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Juan González: Critical Role in Obama’s Re-Election Heralds New Era of Decisive Latino Vote in U.S.

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As Latino voters turn out in record numbers to help President Obama win re-election, we speak to Democracy Now! co-host Juan González about the Latino vote and the nation’s changing demographics. Obama had foreseen the importance of a strong Latino turnout to his candidacy, telling the Des Moines Register two weeks before the election: “I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.” Obama was right. Latino voters turned out in record numbers, accounting for 10 percent of the electorate, and exit polls show Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote. Mitt Romney won just 27 percent, less than any presidential candidate in 16 years. González is an award-winning columnist of the New York Daily News and author of several books, including “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America,” which was recently turned into a full-length documentary. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two weeks before the election, President Obama privately revealed one of the essential factors to his re-election: the Latino vote. In a conversation with editors at the Des Moines Register, Obama said, quote, “I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

Obama was right. Latino voters turned out in record numbers on Tuesday, and exit polls show Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote. Mitt Romney won just 27 percent, less than any presidential candidate—any Republican presidential candidate in 16 years. In 2004, George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote. And for the first time, Latinos made up more than 10 percent of the nation’s electorate. Obama also won huge margins of African-American and Asian-American voters.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Democrats the “party of diversity” and vowed to bring up an immigration reform bill next year. Reid said if Republicans continue to oppose immigration reform, it’s at their peril. Meanwhile, on the state level, Maryland voters on Tuesday affirmed the DREAM Act, allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition.

To talk more about the Latino vote, we’re joined by Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan González. He’s author of a number of books, including Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. The groundbreaking book was recently turned into a full-length documentary by the same title, Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America. Juan is at home recuperating from back surgery. He has a herniated disc. He joins us by Democracy Now! video stream from his home in Washington Heights.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Juan. It’s good to have you with us.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thanks, Amy. One correction, I had a herniated disk. I’m hoping now it’s repaired as a result of the surgery. But I hope to be back at work possibly by next week. It looks pretty good for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re wishing you the very best. Meanwhile, even from your bed, you have been watching the elections and, of course, participated with us on our election night special. Juan, talk about the significance of the Latino vote in the 2012 elections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think, as you mentioned, President Obama and his campaign strategists, from the very beginning, were intent on repeating or bringing back the grand coalition that he created in 2008. And many people were expecting that there would be less enthusiasm or less ability of his campaign to do that, and that turned out to be false.

And, in fact, there’s no doubt now that the demographic changes in the nation are really going to force all—anyone involved in political organizing in the future to transform the way they look at who their supporters are, because the reality is that there were—the number of Latinos who voted, it’s not known right now, but it looks most likely that it’s going to be a two million increase over the 9.7 million that voted in 2004, which itself was a two million increase over—I’m sorry, in 2008, which itself was a two million increase over 2004. So, just in two elections, the Latino electorate for presidential elections has gone up from about 6 percent to 10 percent. And that is going to continue to increase because, you know, the census figures show that about 500,000 Latinos will turn 18 in the United States every year for the next 20 years, and so that that share of the electorate will continue to grow.

And I think President Obama was able to, especially in the last year or two, because obviously there was much anger in the Latino community over the record deportations that had occurred under his administration, but in the last year or two he really began to make—adopt policies, especially with the temporary status for the DREAMers, that really galvanized, I think, and mobilized the young people, the young Latinos across the country, to engage much more so in this—in this election. So I think the growth of the Latino population is not only astounding in terms of voting, but will continue to be a reality in political life.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan—Juan, I wanted to go—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But the other aspect of it is that—

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to go back to June, when President Obama issued that order lifting the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These are young people who study in our schools. They play in our neighborhoods. They’re friends with our kids. They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one—on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants, and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license or a college scholarship. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life. Now, let’s be clear. This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s contrast that with Mitt Romney’s comments about self-deportation. During the Republican primary debate in January, he was asked, if he would not deport immigrants, how would he send them home?

MITT ROMNEY: The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide that they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here, because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so, we’re not going to round people up. The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here illegally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan González, your response about the significance of this and these two approaches when it came to this election?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Key moniker that was attached to Romney in the Latino community, much as the 47 percent remark was the one in the general population that stuck with him and outraged folks. This idea that people would elect to self-deport themselves was so absurd and was so clear that Romney would not—kept hedging at any opportunity he was given, even during the general election, to say that he would move toward a more humane immigration policy in the country.

So I think that that was a critical—because it’s not just a question of the undocumented, but every Latino in America who is a U.S. citizen or who has become naturalized knows or has someone in their family or someone who’s close to them who is facing the threat of possible deportation because they are undocumented in this country. So this is really an issue that doesn’t just affect those who are immigrants, but affects the entire Latino—more than 50 million Latinos in the United States today.

So I think that that really was the key issue that—for instance, that the Latino support for Obama increased. It was 67 percent in 2008. It went up to 71 percent in 2012. So I think that that is the critical thing to understand, that this new coalition that Obama has put together—and remember, he received 76 percent support among Asian Americans. The Republican Party, which in 1968 began adopting its infamous Southern strategy, wooing away white Democrats in the South and white workers in the North who were troubled or had difficulty accepting racial integration in the schools and in the colleges, and that Southern strategy, that has been their—their way of operating for the past 50 years, has ended. It’s over. And one exit poll, for instance, showed that among Latinos this week, 57 percent self-identified themselves as [Democrats], 20 percent self-identified themselves as independents, and only 14 percent identified themselves as Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, the reality is that the Republican Party is—there are more independent Latinos now than there are in the Republican Party, and that is the sector of the population of the country that is growing the fastest and will for the longest period of time over this—most of this century, it appears to be, at least demographically.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to—I want to play a comment. Mario—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I think that’s the key thing to understand, but at the same time, this now requires that—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —the Obama administration and the Republican Party deal with immigration reform. And I think you’re going to see a lot less resistance to some kind of immigration reform from the Republican Party, as those Republicans, like the Bush brothers and—who had always understood the necessity for the Republican Party to survive by making inroads into the Latino community—you’re going to see now that wing of the Republican Party reassert itself in attempt to fashion some kind of an immigration reform proposal. Now it’s a question of how—whether the president can keep together his—the rest of the Democratic Party to fashion something sometime this—in the coming year.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to play for you a comment by Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, former member of the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Advisory Board. Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke interviewed Lopezgoplatino at the national—at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.

MIKE BURKE: A few moments ago, we interviewed the mayor of Los Angeles, and he criticized Mitt Romney and his stance on immigration, and specifically about his call for a self-deportation of undocumented immigrants. Your take on that?

MARIO LOPEZ: Well, I think that the—we know that, from the polling data, that immigration is important. And I think that Mitt Romney is showing that he has a tremendous amount of respect for Hispanic voters all across the country. There’s a record number of participation of Hispanic elected officials here at the convention. Never before has either party had one senator, another incoming senator, three governors and a large number of representatives at both the federal and state levels participating in the convention, so I think that that’s really something to look forward to. And in addition, we also know that the most important topic on everyone’s mind is the economy. I mean, it’s—you know, Hispanic unemployment is up 2 to 3 points higher than that for the general population. That’s unacceptable. Hispanics have been particularly hard hit by all the Obama attacks on small businesses, for example. And so, we’re here to make sure that people understand that, that they get a balanced view of things, and that we’re sure that people will vote accordingly in the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund. Juan González, your response?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, well, I think that that—well, one thing we’re going to have this time around is in the Congress—again, as a result of the Latino vote, you’re going have many more Hispanic representatives, both Republican as well as Democrat, because we now have three Latino senators in the—U.S. senators in the country, with the victory of Ortiz, a Republican tea partier in Texas; and of course Marco Rubio, the Republican in Florida; and Menendez, Bob Menendez, the Democrat in New Jersey. Interestingly, all three are Cuban Americans, but—and all three are very conservative on foreign policy. But on the—some domestic policies, especially immigration, they’re going to find that Ortiz and Rubio will, most likely, lead some of the charge among the Republican ranks in the Senate to adopt some kind of a comprehensive immigration reform. So I think the time really has come for the country to deal with comprehensive reform.

And as I’ve said many times over the last year or two, immigration reform is going to change the politics of the nation, just by the nature of who eventually becomes—is able to regularize their status and be able to vote. It was Ronald Reagan who, in 1986, signed into law the last comprehensive immigration reform, the Simpson-Rodino bill, which allowed about three million people to regularize their status, most of them Hispanic. And within five years, those people were able to vote, and affected much of what happened during the Clinton era in terms of what was happening in Democratic resurgence, so that I think that this time around you’re talking 11 to 12 million people, and if immigration reform is accomplished next year, then you can assume that within five, six, seven years, many of those people will then be able to enter the political arena as citizens and as voters, and that’s going to have amazing ramifications for politics at the local level and the national level in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I wanted to play for you—I don’t know if you were watching Fox on election night, but this is what Bill O’Reilly had to say about the outcome of the election.

BRET BAIER: So what’s your sense of the evening? I mean, you look at these exit polls. You look at the, you know—

BILL O’REILLY: My sense of the evening is if Mitt Romney loses in Ohio, the president is re-elected.

MEGYN KELLY: How do you think we got to that point? I mean, President Obama’s approval rating was so low. And obviously this is hypothetical: we don’t know who’s—who’s even winning right now, never mind who won. But how do you think it got this tight?

BILL O’REILLY: Because it’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it—and whereby 20 years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that this economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things. And which candidate between the two is going to give them things?

AMY GOODMAN: Fox’s Bill O’Reilly on election night. “They want stuff.” Very much reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, as if all of those corporate leaders and folks who bankrolled the Romney campaign didn’t want stuff, like the ability to repatriate all of the income abroad that they can’t bring back to the United States without paying federal income taxes, which is the great secret of the wealthy in America, that that’s the thing that they want the most, that all the money that they have in offshore accounts, but they can’t bring back to the United States because they’d have to pay taxes on it, and they’re hoping for an amnesty from a new administration to be able to repatriate those billions and trillions of dollars. They don’t want stuff. They just want changes in policy. It’s just strange how the language that’s used to explain the interests and needs of different sectors of the society.

AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like the spokesperson for empire as he watches its demise, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, yes, and I—and speaking of empire, I’d like to talk also a little bit about what’s happened in Puerto Rico, which I think got very little attention.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, Juan, if you wouldn’t mind, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion—


AMY GOODMAN: —about the vote in Puerto Rico. We’re talking to Democracy Now! co-host Juan González. He is home recuperating from back surgery. And when we come back, the non-binding referendum that took place on election night. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. And after we speak with Juan González, we’ll be joined by John Nichols in Wisconsin to talk about the next four years.

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