January 25, 2008

Commentary:

Latino Voters: Beyond Obama and Clinton

By Carlos Muñoz Jr.

As Latinos move center stage in the Democratic primary campaign, they should get past the race and gender of the candidates and focus on the issues.

If they do so, they will notice Sen. Barack Obama’s record closely parallels that of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Obama and Clinton are basically in agreement on the issue of “illegal immigration” as it is framed in the Congress and the media.

They have both voted consistently in favor of Senate bills that aim to increase the militarization of the U.S.- Mexico border.

They both have supported the raids in the workplaces and in the homes of undocumented workers and their families. These raids have resulted in the tragic break-up of families and have turned innocent children, most of them born in the United States, into homeless orphans when their parents have been arrested and deported.

On the war in Iraq, Obama’s record now also closely resembles Clinton’s.

Though he originally opposed the war, neither he nor Clinton supports an immediate withdrawal of troops. And both have supported increased funding for the war.

For Latinos, this is a big issue, since a majority has long opposed the war in Iraq. And, incidentally, the first U.S. soldier to die in Iraq was a Latino immigrant from Guatemala by the name of Jose Antonio Gutierrez.

On Pentagon spending, Obama, like Clinton, favors a substantial boost in the military budget and an increase in the size of our armed forces by the thousands.

There is also little difference between them on the economy. Both of them focus on the middle class, while the majority of Latinos are working class — many of them in the cheap labor sector.

Former Sen. John Edwards is the only leading Democratic Party candidate who has put poverty on the agenda and the only one who has spoken to the need to improve the economy for the working class.

Edwards correctly places the blame on the corporate sector for the growth of poverty and the bad economic conditions faced by workers. Obama and Clinton, on the other hand, prefer not to challenge corporate power head on.

The only other Democratic candidate to raise this issue has been Rep. Dennis Kucinich, but the networks have excluded him from the most recent debates.

Kucinich, by the way, also challenges the United States to stop being an empire. No one else goes near that one.

In fact, Obama and Clinton both have advisers who have served previous presidents and are committed to the agenda of maintaining the U.S. empire.

Latino voters who are critical of this consensus may not want to choose between the lesser of two evils. They could go to an independent third party candidate that best reflects a true commitment to real progressive change.

The Green Party, for example, has attracted more of those critical Latino voters in recent elections.

But whichever candidate they choose, it is crucial that discerning Latino voters and all well-meaning citizens commit themselves to a movement for peace, democracy, and social and economic justice — at home and abroad.

That movement is more important than any candidate.

Carlos Muñoz Jr. is a longtime activist and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He served as an advisor to the 1988 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign and is a former member of the Rainbow Coalition. He can be reached at: pmproj@progressive.org

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