Saturday, November 8, 2008

Republicans Need Hispanic Voters; Why the GOP Should Cool the Immigration Rhetoric

Over at Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh has an excellent post on how the Republicans lost the presidency because of the decreasing Hispanic support for the GOP.

At the outset, I would note that I do not agree with much of the rhetoric by Republicans on immigration. The emphasis on enforcement of existing laws ignores the the fact those existing laws are broken. Anyone who has worked in the area of immigration law knows how horribly bureaucratic the system is and how it takes years for folks to complete the process. Our immigration system is also not geared toward accommodating the economy's need for unskilled workers. It is hard for businesses to find good, reliable workers to staff restaurants, supermarkets, and to do hard manual labor. This past decade, Hispanic, mostly Mexican, workers filled those jobs and our economy was better off because they did.

The rhetoric bothers me at another level. As a student of history, I am well aware of the power the Ku Klux Klan wielded in Indiana during the 1920s. Indiana was one of the few states where the Klan was closely affiliated with the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party. The reason why was that in the 1920s, the Indiana Klan's main targets were not African-Americans, who were then predominantly Republican, but immigrants and Catholics, who were then almost exclusively Democrat.

So much of the rhetoric used by those speaking out against illegal immigration sounds like rhetoric ripped from the history books discussing the Klan in Indiana in the 1920s. While I certainly believe almost all of the Republicans in the immigration debate are not racist and sincere in their beliefs, albeit misguided, their words tend to attract and embolden those racists in our midst. Already Klan groups are seizing on the anti-illegal immigration debate to recruit the next generation of hatemongers.

I realize these reasons to temper the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric will fall on deaf ears. What cannot be ignored though is the political impact of going down that road, which however you characterize it, comes across as anti-Hispanic. As noted by Advance Indiana, Republican John McCain lost a significant amount of Hispanic support that Bush had with him just four years earlier. That difference was enough to tip the balance to Obama in many states, including Indiana.

Hispanics who are predominantly family-oriented and culturally conservative, are a natural fit for the Republican Party. But then again, so are African-Americans, who between the 1920s and today almost completely abandoned the Republican Party. Republicans would be foolish to make the same mistake with Hispanics. Republicans drive them away at their peril.

1 comment:

C.M. Bailey said...

I think this post's conclusions are correct and well stated.

I hope that some Republican activists have the opportunity to read it, and learn from it.