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Tulsa World

Pandering For Hispanic Votes In Spain


June 19, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Tulsa World. All Rights Reserved.

PARIS -- During President Bush's debut in Europe, the international press is focusing, not surprisingly, on the Kyoto treaty, missile defense and the meeting with the Russian president. But two other smaller events may be even more revealing of the administration's more worrisome propensities than those "big" issues.

Remember how, when George W. was running for the presidency, he constantly averred that in foreign affairs he would above all honor relations with our proven allies? Remember the allusion to BillClinton sacrificing our relationship with Japan in order to woo communist China? We were sure that President Bush would never think of bending American interests in such a self-interested way.

And yet, this trip opened in an unlikely place: not in any of the capital cities of America's allies, such as Great Britain, France or Germany, but in Madrid. Now, Madrid is a lovely city and Spain is a magnificent country, but they are on the peripheries of continental power; they hardly symbolize Europe today.

But to be honest, the Bush White House did not pretend that they did. In fact, the White House was quite open about the foreign- policy oddity of opening President Bush's first trip to Europe in Spain. It was designed to woo American "Hispanic" voters.

Let me start by quibbling a bit about that presumption. If you want to woo anyone in Latin America, you must be most careful about Mother Spain, for she can be seen as a dignified historical matriarch, but also as "Mommie Dearest." Many Latin Americans hate Spain. Cuba and Puerto Rico fought wars in 1898, a mere century ago, to free themselves. And in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia, they still have vivid memories of Spanish destruction and enslavement. Spain itself has tried for years to erase ineradicable memories.

In addition (a small thing), historically, racially and even etymologically, there is no such word as "Hispanic." It is one of those socially constructed words, created by American multiculturalists who insist upon loading the census with racial differences and dividing the country even further. There are Cubans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Brazilians, etc., but there is no such thing as a Hispanic. So, wooing this artificial demographic by pandering to today's Spain at the expense of our major allies is definitely not a slam dunk.

Lest I appear to harp on a history that anyone who has ever picked up a book on Latin America surely knows, let me move on to the core issues:

What exactly is the president of the United States doing? A Republican president, one assumes, would not indulge in the racial and ethnic lobby exploitation that has until now so tediously characterized the Democrats. Is this administration really willing to sacrifice our larger interests for a supposed "ethnic" vote, particularly one based upon such absurdly imprecise roots?

But Madrid was not the end of the story. On the trip, the president surprised almost everyone by changing the policy he has pursued on the conflict over the island of Vieques near Puerto Rico, where some Puerto Ricans have been fighting to end Navy bombing exercises there.

The conflict, many thought, had been at least temporarily solved by pro-defense Republicans who had forged a compromise with Puerto Rico to allow residents of the island to decide in a referendum in November whether the range, which the Navy says is incomparable in its importance to American defense, should stay open. When the president made his surprise announcement, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R- Okla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was one of the referendum supporters who were "sick about it."

President Bush suddenly brought up faraway Vieques during a press conference in Goteborg, Sweden. "One, there's been harm done to people in the past," he said. "Secondly, these are our friends and neighbors and they don't want us there."

OK, let us quibble again. First, there has been only one person killed on the island because of bombing practice in decades of use. Second, Puerto Ricans are not only "friends and neighbors," but also fellow American citizens, who surely would be expected to share some of the responsibility for American defense. Third, since there has been no vote -- and in fact, the president's words were meant to bypass the planned referendum -- who can actually say that they "don't want us there"?

Republicans such as Sen. Inhofe and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump of Arizona insist they will go ahead with the referendum because the law requires the Bush administration to receive congressional approval to close the range.

Meanwhile, it has become increasingly clear that President Bush was pushed and lobbied strongly by New York Gov. George Pataki to close the range, again because of that illusory "Hispanic vote" that has so mesmerized the Republicans. In fact, the U.S. military, which is mostly appalled by this newest move, became suspicious of the administration's intentions more than a month ago, when the White House blocked $40 million for the Navy to construct public works projects on Vieques in order to try to win the goodwill of the people in advance of the referendum .

All this ethnic finagling of the Bush administration is serious indeed. Instead of bringing new immigrants to citizenship, as the president so eloquently promised in his inaugural speech, the administration is deliberately isolating groups. It is creating ethnic lobbies and splintering America still further into special- interest groups, instead of calling us together as one. CREDIT:Universal Press Syndicate

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