National Opinions

No, Tim Kaine is not Latinos’ best amigo

As a Latino voter, I’m used to being told by cable news pundits and political analysts that I have the awesome power to decide presidential elections.

How cool. Of course, it’s nonsense. I don’t take any of it seriously because I know the truth: Latino voters have never been more powerless.

As evidence, consider the fact that Hillary Clinton chose Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia to be her running mate.

It’s not just that Clinton skipped over three prominent Latinos — Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and California Rep. Xavier Becerra — whose names her campaign had, for months, mischievously dangled in front of Latino voters despite the fact that they were all considered longshots.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that the Clinton campaign has packaged and pitched Kaine to Latino voters as a kind of honorary Latino. But at first glance, it seems that Kaine —a career politician and former civil rights lawyer who practiced in the South where the dominant racial paradigm is black and white — might not be right for the part.

Yes, as the Clinton campaign never tires of reminding Latinos, it’s true that Kaine speaks decent Spanish.

But, while he claims to support comprehensive immigration reform along with other Democrats, he doesn’t have a history of stepping out in front of the issue in ways that could hurt him politically. This is true even when the refugees in question are coming from the same country where he learned Spanish.

Honduras is so dangerous that it has been called the world’s murder capital, and so it’s no wonder that tens of thousands of women and children fled the country in 2014 to seek refuge in the United States.

Compared to others, Kaine didn’t have much to say about the crisis even as the Obama administration was sending women and children back to Central America and into harm’s way.

Other Democrats showed courage. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stuck his neck out and got targeted by the White House for saying a civilized country doesn’t send children back to “certain death.”

Kaine is no O’Malley. As a loyal Democrat with aspirations of higher office, the senator played it safe. Kaine’s remarks were focused on liberal talking points, i.e. how the turmoil in Central America had been fueled by Americans’ demand for drugs, how we needed to show compassion to the refugees.

At the time, there was no criticism of President Barack Obama and the administration for shipping many new arrivals out of the country and into harm’s way, or for locking up women and children indefinitely in detention facilities.

This past January, when the Obama administration announced a new set of immigration raids to round up and deport those Central American refugees who had been released to family members in the United States with notices to appear before immigration judges, Kaine joined 21 other Democratic senators in signing a letter to Obama condemning the raids. Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont led the effort; Kaine followed.

I would expect more from Mr. Civil Rights Lawyer. Mr. Honduras. Mr. Yo Hablo Espanol. Just like you expect someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has made her name opposing income inequality, to fight aggressively for blue-collar workers.

And now the Clinton campaign has the chutzpah to present Kaine to Latinos as our best amigo, our brother from another mother. And we’re supposed to swallow that ridiculous narrative, no questions asked.

This is the kind of disrespect you get when you’re one of the cheapest dates in politics. Latinos rewarded Obama with 71 percent of their vote in 2012 —after he had broken his promise to make immigration reform a priority, deported up to that point more than 1.5 illegal immigrants, divided hundreds of thousands of families and tried to avoid responsibility for all of it by claiming falsely that the majority of those removed were “gang-bangers” and other criminals when many were gardeners and housekeepers.

Now Latinos are in an even worse spot. Donald Trump is so overtly antagonistic toward Latinos that Hillary Clinton will inherit perhaps as much as 75 percent of the Latino vote.

Clinton doesn’t even have to earn the Latino vote. It’ll be conveniently served up to her because of her major qualification: the fact that her name isn’t “Trump.” So you can imagine how much respect she’ll give Latinos, if she is elected president. Not much.

Reach Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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