National Opinions

Ruben Navarrette: Latinos are the taken-for-granted voters

Ruben Navarrette

Washington Post Writers

As Election Day approaches, many Latinos are in a funk because they feel trapped between bad choices.

Latinos can't bring themselves to vote for Republicans, and yet — because they have always resisted the concept of getting something for nothing — there is a growing consensus that Democrats haven't earned their support.

A reader got it right, when he wrote: "The Dems have blown it. Not with a grand faux pas, but with plain inaction, public dithering, and blatant lack of leadership. It's too bad the alternative is so scary, but the Dems deserve to get slapped."

Let's be clear. It's not just that Democrats are missing in action on immigration reform. It's the fact that they are using spin and blame-shifting to cover it up. It's that they think Latinos aren't smart enough to see through the fog and figure this out. The lack of leadership is bad, but the lack of respect is worse.

Democrats are betting that a group of voters who have given a majority of their support to Democratic nominees in every presidential election since 1960 are long on loyalty and short on memory. After sprinting to the right to reassure white suburban voters that they share their concerns about their towns becoming Latinized, some Democrats are now trying to quietly smooth things over with Latinos.

The poster child for these double-talking politicians is Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina. She is locked in a tight battle with Republican Thom Tillis, and is having trouble locking down her base. When immigration activists from North Carolina Dream Team did what feckless Latino elected officials should be doing and turned the heat up on the Democrat, Hagan ridiculously claimed to be a "friend" to immigrants. That only further enraged the activists. So they disrupted one of her events, storming the stage and chanting: "Friends don't deport friends." One of the protesters later said, "We wanted to make clear she is not our friend." A slightly rattled Hagan responded by telling the activists that she supports "common-sense bipartisan immigration reform" and urging them to direct their ire at Tillis, who opposes giving undocumented immigrants legal status.

There it is. The last refuge of a scoundrel in the Democratic party: "Vote for me. I'm not a Republican."

Hagan has a strange concept of friendship. In 2010, she was one of five Senate Democrats who helped kill the DREAM Act by bolting from her own party and voting "no" on cloture.

In 2013, as her colleagues debated an immigration bill, she stood on the sidelines and stayed coy about whether she would support it. She eventually voted for the bill but only after a draconian amendment was inserted by Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota that doubled the size of the Border Patrol, built more border fencing and put so many restrictions on a pathway to citizenship that only a fraction of illegal immigrants would qualify for it. And this year, as immigration activists were pressuring President Barack Obama to keep his promise and use executive action to fix some of the problems in the immigration system, Hagan said through a spokeswoman that Obama should do nothing of the kind because immigration is "a problem that needs to be solved legislatively and not through executive action."

And now Hagan is trying to blunt criticism by cozying up to Latinos. That's creepy. At least with the GOP, Latinos know where they stand. Hagan doesn't even know where she stands.

None of this is easy for white liberals, many of whom are Democrats first and liberals second. Many of them never really cared about Latinos or immigration, unless they could use them as weapons against Republicans. Now that the activists have centered in on two-faced Democrats like Hagan, the liberals are defending the senator and throwing the activists under the bus. If Republicans take the Senate, "dreamers" will take the blame.

It's the price you pay for being right. The activists know what they are doing.

Friends don't let friends remain in dishonest and destructive relationships because they're afraid no one else will ever accept them. As any therapist will tell you, the first step to being loved is loving yourself by demanding more from those to which you've given so much. If you want to be treated better, you have to make better choices.

And on Election Day, this could mean voting for a third party, writing in a candidate of your own, or simply staying home.

Reach Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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