Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How To Relax Your Mexican Friends At Parties

Note: This was cross-posted at my "Internet Republican Racism Database" blog.  

It’s a bad sign for your political party when Latino voters represent one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the country and a memo has to be distributed to your elected officials on how not to insult Hispanics.

A typical message from Republican voters to Latinos: we hate your language and your culture except when we want to exploit them for commercial reasons.  Why, one might ask, isn't the name of this bar in English only?  (Photo from 

The Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) is a conservative, pro-Republican group that seeks to woo Latino voters for the GOP.  The organization sent a list of recommended “Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform” to Republican Congressman January 28.  The memo urges members of the party to drop some of their favorite nasty buzz phrases regarding Latinos and undocumented workers.  To the HLN, what might be called the Republican “Mexican problem” is a merely the result of poorly chosen words. 

"Tone and rhetoric will be key in the days and weeks ahead as both liberals and conservatives lay out their perspectives,” advised HLN Executive Director Jennifer Korn.  “Please consider these tonally sensitive messaging points as you discuss immigration, regardless of your position." ( See

Among Korn’s tips:
"When addressing securing our borders:
Do use the wording 'enforcement of our borders includes more border patrol, technology, and building a fence where it makes sense'
Don't use phrases like 'send them all back,' electric fence,' 'build a wall along the entire border'

"When talking about immigrants:
Do use 'undocumented immigrant' when referring to those here without documentation
Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens'
Don't use the term 'anchor baby'” (Anchor baby is the term some Republicans like Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert use to refer to babies born to undocumented workers in the United States supposedly for the purpose of making it more difficult for immigration officials to deport the family). 

Jennifer Korn, a rare Latina Republican, has urged her compatriots in the GOP to stop hating on immigrants specifically and Hispanics in general.  So far, it looks like her advice is not being embraced with much enthusiasm.  (Photo from  

Korn further urged Republicans to not “characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics.”  The memo is reminiscent of a classic standup routine by the late comedian Lenny Bruce, “How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties.”  In the sketch, an uncomfortable white bigot encounters a black man at a social event and tries his ignorant best to make the stranger to feel at ease.  “That Joe Lewis was a hell of a fighter,” he says.  “You're in show business . . . Do ya know that guy on the Cream of Wheat box?” (Listen at  In the routine, the bigot tries to conceal his poisoned soul, but his thoughtless words continually betray him.  Korn’s verbal coaching is just as unlikely to obscure the anti-Latino hatred at the heart of the modern Republican Party.  The real issue with the GOP isn’t insensitive words.  It’s the racists who make up the party.

This fish rots from the head.  Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2012, may have been the major politician most uncomfortable with Latinos since one-time U.S. Sen. George Murphy of California, also a Republican.  Murphy infamously said that Mexicans were uniquely suited to serve as farm workers because “they’re built so close to the ground.”  (See    Romney spent the entire 2012 campaign pandering to the party’s far-right wing base by insulting Mexican Americans generally and immigrants in particular.  He squirmed when dealing with Latino voters and their issues.  He could only handle an interview on the Latino Univision cable channel by packing the seats with bused-in allies. 

Romney ran well to the right of his rivals in the GOP primaries on immigration.  At times he was unintentionally honest about his cynical xenophobia, such as during an October 2011 Republican presidential debate when Texas Gorv.Rick Perry challenged him for hiring undocumented workers to mow yards at one of his homes.  “You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property," Perry said, "and the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you.  The idea that you can sit here and talk about any of us having an immigration issue is beyond me.  I've got a strong policy, I've always been against amnesty. You, on the other hand, were for amnesty." 

Mitt Romney endearing himself to Latino voters: "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals." (Photo from  

Romney responded that he had hired a company to do the yard work at one of his many mansions. He claimed that he had no idea that the company had hired undocumented workers.  This is like claiming you didn't know that fast food workers are underpaid.  When a newspaper informed Romney of the undocumented status of some the employees working there a year later, Romney insisted that he was outraged. He claimed during the debate that he said, "So we went to the company and we said ‘Look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals.’ It turns out that once again they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.”  (For more, including the video, see

Note that Romney was a case study of how to violate Korn’s rules when talking to Mexican American voters.  He demeaned the immigrants as “illegals.”  He also basically admitted that he objected to the undocumented workers not because of his concern for the law or these exploited workers’ well-being, but because of how he would look to the voters.  It was only because he had been caught exploiting the undocumented that he would be much more careful when going through his binders full of Mexicans in the future.

That was hardly Romney's worst moment with Latinos.  One of the most callous comments of the 2012 campaign came when Romney began using a phrase that would come back to haunt him on Election Day.  During a  GOP presidential debate on January 23 last year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who, as noted below, said racist things about immigrants himself) suggested that the mass deportation of millions of undocumented residents  Republican hardliners have demanded would be logistically impossible and even cruel.  Gingrich proposed during the campaign a limited amnesty program that would allow some undocumented immigrants to stay here if they had resided in the United States for 25 years and had an American citizen vouch for their character and reliability as a legal resident. (See  

Romney admitted as well that mass deportation of "illegals" would be impractical.  Unlike Gingrich, however, Romney did not admit that such a pogrom would be inhumane.  Romney suggested, as an alternative, that laws should be passed that would make life so miserable for undocumented workers that they would leave the country voluntarily.

Even Newt Gingrich, who once described Spanish as the "language of the ghetto" accused Romney of being harsh towards immigrants.  (Photo from  

“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” Romney said. “We’re not going to round them up . . . “  Romney suggested creating a government database and issuing cards to workers that would indicate if a job applicant had legal status.  If not, the immigrant would be unable to get a job and would be forced by unemployment and the prospect of serious poverty to leave for the home country.  ““If people can't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work," Romney said.

(Gingrich, by the way, is no angel on immigration politics.  He once described Spanish as "the language of the ghetto."  See my post at

Romney also opposed the Dream Act, which would allow a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants.  The law would apply to those who arrived in the country as minors, who graduated from high school, and either served two years in the military or completed two years of college.  For a time Romney would not acknowledge the harshness of punishing a person who arrived illegally in the United States through no fault of their own.  (Of course, as on most issues, Romney flip-flopped on this and later backed away from his extreme position. See

By the fall of last year, Romney seems to have realized he had dug himself into an political hole regarding Latino voters.  Yet even his alleged outreach efforts proved uncomfortable, insincere and creepy.  On September 19, Romney appeared on an interview for  the Spanish-language Univision television network (President Obama appeared on a separate segment).  Certain that he would face hostility from a Latino audience unless he packed the room with supporters, Romney insisted on last-minute rules changes, insisting that if his demands were not met he would cancel the interview.

One of the hosts of the candidate forum, Maria Elena Salinas, told the website that tickets for the Romney interview had been divided between the network, people associated with the Romney and the Obama campaigns, and students from the hosting University of Miami.  Salinas told Buzzfeeed that “both campaigns initially agreed to keep the audience comprised mostly of students, in keeping with the events' education theme.”  

The Romney team could only round up a handful of supporters and feared the interview would be a public relations disaster.  They forced Univision to reduce the number of seats allotted to students.  Buzzfeed reported that “Romney's team was allowed to bus in rowdy activists from around southern Florida in order to fill the extra seats at their town hall.”  Romney’s shipped-in partisans ignored the hosts’ request that the audience withhold their applause and they wildly cheered their candidate, booed questioned posed by the interviewers and created the illusion of wide Latino support for Romney. The Obama team, meanwhile, abided by the original rules and the president received what appeared to be a lukewarm response.   (For more, see

Mitt Romney at the Univision Presidential Forum with hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos.  Romney basically insisted on not facing an audience of random Latino voters. (Photo from 

Meanwhile, during the performance, Romney’s skin appeared noticeably browner than normal, the candidate looking like he had applied copious “tan in the can” spray to look more Hispanic.  Romney’s campaign would later deny that the Republican nominee had intentionally engaged in brownface minstrelsy in a weird attempt to win Mexican votes.  They blamed Romney’s artificial darkness on an overzealous makeup artist, but that doesn’t explain why none of Romney’s extensive media team noticed the excess pigmentation and insisted on a new makeup, especially since the campaign had been so scrupulous to fix the event in every other way.  (See and  

Fifty Shades of Romney:  The picture on the left shows Romney during a campaign stop last September 16.  The photo in the middle shows an equally pale Romney on September 19, hours before he appeared before a Univision audience.  The much darker incarnation of the 2012 GOP presidential candidate, seen on the far right, appeared on a Univision candidate forum on the evening of September 19.  Republicans denied that Romney's startling acquisition of color was an intentional attempt to look more Mexican.  It was all the makeup artist's fault, they insisted. (Photo from

Given this record, it is no surprise that in November, President Barack Obama clobbered Romney among Latino voters.  Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Romney’s 27 percent, a 44-point gap.   In regard to Latino support for Republican presidential candidates, the trend line is pointing sharply downward.  George W. Bush won 44 percent of that demographic in 2000 and John McCain 31 percent.  In 2012, The Latino vote proved decisive in key electoral states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and in Pennsylvania. (where Obama won the support of an astounding 82 percent of Hispanics.  See  

Also not surprisingly, Romney did not do well among any groups that were not straight white Protestants.  He carried a less-than-whopping 44 percent among all women (those he did win the votes of more white women that Obama), 26 percent of Asian Americans, a microscopic 6 percent of African Americans,  He also won only half of Catholic voters, 31 percent of Jews, and 25 percent of gay men and women.  (See ,,  and  Romney's voters resembled the demographics for a Hank Williams, Jr. concert.

Romney and other Republicans trumpeted their disdain for Latinos and immigrants so loudly that even what was once a solid GOP constituency -- Cuban Americans --  almost tipped to Obama.  (The president won 48 percent of the Cuban American vote.  That group used to automatically reject Democrats they have seen as weak against Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of their homeland.  For more, see

The futility of Korn's approach - that Republicans can win over Latino votes if they simply change the language they use to describe policies that harm Latinos and immigrants  - was illustrated by the reaction of Romney and other conservatives to the unfavorably election results.   Shortly after the election Romney doubled down on the anti-Latino racism, essentially describing Latinos as lazy people expecting a handout.  In a November conference call to supporters just after his electoral shellacking,  he said he lost because “[W]ith Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”  

Latinos did not take kindly to Romney's condescending remarks.  Health care reform, which would be funded in part by Latino taxpayers, was not considered a freeby but a move towards fairness for underpaid and overworked Americans, many of them people of color, who are denied access to health care by their employers.  Latinos and Latinas exploded with outrage and sarcasm towards Romney's post-election racialized rationalizing.  @Gabazabba tweeted,  “Romney thinks President gave 'gifts' for the Latino vote? Where's my gift, esse?” @mattyglesias  (Matt Yglesias) posted on Twitter, “Was hoping for an iPad Mini from Obama, but will have to settle for universal health insurance coverage. #obamagifts” In essence Romney argued that Latinos were welfare cheats who expected something for nothing and saw Obama as their black sugar daddy.  (See

Republican mouthpiece Bill O’Reilly also spouted the party line that people of color backed Obama because they were insatiable nogoodniks.   On Election Night, O’Reilly declared that, "Obama wins because it's not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things."  As Robert J. Elisberg observed, O’Reilly’s remarks represented numerical nonsense.  Whites are not a minority.  In fact, they represent 63.4 percent of the population.  More insidious is the association O’Reilly makes between whites and “traditional” (and presumably better) America and the implication that white people, unlike people of color, expected only to be rewarded for hard work while African Americans and Latinos insist on a nanny state.  

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News thinks that voters of color "want things."  (Photo from’reilly’s-war.jpeg-e1356537158435-1280x960.jpg.)

Whites who thrived like vampires on the relentless hard labor of black slaves and Latino agricultural workers who toiled for pathetic slave wages, have long comforted themselves with Freudian projection – accusing people of color of laziness while sitting on the porch sipping mint juleps.   O’Reilly is now their spokesman.  He seems to miss the “traditional America” of Jim Crow, lynching, random deportations, and almost universal black disenfranchisement.  As Eliseberg asks, when O’Reilly laments the passing of “traditional America,” is he referring to:

“the "traditional America" of just 50 years ago -- during the lifetime of many Americans today -- when black people were disenfranchised from voting?
Is it the "traditional America" only 40 years before that, in 1919 -- still during the lifetime of today's Americans -- when women didn't have the actual right to vote.
Is it the "traditional America" before Social Security and Medicare existed to assist the elderly and needy? Are those part of the social free-fire zone he wants gone that have no place in a real, "traditional America?"
Is Bill O'Reilly's "traditional America" the America whose long tradition was no child labor laws and no 40-hour work week?”  (See

Republicans may have received Korn's memo, but they either threw it away or never read it. Just consider some of the remarks made by Republicans in reaction to Korn’s comments.   College dropout and radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, who has long been one of the most  important voices in the Republican Party, mocked the idea of the Republican Party reaching out to Latinos.  Limbaugh has a long, ugly history of naked racism.  (See my post at  On the day after the presidential election, he suggested (like O'Reilly) that the only way to win the backing of Hispanics was to give them something for nothing.  

“Every Obama voter may not be religious,  but they believe in Santa Claus,” Limbaugh sneered on his November 7 broadcast.  “And you know what else they believe about Santa Claus? Santa Claus doesn't judge anybody. You're gonna get your stuff no matter how you behave. You're gonna get your stuff whether you're a good guy, bad guy, or a nonentity. Santa Claus isn't judgmental. In fact, Santa Claus loves you because you have the deck stacked against you!” (See   

Limbaugh, who earns millions by sitting on his fat ass in a privately-owned studio within walking distance of his golf course home and broadcasting three hours a day, then questioned the work ethic of Mexican immigrants on a January 30 broadcast. Directly contradicting Korn’s advice, Limbaugh ranted against those he called “illegals” and said that Democrats sought to increase the Latino presence in American because, ““They want relatively poor people who depend on government for their prosperity.”  He moved on to other crude stereotypes, characterizing Mexicans as lazy compared to their supposedly more independent and hardworking Cuban peers, and suggesting that Mexicans had no desire to “assimilate” to the American culture through sweat and toil.  As every past anti-immigrant racist has claimed of the Irish, the Jews and the Italians, Limbaugh then contended that Mexican immigrants were a cancer eating away at a “distinctive American culture” and threatening the future of the nation.   Speaking of Mexicans, Limbaugh said:

“For some reason, culturally, they think that they're invested in hard work. And using the Cuban exile model, they're exactly right. But the Hispanic demographic, if you will, or population, has shifted. And the Cuban exile model is no longer the dominant model. The Mexican immigrant model is. And that -- they arrive with an entirely different view of America. And I'm sorry if this is offensive, but it's true . . . A full 75 percent of voting Hispanics believe that prosperity is the job of government, and so they’ll vote for the party that espouses those beliefs.  It happens to be the Democrats . . . In the old days of immigration people came to this country seeking a better life for themselves.  They were fleeing tyranny, fleeing oppression, fleeing economic poverty.  They came here and wanted to become Americans.  They wanted to become part of that great American culture.  Well, now that isn’t happening.  Our culture is becoming Balkanized. New arrivals aren’t assimilating, they’re setting up their own cultures, and there isn’t a distinct American culture anymore. ” (Listen to the broadcast at  

Rush Limbaugh, who labors a whole three hours a day, thinks he's the embodiment of the work ethic and that Mexicans are lazy and want handouts. (Photo from

Those "lazy" Latino immigrants, by the way,  make up a large percentage of farm workers in states like North Carolina.  They work 12 to 14 hours a day outdoors in the sun, in the heat and cold, and get exposed to toxic chemicals like pesticides.  Many of these workers are children.  Obviously, this is not as exhausting as bloviating 15 hours a week in an air conditioned bunker with softly cushioned seats. (See

Another major Republican luminary, columnist and professional troll Ann Coulter, added her shrill voice to this white supremacist sore loser chorus.  She headlined her December 5, 2012 column “America Nears El Tipping Pointo” to underscore her junior high idea of ethnic humor.  Coulter apologized for suggesting that young people were “nitwits who deserve lives of misery and joblessness.”  Coulter clarified that she should have been referring specifically to Latino immigrants.  

 Aryan ice princess Ann Coulter thinks that making up Spanish words is funny.  She probably also chuckles at the word "retard."  She claims Mexican immigrants are shiftless.  She's too lazy to make up her own stereotypes.  (Photo from  

Coulter decried the “deluge of unskilled immigrants pouring into the country . . . from the Third World . . . A majority of them are in need of government assistance.”   Coulter further said that modern immigrants, many of whom are Latino, are unlike previous newcomers.  It was wrong to assume “hat most of these Third World immigrants pouring into the country would go the way of Italian immigrants and become Republicans. They're hardworking! They have family values! Maybe at first, but not after coming here, having illegitimate children and going on welfare”

Coulter’s largely source-free diatribe further argued that the efforts by people like Korn are not just doomed but represent a threat to the country.  Any effort by Republicans to accommodate the priorities of Latino voters  will only open the door to further hordes of brown parasites.  “[There’s] a lot of government dependents coming down the pike. No amount of  'reaching out' to the Hispanic community, effective 'messaging' or Reagan's 'optimism' is going to turn Mexico's underclass into Republicans … Rather than being more hardworking than Americans, Hispanics actually work about the same as others, or, in the case of Hispanic women, less.”  (Those with strong stomachs can read more at

Of course, Coulter has never had any arrow in her rhetorical quiver other than the ad hominem argument.  What gets overlooked as people react to her entirely predictable, tedious nastiness is how dumb and incompetent a researcher she is (as well as her buddy Limbaugh).   Her picture of both immigrants and Latinos as freeloaders  is hatefully inaccurate, probably intentionally so.  

According to a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 64 percent of the population in 2010 and received 69 percent of the entitlement benefits. In contrast, Hispanics made up 16 percent of the population but received 12 percent of the benefits, less than their proportionate share -- likely because they are a younger population and also because immigrants, including many legal immigrants, are ineligible for various benefits.”  Rather than leeches, as Cristina Constantini observes, “[T]he Latino community is known for being incredibly entrepreneurial, with Latinos opening twice as many businesses as the average American in the 2000s, according to U.S. Census data.”  This is not a population seeking handouts, just opportunities.  (See and

The big problem with Korn's project of polishing up the GOP image among Latinos is that Romney, Limbaugh and Coulter are the heart and soul of the Republican Party, not her.  Coulter's is right about one thing.  Insincere messaging will not work.  Even if Republicans try to hide behind electoral tokenism and nominate a Latino front man in 2016 like Marco Rubio, they can't hide their past comments, their contempt for people with Latin American birthplaces, or their belief that the American nation and its culture are, by definition, exclusively products of Western European culture. 

Just as well, since this obdurate intolerance spells doom for the currently configured GOP.  According to census trends, the Latino population will triple by 2050 and, true to O'Reilly's nightmare, Anglos will become a minority by that same year.  (See Coulter or Limbaugh like it, Republicans will need the support of Latino voters or shrink to subatomic size.  Latinos are too smart to fall for tan-in-a-can messaging.  Republicans will have to surrender not just their racist words, but their racist ideas if they are to avoid becoming as extinct as the Whigs.  

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001.  (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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