Let’s stop being cynics for just a minute, because the cynics will always be there, and the problems that face this country did not go away last night. If we as Americans believe that the re-election of Barack Obama means that we can just go back to what we were doing and wait until 2016, we will sell ourselves short.
I have always considered the finality of presidential elections as the start of a new cycle, like an Opening Day for the country.
Today, I am hopeful again.
My feelings of hope go beyond the fact that President Obama has earned a second term. They go beyond the incredibly classy concession speech Mitt Romney gave in my hometown of Boston. This year, my feelings of hope have all to do with this: Latinos defined this election, and this country’s political culture will never be the same.
Last night, Latino voters basically confirmed what I have been saying since the election cycle began: Don’t underestimate them, and if you want to earn their vote, you better understand them. I was not surprised from the exit polls by Latino Decisions, nor was I surprised that Romney did worse among Latino voters than John McCain did in 2008.
Unlike what other uninformed columnists would like you to believe, Latino voters knew that the president’s first four years were uneven at best and a failure at worst. They knew that unemployment among Latinos was still in double digits. They knew that the president’s immigration record still revealed the uncomfortable truths of record deportations and splitting up of families. They knew that a lot of what the Obama campaign had done in the last few months were classic examples of “Hispandering.”
They knew all that. Yet they also knew that Romney had made the tactical strategic error that basically buried him with Latino voters. Once Romney started talking tougher on immigration during the GOP primary—during a time when many Latino voters were seriously looking for other alternatives to Obama—it created a culture of distrust that basically had Romney in a hole that he could never escape. He could have brought out all the Latino surrogates in the world; the damage was done, and the Romney campaign never even understood how bad a mistake it was. Now that Romney lost, the Republican party must change its course quickly or else the Latino vote will never be theirs.
In the end, Latino voters didn’t just blindly vote for Obama in overwhelming percentages because they were trying to relive the magic of 2008. They voted for him because they actually felt connected with the President, even though some of his policies haven’t benefited Latinos as much as they would have liked. They voted for him because health care does matter, and this is not all about immigration. They voted for him because Romney just never got the memo: he lacked the political courage to tell others in his own party that the world of border fences and national SB 1070 models is not the world that Latinos want for this country.
So that is why I am hopeful. Because this time around, Latino voters chose Obama again, but their vote carried a message: Don’t let us down again.
As for the president? I think he heard the message loud and clear. When he said the following last night in Chicago, I knew that he did: “And whether I have earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future of the life ahead.”
You have our attention again, Mr. President. The time to act is now.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.