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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Lost in translation

    Even in Spanish, presidential politics is the same

    Look through any crowded Arizona parking lot, and you’ll find one: a patriotically colored sticker proclaiming “”Viva Bush!”” stuck to the bumper of a pickup truck. In an attempt to court Spanish-speaking voters, scads of the stickers were distributed during President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. After four long years under the desert sun, many of the stickers are worn, cracked and faded – an apt metaphor for the current state of the Bush administration.

    But during the last presidential election, Bush’s bright stickers, traveling mariachi band – and most importantly, his shrewd appeals to traditional values – earned him a crucial component of the vote in big-ticket states like California and New York and attracted a remarkable 44 percent of the Hispanic vote – the fastest-growing voter demographic category in the U.S.

    Now that this year’s circus of an election cycle is afoot, Democratic candidates are hoping to take some of those votes back.ÿSunday, seven Democratic candidates participated in a televised debate focused on the Latino electorate, broadcast on Spanish-language network Univision, the fifth-biggest broadcast television network in the U.S. A clear attempt to reach out to an increasingly important block of Spanish-speaking voters, the debate was broadcast entirely in Spanish, with questions translated from Spanish and played through earpieces for the dumbfounded candidates, and their predictably canned responses translated back into Spanish for the audience.

    Although the debate was hyped as an unprecedented occasion – the first-ever Spanish language presidential debate – the honor is a symbolic one at best. After all, most Hispanic voters speak English. The debate was notable, however, as a signal of the increasing importance of Hispanic voters in national politics. According to a Pew Foundation report on voting trends, in 2006, the Hispanic vote stood at about 5.6 million. That number may sound impressive, but it’s a mere 5.8 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population. With a lucrative, untapped source of votes, it’s no wonder Democrats were ready to pander to a new audience.

    And pander they did. Leading candidates attempted to draw out even their most tenuous connections to Hispanic culture, in an amusing game of lame one-upsmanship. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager is a Latina. John Edwards’ hometown now has a large immigrant community. And Barack Obama is an ardent admirer of Martin Luther King Jr., who admired Cesar Chavez, who was – you guessed it – Hispanic.

    And although the pandering was bad, some of the policies were worse. Although the debate focused on a few interesting issues absent from mainstream politics – including the Cuban trade embargo and relations with Venezuela president Hugo Chavez, most responses were the same sound bites candidates have delivered in English in a dozen previous debates. And the same candidates who drew cheers from heartland voters for promising tough immigration policies and telling audiences immigrants are “”going to have to learn English”” took an entirely different line on immigration reform, outlining vague policies in the debate.

    Then again, at least Democrats were willing to participate. Although Univision tried to schedule a similar debate for GOP candidates, Arizona Senator John McCain was the lone Republican willing to accept the invitation.

    If candidates – of any party or political persuasion – really hope to woo Hispanic voters, they should move beyond symbolic posturing and support consistent, pragmatic policies, instead of telling Iowans one thing and Arizonans another. Until then, even translated into Spanish, politics will be the same old game.

    OPINIONS BOARD: Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall, Jerry Simmons and Allison Dumka.

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