Hispanic Fury With Obama: The Dilemma That's the Handwriting on the Wall

By Stephen Steinlight on November 11, 2011

The mainstream punditry has long treated as a fait accompli that the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election is safely in Obama's corner and will, as in 2008, likely tip the balance in swing states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, perhaps even Florida. But this looks extremely doubtful, even in a presidential election in which immigration will finally emerge as a major issue. In fact, the reason this proposition is so dubious is precisely because immigration will be a major issue.

This shared assumption appears to be the product of wishful thinking rather than an accurate portrayal of the angry, resentful mood on the Hispanic street. It's not descriptive but prescriptive, reflecting the media's wishes, not Hispanic attitudes. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez's periodic rebellious outbursts against the administration's action or inaction reveal, Obama is an enormous disappointment to Hispanics to whom he promised passage of "comprehensive immigration reform" but couldn't even deliver the DREAM Act. Nor are all Hispanics buying the rationale that this failure is wholly attributable to Republican obstructionism or the fears of Democrats who recognize amnesty is anathema to the great majority of Americans and are loath to face the backlash.

Both are factors, but the president has never regarded the issue as a priority. His pandering to Hispanics has been entirely rhetorical, and words can take one just so far. Though his stated goal is amnesty for some 11 million illegal aliens, some of his interim polices are profoundly unpopular with Hispanics. His administration is facing a fierce Hispanic backlash now – just as the election campaign begins – bad timing for a weak incumbent to have an important component of his base fractionating. The cause? The record one million illegal aliens his administration has deported.

Boiling anger over this is the theme of the Washington Post story entitled, "Activists say Obama aide Cecilia Munoz has 'turned her back' on fellow Hispanics". Far more menacing than any cautionary tale, it's reminiscent of the handwriting on the wall that spoiled Nebuchadnezzar's feast by predicting his downfall.

The lightening rod, Cecilia Munoz, the highest-ranking Hispanic in the White House, is a long-time activist for "comprehensive immigration reform" and former Senior Vice President for the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). That such bona-fides aren't protecting her from searing criticism has everything to do with her being seen as Obama's surrogate. If she's his representative she's sold out her community. Yesterday she was on the hot seat in Phoenix where a group of Hispanic illegal aliens and supporters planned to confront her at a meeting of the National League of Cities. Anger with Munoz has reached the point where a petition drive has been launched to demand she stop defending the Obama administration's immigration policies and "return to her roots." Hispanic bloggers on immigration have essentially labeled her an "Uncle Tom" or "Tia Taco."

The sense of betrayal by the Obama administration – for which Munoz has become the symbol – is reflected in a scathing statement by Roberto Lovato, co-founder of the Hispanic advocacy group Presente.org:

It appears that Cecilia has turned her back on the important legacy she left as an immigrant rights advocate…Cecilia Munoz has made a 180-degree move from being a champion for immigrants to being the No. 1 defender of a horrendous immigration policy.

The administration has attempted to pursue, what it – and evidently it alone – perceives as the via media on the enforcement of immigration law: permit the oxymoronic "law-abiding illegal aliens" to remain and focus on serious criminals. This policy satisfies neither those who see it as the wholesale violation of the rule of law nor Hispanic open-border advocates who don't care for the distinction and then argue the deportation policy is broken and "law-abiding illegal aliens" are being deported along with the rotten apples.

Munoz has argued over half of those deported in the last year, some 397,000, committed serious crimes. But critics dispute this and charge that only 75,000, or some 20 percent, of all those deported fall into the government's definition of "bad apples" – people who have committed two felonies or one aggravated felony, such as rape or murder. The Washington Post reporter cites "government data" (unspecified and unattributed) to validate the dismissal of Munoz's claims. Horror of horrors, Presente.org reports a "large share of the 'criminals' are being deported for non-violent offenses."

Why do I suspect the great majority that favors the self-deportation of the illegal population, including the "law-abiding," as a result of strict border control and tough internal enforcement of immigration law couldn't care less about the debate over which criminal illegal aliens we're supposed to welcome among us? They want them all out. Period.

It's impossible to sympathize with Obama's dilemma given how dishonestly and irresponsibly he's addressed this momentous issue, but he's stuck for sure. He's damned if he satisfies the "immigration activists" and damned if he doesn't.

That's the first piece of good news: he faces an insoluble problem. The next is his Hispanic "base" appears to be fractionating, shrinking, and isn't feeling so much disenchanted with him as infuriated at him. Democratic political strategists may recognize the problem, but they won't find a viable political solution in an election year.

If the president were to gamble on wholesale amnesty, the equivalent of shooting Niagara, it would inevitably cause an unprecedented rupture between the White House and congressional Democrats. At best, it might energize Hispanics to vote in significant numbers, as they did in 2008.

But there's a gigantic Catch-22, a huge spanner in the works: immigration wasn't an issue in 2008. Obama and McCain were tweedledum and tweedledee on the subject. But immigration will be an issue in 2011, and a very important one. The huge non-Hispanic majority – whose voice the elite has tried to ignore, drown out, or vilify – will finally get to say its say about this third-rail issue. Solid data indicate about 90 percent of the 90 percent of Americans who are not Hispanic are strongly opposed to amnesty and open-borders.

If Obama were politically foolish enough to proceed or felt a categorical imperative – neither is the case – given the Anglo majority even in states with large Hispanic minorities he would lose there. The Hispanic population is significant, especially in New Mexico at 46 percent. It's 26 percent in Nevada and a hair over 20 percent in Colorado. But if immigration surges to the fore and Anglos and Hispanic divide over the issue, there's no way for Obama to prevail. Moreover, the pursuit of this strategy would prove disastrous in far more important swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, not to mention others he barely won in 2008, such as Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia.

He can't afford to take the risk. So unless he can find a way to square the circle, odds are he won't prevail in those swing states where he managed to con once innocently enthusiastic Hispanics back in 2008. It's probably academic in any event.

Obama's abysmal handling of the economy and the high sustained rate of unemployment are likely sufficient to deny him a second term. But deep and widespread popular fury over illegal immigration, sure to be stoked by the Republican nominee, will guarantee it.