Republicans trying too hard

Convention: Enough already with the compassionate conservatism display.

I sat down and counted. A parade of no less than 14 Hispanic speakers, presenters, performers, Pledge-of-Allegiance leaders and “Profile in Compassion” videos over the four-day Republican Convention, according to the schedule on the convention’s Web site (www.gopconvention.com). Including nephew George P. and his bilingual address. Including a speech in Spanish by a California assemblyman, Abel Maldonado.

Two thoughts. One, what would Pat Buchanan have thought. Two, the GOP is holding on to its abrazo a little too long and a little too tight.

What Buchanan would have thought is pretty clear. It’s one reason he bolted. Yet one has to wonder how many of his followers decided to stay behind and are now on the floor of the convention, cringing every time they hear Spanish spoken at the podium.

No matter. They lost the fight. Four years ago, at the height of anti-Hispanic GOP meanness, the platform called for the recognition of English as the “official language.” It was a victory of the Buchanan right. Bob Dole was too clueless to pay attention and Jack Kemp (the original “Compassionate
Republican”) went along after he found he did not have the clout to stop it.

This year’s position on language: “Another sign of our unity is the role of English as our common language. It has enabled people from every corner of the world to come together to build this nation. For newcomers, it has always been the fastest route to the mainstream of American life. English empowers. That is why fluency in English must be the goal of bilingual education programs. We support the recognition of English as the nation’s common language.”

Of course. Is there anyone who does not “recognize” that English is the “common language” of the United States of America? Is there anyone opposed to the notion that kids in bilingual education programs should learn English?

The Republicans are stating the obvious. Still, that is in itself a significant step in the right direction. Ultraconservatives tried again to get the platform to endorse official English.

But Bush’s forces understood that calling for a law that makes English the “official” language would be seen by the vast majority of Hispanics (even those who are Republican and consider themselves conservative) as an assault on their loyalty as Americans.

The Bush people prevailed, and out went “official.” A clear victory for GOP moderates and GOP Hispanics.

To be sure, both the platform and the candidate himself have yet to specifically address a number of highly charged immigration issues. Should there be amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for many years? Should the number of people permitted to immigrate be increased?

Still, the platform’s language on language is a sign that, yes, there is a new GOP that wants to be attractive to Hispanic voters.

But they are trying a little too hard. It’s not that I was bothered by the discrepancy between Hispanics on stage (many) and Hispanic delegates (few). The reality is that the Republican Party — outside of South Florida, that is — continues to be largely a party of non-Hispanic whites. Which is no reason for the leadership to hold off presenting a different face. In fact, it’s one way of recruiting more Hispanics to the rank and file.

What bothered me was the role that too many Hispanics were assigned to play. A single mother talking about getting out of welfare. A businessman talking about the need for “opportunity.” Videos droning on about the importance of conservatives showing “compassion” for disadvantaged Hispanics.

Fine inspirational stories, all of them. Yet too many of them portray Hispanics as victimized “minorities” in dire need of somebody with compassion to come to the rescue.

When it comes to Hispanics, Republicans are beginning to sound like Democrats. I’d almost rather sign up with the Buchanan Brigades.

— Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.



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