SAN DIEGO -- In the November elections, and the 2012 contests to follow, Latinos are faced with a lose-lose situation.
As a group that political analysts now label swing voters, they could support a party that doesn't care about them, uses them to score cheap political points and refuses to tackle immigration reform because it is opposed by parts of its base. Or they could vote Republican -- and things might get worse.
Elements in the GOP that made gains courting Latino voters in the 1990s -- especially in local and state elections -- with appealing messages of lower taxes, less government and greater personal responsibility lose ground when the unappealing nativist fringe and its Latino-phobic spasms crash the party. The GOP's Latino outreach effort has two things working in its favor: time and distance. The further removed Latinos are from their immigrant past, the less likely they are to take offense when Republicans go on the warpath railing against not just immigrants but everything from Spanish billboards to quesadillas.
So now Republicans in Arizona have done something really dumb. And there are those in a dozen other states who want to follow Arizonans over the cliff and do the same dumb thing: Instead of isolating illegal immigrants and making them the problem, they've cast the net so wide that they've entangled anyone with dark skin or a Spanish accent. By reminding Latinos that they're perpetually on probation and that their loyalty is in question, they've alienated the very group of assimilated and middle-class Latinos most receptive to voting Republican.
Well, I'm afraid, no more of that. From this point on, getting Latinos to even think about supporting the GOP will be a tough sell. There is a stigma attached. Why dig your own grave? Besides, with moderate Republicans becoming an endangered species, there wouldn't be anyone there to welcome them anyway.
And yet, what's the point of continuing to vote for Democrats like Barack Obama who think that words speak louder than actions and good intentions count for everything? The first 18 months of the Obama administration taught Latinos that they're on their own. Worse, when they dare to complain about being strung along and taken for granted, they don't get a humble apology. They get what they always get from liberals: a condescending lecture on how they don't understand the real world of politics.
According to The Washington Post, Obama recently invited a small group of pro-immigrant activists to the White House and reassured them once more that he is committed to reform. But, he said, it would sure help if they stopped criticizing him publicly for dragging his feet. If they want to complain about someone, he said, they should take aim at Republicans.
This is high-grade cynicism. Instead of delivering for a loyal Democratic constituency that helped elect him, Obama dodges responsibility for his own failures and then tries to throw his critics off the scent by pointing them toward what he insists is the real obstacle to reform: the party that lost the White House two years ago and no longer controls Congress.
I must have missed something. Isn't one of the goals of fixing the immigration system to give illegal immigrants the freedom to come out of the shadows and more fully participate in society? How obscene that a president who claims to be fighting for such a thing would try to deny his critics the freedom to speak their minds and challenge him.
The Post article went on to say that the White House sees an opportunity to use the immigration debate to portray the GOP as hostile to Latinos in the hopes of scaring up votes in 2012.
Let me get this straight. Obama won't lift a finger to work toward immigration reform. But, if it helps gin up support from Latinos, he's quick to point his finger at Republicans for not working toward immigration reform.
I've got to hand it to the president. He's unbelievable. What he lacks in accomplishments on immigration reform, he makes up for in nerve. His message to Latino voters is a mile short of inspiring: "I realize I'm no great shakes, and that I've broken my promise to fix a dysfunctional immigration system. But hey, the other guys are worse. So please stop picking on me."
If Latinos fall for that line, they deserve what they get from this administration -- which is, very little.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.