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Hispanic Vision, GOP Philosophy Are At Odds

By Max Castro

August 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

What do Hispanics want? The question arises in the wake of a recent New York Times/CBS news poll that found that, when it comes to American politics, Latinos seem to be of two minds: They like President Bush and the Democratic Party.

But, beyond the possible explanation for the inconsistency, there is a more revealing finding in the poll that the apparent contradiction in Hispanic political attitudes and the president's relative popularity has obscured. That's the fact that Hispanics, more than any other group, disagree with the core philosophy of modern Republicanism.

Or, to put it in a different way, Republican ideology and public policy today are diametrically opposed to the vision of the good society and the role of government held by an overwhelming majority of Hispanics. The gap between the Latino sociopolitical vision and the central tenet of contemporary Republicanism will loom ever larger for American society in coming decades as Hispanics, already the nation's largest minority, gain power proportional to their numbers and enter into alliances with African Americans and progressive whites.

What is the irreconcilable difference in political philosophy between Republicans and Hispanics? If there is an article of faith consistently expressed, in word and deed, over the last 25 years by Republicans from Reagan to George W. Bush, from Newt Gingrich to Tom DeLay, it is to cut government to the bone and beyond. Hispanics radically disagree with this Republican project of minimal government. They prefer a bigger government with more services.

That shrinking government drastically, especially government services for the poor and the middle class, is central to the Republican agenda is no secret. It is inscribed in virtually every pronouncement and every Republican policy initiative, whether it is in the area of taxes, education or occupational safety and health. They have never seen a social program they couldn't slash or privatize.

The Republican hatred of government is sometimes shown to be as breathtaking as any Marxist fantasy of ''the withering away of the state.'' In a remarkable inaugural speech earlier this year, Gov. Jeb Bush mused about his dream of a state in which government was not needed and public buildings could be ''empty of workers, silent monuments.'' In Florida and in Washington, the Republican-led executive and legislative branches have pushed for, and often enacted, policies consistent with this radical vision.

The New York Times/CBS News poll makes it crystal clear that Latinos disagree decidedly with the Republican less-government philosophy. Asked whether they preferred a smaller government with fewer services or a larger government with more services, 35 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 60 percent of African Americans preferred a bigger government with more services. That's not surprising to anyone who follows the politics of race in the United States. What may be a shock to many is this: 75 percent of Hispanics favor a bigger government with more services over a smaller government with fewer services.

This is the big story that comes out of the New York Times/CBS News poll. Over and beyond the passing popularity of a simpático president or the patriotic inclination of Hispanics to back the commander-in-chief during war, there is a huge gap between the bedrock philosophy of the Republican Party and the Latino vision.

That may not matter as much to some Hispanic voters, such as those Cuban Americans who favor a hard-line Cuba policy, but Cuban Americans are only 4 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population. For the rest of the Latino community and in the long run, the wide Hispanic/Republican divergence regarding the very role of government in society is likely to count more than the politics of image and symbolism.

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