Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

Toupees, Tears and Toxic Immigration Policies: the Political Legacy of Tom Tancredo

December 21, 2007


Here’s a quick analysis I wrote for Alternet about the political legacy left by outgoing GOP Presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo. While many of my peers in the Latino blogosphere and in the migrant rights community hail yesterday’s announcement by Tancredo as some kind of indicator of the decline of the anti-immigrant politic, I, for one, find such jubilation misplaced and historically blind at best. You decide.

Xenophobe Tom Tancredo Quits GOP Race, But There’s Little Reason to Cheer

By Roberto Lovato, AlterNet
Posted on December 21, 2007, Printed on December 21, 2007

When I first met Tom Tancredo in 2004, he was a toupee’d David battling immigration policies backed by better groomed GOP Goliaths Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Bush. We were in New York, at the Republican Convention as the room we were in rattled with a great gnashing of his teeth after he read his party’s draft platform on immigration. The draft declared that “The Republican Party supports reforming the immigration system to make it more legal, safe, orderly and humane”. “They (Bush and Schwarzenegger) are using Clintonesque doublespeak” shrieked the then-little-know Tancredo, whose geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee combined with his acidic immigration rhetoric to give him that larger-than-life bizarro glow one finds in a Coen brothers movie.

His odd demeanor, his histrionic tone and the titanic correlation of elite corporate and political forces lined up against him made it hard to take him seriously that late August day when he defiantly declared, “They are ignoring the will of the American people. I will prevail because I don’t.”

While yesterday’s announcement of his decision to quit the presidential race has given some of my fellow bloggers and immigrant rights activists reason to declare Tancredo wrong about the appeal of the anti-immigrant politic, I, for one, do not share their glee.

Viewed from the vantage point of recent political history, Tancredo’s wild and often wacky political journey has taken him from being a relatively unknown young David to become a more seasoned leader, a King David of immigration politics who will continue to exercise power far beyond the humbler days when he was a lone voice crying in the anti-immigrant wilderness of the GOP.

We will undoubtedly be dealing with the effects of Tancredo’s brand of immigration politics in the alpha of the short term as well as in the long term.

The short term effects of Tancredo’s trajectory will be most apparent in the Presidential primaries he rightly takes credit for helping shape. A more stately and serious (as opposed to the angry loon that traveled to small border towns to keynote once obscure meetings of formerly unknown hate groups like the Minutemen), Tancredo looked stunningly presidential as he affirmed in yesterday’s farewell speech that credited his campaign with bringing “… the issue of immigration to the forefront of the national debate and, more importantly, with forcing nearly every Republican presidential candidate to commit themselves to an immigration plan that calls for securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws.”

While Republican candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire and other primary states will no longer find themselves in a campaign in which they “try to out-Tancredo Tancredo,” political ads and debate sound bites chock full of “get-tough on immigrants” rhetoric may well prevail beyond the primaries. That Tancredo has helped turn mainstream what was formerly right-wing fringe is clear from how, for example, rather than denouncing the Minutemen as a hate group, GOP front-runner Mike Huckabee proudly announced the recent endorsement of Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist. And Tancredo’s much buzzed-about support of Mitt Romney, who like Tancredo, has hired undocumented workers to work on his home all the while erecting Presidential campaign strategies savaging them, reflects the opportunity and danger inherent in the mainstreaming of the Tancredo immigration politic.

Like the short-term economic logic that brought us the sub-prime mortgage morass, the short-term electoral greed of those GOP — and Democratic — pols who buy Tancredo’s immigration tonic, may well turn their political futures toxic. While Tancredo prevailed against Bush and Schwarzenegger between 2004 and today, the lame duck pols may yet have their “I-told-you-so” moment when the angry white voter politic loses its appeal in coming years.

Though hardly alone, Tancredo, more than most politicos has helped shape a future Latino politic that equates Republicano with “racista”. While hardly any immigrants know who Lou Dobbs is (Spanish language media does not report on or translate him), many can easily identify the man who they feel refused to appear at the recent Univision GOP debate “por pena” (for shame) at facing fellow human beings who happen to be immigrant, a debate where his former fellow candidates were uncharacteristically demure about immigration and immigrants. That the 10 year-old citizen children that marched with their undocumented parents in L.A.’s pro-immigrant march of thousands in 1994 were among the 22 year-old leaders of marches of more than two million last year is another testament to the success of Tancredo and his supporters in shaping a powerful, anti-racist political culture resembling that of the African American community.

The once reliably Republicano evangelical Latinos who played pivotal roles in electing Bush in 2004 are turning away from the GOP thanks to the Tancredo train. Just days after a Pew Hispanic poll concluded that even right-leaning Latinos find themselves negatively impacted by the tone of immigration debate, a large group of prominent Latino evangelical leaders held a press conference to declare that they “reject hateful speech” heard in that same debate. Once on their way to following the right wing politics of many white evangelical denominations, Latino evangelicos find themselves adopting the activist tradition of many black churches thanks to politicos like Tom Tancredo.

So, in the long term, Tancredo may not prevail after all. His geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee and acidic immigration politics may end up looking very bizarro after all.

Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media. Read more of his work at

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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The Republican Presidential Debate on Univision and the Rise of the “I” Word

December 10, 2007

Several of the candidates smiled at the ground as if in shame. Their tense postures and nervous facial expressions made them look like undocumented immigrants being interrogated about driver’s licenses. And, when asked about the thorny issue of immigration during the first-ever Spanish language Republican Presidential debate on Univision television last night, all of the candidates took the same tack: loudly lauding “legal” immigrants while softly decrying “illegals”.

It was as if having to translate their message into Spanish forced the candidates to mellow out on immigration with a tab ecstasy or some other mind-altering substance. Instead of the usually militant deployment of their ultimate wedge issue, the GOP candidates spent a good part of the first debate overwhelmingly dominated by immigration praising and parsing immigrants with double messages like Mitt Romney’s, “We’re not going to cut off immigration; we’re going to keep immigration alive and thriving…But we’re going to end the practice of illegal immigration. It’s not inhumane. It’s humanitarian. It’s compassionate. We’re going to end illegal immigration to protect legal immigration.” Also typical were John McCain’s statement that “we have to address this issue with compassion and love, because these are human beings”.

Gone last night were Giuliani’s denunciations of “sanctuary mansions”; Absent were Romney’s impassioned descriptions of New York as “a sanctuary city for illegal aliens.” We heard little of Mike Huckabee’s new get tough on “illegals” line he copied from an extreme right wing think tank. Asked about whether the children of the undocumented had a right not to be separated from their parents, Fred Thompson forgot to mention that he’s even open to the possibility of altering or abolishing the guarantees of citizenship in the 14th Amendment.

The GOP candidate’s distinction between legal and “illegal” last night masks a deeper problem, one that extends beyond 2008 and electoral politics: years of anti-immigration rhetoric has led Republicans to institutionalize the Latino equivalent of the “N” word. Last night’s debate will do little to nothing to improve Republican fortunes among Latinos because their immigration policies and their angry, mantra-like repetition of words Latinos consider offensive like “Illegals” and “illegal aliens” have given rise to the politics of the “I” word.

This was made clear by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas, who, during one of her questions, mentioned surveys concluding that 4 of every 5 Latino residents and citizens felt the impact of the “negative tone of the immigration debate”. In response to another question about the reasons for the decline in Latino support for the Republican Party, not a single candidate even mentioned the issue of immigration. Not one. Instead, they chose to point to a picture of the Statue of Liberty behind them as they preached about a “pluralistic nation” that “welcomes people of all ethnicities”. Continuation of such vapid responses to the intense and growing concerns about anti-Latino racism will mean the birth of a permanent anti-GOP voting block in our increasingly non-white electorate.

GOP Latino strategists advising the various campaigns seemed to mistakenly tailor their messages to the overwhelmingly Cuban-American audience in Miami last night. The 4% of Latinos that are Cuban-American aren’t as concerned about immigration as the rest of the estimated 46 million mostly Mexican and Central American Latinos are. And studies by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and others show that GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans are the Latinos most likely to check of “white” on the Census, which means that they are more likely to be among the 1/5th of Latinos that do not feel the racism of Republican-led immigration histrionics.

Predictable denunciations of Fidel Castro and praise for “legal” immigrants may score with some (not all) Latinos in South Florida. But the overwhelming majority of Latinos watching last night heard nothing to dispel the sense that Republicans are manipulating them as part by what some pundits are calling the “new Willie Horton”.

As a result, even loyal GOP Latinos groups like Latino evangelicals have started to abandon the party. And it appears that nobody told the candidates that immigrants were among the groups primarily responsible for the up tick in Latino support for the Republicans in 2004. The culture of hatred fostered by the immigration debate has also sparked a renewed culture of activism seen in the Latino blogosphere, on the streets and, soon, in the voting booth.

As in the days when one was called a sellout or “vendido” with words like “Uncle Tom” or “Tio Taco”, the GOP candidates pathetic performance previews a near future that will likely see the resurgence of another such term: Republicano.

So, while potentially effective with white voters in the short term, immigration wedge politics are also giving birth to another kind of wedge, the long term wedge born of the “I” words Republican presidential candidates so love to chant- in English.