From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (October 7, 1988)
Title – “Latinos must beware of those Spanish-speaking candidates”
The Dukakis-Bentsen presidential campaign brings to mind an old Texas-Mexican saying about politicians: Never trust a Mexican who smokes a cigar or gringo who speaks Spanish.
Latino supporters of Michael Dukakis invariably stress his fluency in Spanish, implying that makes him mindful of Latino interests. Lloyd Bentsen’s Spanish, they say, is so good that English could be his second language. My cigar-chomping friends, however, never explain why the Texas senator is so proficient in Spanish: His family comes from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where they made their money buying land and working Mexicans cheap.
In defeating Sen. Ralph Yarborough in 1970, Bentsen said his opponent’s liberal philosophy “breeds disunity, disrespect for the laws, moral degradation and overdependence on Washington’s paternalism.” The Texas Observer said Bentsen owed his victory to his “anti-nigger, anti-Mexican, anti-youth” sentiments.
After Bentsen’s successful re-election in 1976, Jim Hightower, now Texas’ agriculture commissioner, wrote that “Lloyd Bentsen was raised rich, and it shows. He has the sort of self-assured, slightly arrogant bearing that characterizes wealthy corporate executives who are certain of their place in the scheme of things.” Indeed, throughout his career, Bentsen has cultivated the rich. In 1981, he was one of 10 senators praised by President Reagan for supporting his tax-cut bill, which heavily favored the well-to-do.
By choosing Bentsen as his running mate, Dukakis signaled that he would concentrate on Bentsen’s America at the expense of the minorities and the poor. After all, the Dukakis campaign reasoned, those people weren’t going to vote for George Bush, anyway.
Equally regrettable, when Dukakis decided to play the Spanish-speaking gringo rather than seriously address Latino issues, he made it more difficult for those issues to be part of a serious national debate.
Fundamental to the Latino political agenda is economic democracy. That is their only hope for empowerment – especially after the Reagan Revolution, which abruptly short-circuited many of the Latino gains of the 1960s.
At the beginning of the Reagan-Bush years, the top 1 percent of America owned 19 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, they hold 34 percent. Put another way, 8 percent of America’s families own outright 26 percent of all private assets and control 70 percent of the rest. Needless to say, Latinos are not well represented in those circles.
For 90 percent of Latinos, the Reagan-Bush team also slammed the door on their hopes of owning a home. The median income of Latino workers in the farm, unskilled-labor and services sectors, where 70 percent of all Latinos toil, is $9,000 annually. In the last eight years, the Latino poverty rate has increased from 20 percent to 28 percent.
(Interestingly, both Dukakis and Bentsen have kept their distance from the Latino farm workers and their call for stiffer regulation of pesticide laws. The Democratic presidential nominee never actively supported Caesar Chavez’ fast for life. As for his running mate, he feels comfortable in the company of California’s big farmers.)
Furthermore, Latino wage earners as a group have not kept pace with their white counterparts. In 1971, Latinos earned, on average, 71 percent of a white’s pay check. Two years ago, the proportion was 65 percent. In 1986, the median income of all Latinos was $19,995, a 5 percent decrease in real income since 1978. Meanwhile, the price of homes in Los Angeles during this period rose 400 percent.
What has Dukakis proposed to reverse these trends? Will he use the tax code to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth? Is he committed to modernizing basic industries to create jobs paying decent union wages?
Sad to say, Dukakis hasn’t said much of anything about any of those issues that are so important to Latinos. Even where he has offered some proposals, notably in education, Latinos aren’t likely to benefit from them. For example, his plan to help middle-class kids get a college education is irrelevant to the majority of Latinos desperately in need of a high school education. What would Dukakis do to keep more Latino youngsters in school? Would he restore funds to bilingual education programs? He hasn’t said.
The cigar-smoking Mexicans in Dukakis’ entourage also should remind their candidate that extolling the opportunities in America for immigrants doesn’t constitute an immigration policy. When Americans talk about immigrants today they mean Mexicans, not Greeks. And, if we are to believe the results of a poll taken last moth, they not only don’t like them, they also see them as a drag on our economy.
There must be life after Reagan leaves for Rancho del Cielo. I just wish I knew what kind of life it’s going to be. I surely don’t want to become one of Bush’s “little brown ones.” Yet, I am frustrated that I have no choice but to vote for the lesser of evils, especially when the lesser evil thinks his proficiency in Spanish is a suitable stand-in for a discussion of Latino issues.