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The Split

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The lead Los Angeles Times editorial today, Hola, Obama,” deals with the black-Latino split that is driving much of the last few laps of the Democratic race for the presidency. In unusually candid terms the editors plead with Latino voters not to overlook Obama’s promises of immigration reform and driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, and then comes up to the elephant in the room:

And some Latinos — like some Anglos — sadly have shown distaste for African American candidates, a reserve exacerbated by tensions between blacks and Latinos in many American cities. That last factor — prejudice — is rarely addressed directly, but it stalks this campaign.

Having suggested in two brief sentences that a significant number of Latino voters won’t vote for Obama because of race, the editors quickly move on to an appeal to put aside prejudice without any discussion of its roots or its depth:

We in Los Angeles occupy the glorious center of Mexican American life. Our polyglot culture — its language and institutions, politics, parades and street life — is being shaped daily by the rub of black and white, Asian and Latino. Our mayor was elected by an inspiring cross-cultural coalition. It is, as we well know, a uniquely American joy to be immersed in the fast currents of cultural change.

Now the nation has the chance to experience a bit of the excitement that we enjoy in Los Angeles. It can set aside its prejudices and predispositions and join in support of a new kind of candidate. Texas, with its large Latino population, goes to the polls on March 4. Latino voters there and across the country should give Obama a chance. His victory could be theirs as well.

If Obama is the Democratic nominee, he will have to bid up the immigration proposals that cratered last year, even above the positions he has already taken.Such a bill will again shortchange the deep national security and “path to citizenship” issues that drove rejection of last spring’s bill. Senator McCain would be well served by spelling out the revised approach to immigration reform that he would urge as president, as the “security first/regularization later” middle way on this issue is the secret to success in the Congress and with voters. Last year’s greatly proposals misjudged where that vast center of American public opinion lies, but Senator Obama is clearly far to the left of that mark, and his pursuit of the Latino voting bloc will take him even further afield while doing nothing to patch up the underlying hostility between the two minority groups.

The prospect of a campaign based in large part on racial identity is deeply dispiriting, but the Times’ editorial points to what we have waiting for the next nine months: All identity politics, all the time. A McCain campaign that talks about what is best for all Americans including those who wish to become Americans in the future could provide a powerful contrast to the appeals based on racial self-interest.


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