republican Party’s true feelings towards Latinos. Even if Arizona is an outlier in the greater immigration debate, the reality is we’ve seen the American auto industry and LGBT community get more “change” than we have. Thus, I don’t blame my friend for hesitating to be “in” because Obama’s performance on Latino issues has been subpar at best.
This inaction becomes symbolic because it makes the Latino vote one in which we’ll essentially be choosing between the lesser of two evils. Republicans shouldn’t win the Latino vote by denying access to education for undocumented yet deserving students, and supporting the legalization of racial profiling. However, does that mean a Democrat should win simply because he doesn’t endorse such a platform? Ultimately, Obama wins the Latino vote because the alternative is reminiscent of some of the governments Latinos have fled their home countries from. Therefore, an Obama victory of the Latino vote should not be celebrated by any means, because it just means we will have picked the person who scares us less. If that’s the case, then why be “in”? For me, the answer is simple.
President Obama may not have delivered on what he promised, but he has set the stage to do so. We can’t have comprehensive immigration reform without healthcare reform, which took too long because people don’t have a consensus on healthcare as a right or a privilege. Then there’s the DREAM Act, which should have been passed, but wasn’t because Washington hasn’t found a way to sell it. And by sell it I mean people haven’t gotten the teacher’s unions to buy into it. It doesn’t take a viewing of Waiting for Superman to show us who is calling the shots educationally, meaning our pressure for the DREAM Act needs to start with the unions, not Washington. Combined with the fact President Obama inherited a three ring circus, we just can’t measure his success on two years that were dedicated to avoiding a depression and dealing with a political environment that is starting to mirror the drama of High School. Nor can we measure his success on catering to our needs over those of others, because he unintentionally became the “change” president for all marginalized groups.
Bottom line, we all think President Obama needs to satisfy our agenda now, even though history tells us he won’t. We also know his being reelected doesn’t guarantee that our issues are addressed, especially if Congress stays divided. But what we should also know is that reelection guarantees eight years of work towards a progressive policy agenda that affects all Americans, and will ultimately be shaped by Latinos in the coming decades. To ensure this happens, we need to be “in” and do more than just vote. The alternative of choosing a party comprised of Arizona-supporters, not voting, or casting a vote for independent candidates who will never win leaves too much to chance. Regrettably, what my friend said is probably the norm for a good number of Latino voters. Obama has their vote, but probably won’t have their time, money, or energy like he did the last time. I just hope that changes, because not being “in” is too risky.
Matthew Stieglitz received his BA in Communication from the University of Delaware. He is currently a 2011 Master of Public Administration candidate at Cornell University concentrating in Government, Politics, & Policy Studies. After receiving his MPA, Matthew will attend law school in order to merge his public affairs background with a legal education to most effectively advocate for Latinos.