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Stop your pandering

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Esther Cepeda
April 22, 2012
— Little else brings me as much joy as learning a new word—especially if it perfectly captures the spirit of the moment.

“Hispandering”—isn’t that great?


I can’t believe I’d never seen the term before, though a quick check on Urban Dictionary informed me it’s been around since at least 2008. It means, as you may have guessed, political pandering to Hispanics. Roll it around on your tongue a bit—it appropriately sounds similar to “hypocrisy.”


I discovered this gem just a few days ago in a delightful blog post titled “Are Latinos Getting Clowned by Obama?” on the website politic365.com. The article illuminated the disappointment some of the more serious Hispanic voters and community leaders feel about President Obama enlisting the likes of George Lopez and Eva Longoria to help spread the message among Latinos for his re-election effort.


I feel disgust. That Obama thinks a comedian who has been slammed by Hispanics in the past for his sexist and stereotypical humor and a “Desperate Housewives” star who is currently under fire for co-producing a television show called “Devious Maids” are appropriate conduits to Hispanic voters pretty much says it all.


But this, folks, is the crux of presidential-candidate Hispandering: Never mind policy, trot out some Hispanic stars, drop a few words en español as you talk about how very important “Hispanic issues” are—as if they weren’t the same as all Americans’ issues—and do everything but don a golden-threaded mariachi sombrero while promising “el mundo.”


President Obama and Mitt Romney have a fundamental misunderstanding of what most Hispanic voters want from them. Without getting into specific policy topics—Hispanics’ political views are as dramatically varied as those of white voters—Hispanics really want to be acknowledged, welcomed in the political arena, listened to and respected.


This is not to say that there isn’t a vocal minority of Hispanic voters who adore Hispandering. They absolutely want candidates who preach to the choir—be it about “Latino empowerment” or immigration—and do it while invoking civil-rights heroes Cesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta. These are the very people falling all over themselves because the Obama campaign just kicked off his “Latinos for Obama” website with a few Spanish campaign ads.


But Obama isn’t the only Hispanderer. Though the president does have about six years worth of Hispanic Heritage Month photo-ops under his belt, Mitt Romney is getting into the spirit as well (maybe he’ll even play up his family’s past experience living in Mexico and start hinting about becoming the first Latino president).


The Republican National Committee has begun fanning out into key swing states to spread the word about how the “GOP is listening to Latinos” as they shape a “new direction” for America. Maybe they’ll even put out some aimed-at-Hispanics campaign ads in English, instead of assuming that if they weren’t in Spanish the bulk of registered Hispanic voters wouldn’t understand them.


Romney’s Hispandering has been subtle. He’s largely stayed mum about wild speculation regarding whether Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico will be his running mate (even though they’ve both said it’s not happening).


Yet just a week ago, Romney started the process of “softening his tone” on illegal immigration—he reportedly told supporters at a fundraiser that he would consider a Republican version of the DREAM Act. It appears he might be distancing himself from Kris Kobach, a leading author of “papers please” legislation adopted by Arizona and Alabama, downgrading him from “adviser” to “supporter.”


But Romney’s detractors aren’t buying it, and Kobach himself is telling reporters that the Romney campaign has confirmed to him that he’s still an adviser and “nothing’s changed.” Which brings us around to immigration, the issue that most people assume Hispanics care about above all others although polls consistently say they don’t. Romney and Obama have little light between them on the matter. Romney wants all the illegal immigrants to go away on their own, and Obama has deported more than a million of them.


Both candidates should vow to drop the subject in favor of focusing wholeheartedly on the economy. After all, there are plenty of other topics to Hispander on. Such a move would actually be more meaningful to the majority of registered Latino voters who care more about jobs and education than immigration anyway.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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