As a Mexican-American Professor in Political Science at Northern Arizona University, it may surprise my fellow colleagues and/or students to read this, but come November 4th, I will be voting for John McCain.
The 2008 Presidential Election may mark a year of considerable lament for Mexican-Americans who had great hopes for success in 2007 with the most qualified candidate in the field being a Mexican-American, Governor Richardson, and the most institutionalized candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, an established friend of the Mexican-American community. With over 65% of Mexican-Americans identifying as Democrat, it was reasonable to believe that Mexican-Americans stood to make immense strides in 2008.
Alas, it was not to be. Richardson was unable to appeal to Mexican-Americans as Senator Barack Obama was able to among African Americans and Hillary Clinton proved too complacent in the belief that the nomination was hers to lose. And lose she did.
Despite overwhelming support for Clinton among Mexican-Americans, it proved all for naught. Mexican-American political power could not push their insouciant candidate across the finish line, while a coalition of elite cosmopolitan whites and a tightly knit group of African Americans were able to drag their candidate over the finish line with the help of a Democratic Party irresolute over whether or not the votes of two states, Michigan and Florida, even mattered. The Clinton institution that Mexican-Americans had hitched their own hopes for change to had crumbled, and with it, fluttered away the work of a generation of Mexican-American leaders.
With the victory of Obama came more change than Mexican-Americans bargained for. Obama brought in his own Mexican-American leadership who had comparatively little experience working with the established networks of the Mexican-American communities in Texas, California and New York. And with the majority of Mexican-American Democrats now dutifully supporting Obama as their candidate, Obama has had little incentive to integrate the existing Mexican-American leadership into his campaign. Obama’s Mexican-American cadre marked the emergence of a new leadership, and they saw no need or interest in bringing aboard potential rivals.
However, before Mexican-Americans go to the voting booth on November 4th, they should consider another option for President, John McCain. Crossing party lines is serious business, but Mexican-Americans should keep one fact in mind before they vote for Obama. Republicans in Congress are going to lose this year, badly. Republicans in Congress will pay a heavy price for betraying the principles of limited government that propelled them into power. Their excessive spending and irresponsible attention to the looming sub-prime mortgage crisis will fall squarely on their shoulders. True, Democrats are as much if not more to blame for their refusal to address the socialization of our financial markets, but with Republicans being in power six out of the last eight years, they deserve much of the blame.
While all the Republican candidates in the primary claimed to be Ronald Reagan, they also ignored the fact that it was Reagan, along with a Democratic Congress, that signed the 1986 Immigration Reform Act, giving millions of Mexican-Americans the opportunity to naturalize in this country. True, McCain diverted from his stance on immigration during the primary, but primaries are made for the hard core zealots of each party, and McCain had no choice but to placate them in a field where he held the most progressive record on immigration reform of all the candidates, Republican or Democrat.
Consider that it was a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, along with a group of hard core Republicans in Congress, that passed a decidedly anti-immigrant Welfare Reform Act in 1996. Faced with the choice between supporting Mexican-Americans and making good on his promises to reform welfare, Clinton sold out Mexican-Americans.
With their backs against the wall, Republicans in Congress will be insistent on making Obama pay a high political price for immigration reform. Obama, like Clinton, will have to choose between a campaign promise of reforming a social program in healthcare or helping Mexican-Americans who greatly desire a fix to our immigration policies. Given that Mexican-Americans are poised to throw their support behind Obama for free, which issue do you think will take priority in an Obama administration?
McCain has a long established record of tolerance and empathy for the Mexican-American community. McCain attended the conferences of three major Mexican-American organizations this year; NALEO, LULAC and NCLR. And not for the first time, as with Obama. With McCain as president, a weak Republican Party dependent on what little power they have, and a Democratic Congress, Mexican-Americans would have the greatest hope yet for change in the way our country handles our brothers and sisters across the border.
No issue bifurcates our country more than the immigration debate, which holds all Mexican-Americans as suspects, regardless of their citizenship status, their military service or their family history. While I believe this country has every right and obligation to protect the borders as it sees fit, I stand firmly in favor of arguing for an immigration system that encourages a free flow of labor, rather than obstructing it.
Ironically, immigration reform granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship would undercut the greatest market advantage illegal immigrants have against African-Americans and urban poor whites. Citizenship would bring businesses currently using illegal immigrants into the fold by making them abide by minimum wage requirements, OSHA standards, insurance requirements, etc. Granting a path to citizenship would also undercut Mexican-American sub-contractors in industries such as commercial furniture and construction that use their employees’ illegal status to keep a tight rein on their low-wage employees.
Today, immigration reform is mainly being fought on the right hand side of the political ledger, among the Republican Party nationalists and conservatives. In today’s climate, if you want to understand the immigration debate, you must understand the right. The right, contrary to much of the media’s characterization, is a complex coalition of Nationalists and cultural Preservatives, such as Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo who are pushing for a draconian policy of deportation and sealing the border off because of the incompatible cultural values of unskilled migrant workers from Mexico. But the right also consists of Libertarians and capitalists which seek policies more consistent with free markets and free will. All four groups, to a certain degree, fly under the banner of Conservatism. This schism on the right is best illustrated by the challenge for debate by the editors of the National Review to the editors of the Wall Street Journal over immigration policy.
As the late economist, Peter Bauer, taught us economic growth cannot be managed by governments and population control, but by allowing innovation to flourish in a free market. Contrary to what the cultural preservatives would have us believe, Milton Friedman and Adam Smith taught us that “unskilled labor” is not a cultural value, but it is innovation waiting to happen.
However, immigration is not the only issue Mexican-Americans should keep in mind. Consider that Obama has promised to weaken our economic ties with Mexico. His anti-NAFTA stance would serve to create a greater rift between Mexico and the United States. Instead, Obama is more likely to cater to labor unions than to promote open and free business practices that Mexican-American plumbers, painters, electricians, etc. depend on to send their kids to school and to keep up with the bills. Obama’s tax increases will also greatly impact the many small and medium sized businesses that employ Mexican-American workers. While much has been made about “Joe the plumber” in the last few weeks, consider that Mexican-Americans have dreams of their own.
There are many “Jose the plumbers” who hope one day to own a family business. And while Obama mocked hard workers across the country by saying there is no way plumbers can earn the quarter million dollars where his higher taxes will kick in, consider what he has done to our own hopes in this moment of condescension.
Mexican-Americans should seek the candidate most likely to allow the entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrant family heritage to flourish, not the candidate most likely to use us as a prop to justify a socialist-style redistribution of funds. Mexican-Americans come from a country who know this spread-the-wealth system quite well. The rich in Mexico, of which there are many, are quite content to live in an economic system in which the government is intimately intertwined with corporate Mexico. We should not allow ourselves to be romanced by the idea that somehow the United States can do any better.
While I certainly have my reservations about McCain, I will be voting for him on November 4th.