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Esther Cepeda: Clinton’s VP selection was set up for disappointment

First Published      Last Updated Jul 30 2016 06:00 pm

CHICAGO • Face it: Hillary Clinton was going to disappoint regardless of who she chose as her running mate.

In picking Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton let down those who were hoping she would make an appeal to Hispanics with a high-visibility leadership position.

Julio Ricardo Varela, political editor of the Futuro Media Group, lamented on Facebook: "All this talk about diversity and this being the year of the Latino vote, and we have all-white Democratic and Republican tickets."

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who ran for president in 2008, told The Dallas Morning News that Clinton should have picked a Hispanic running mate, and chalked up the lost opportunity to political calculus: "Trump has lost the Latino vote. That's what happened."



It was a no-win situation that would have also inspired derision had Clinton picked rumored Latino VP candidates like Housing Secretary Julian Castro, California Rep. Xavier Becerra or Labor Secretary Tom Perez (none of whom is a household name) because simply adding a Hispanic name to the ticket wasn't going to magically inspire voters who distrust her or find her unlikable.

Weirdly, in choosing Kaine she avoided the thorny question raised by some people on whether Castro is really Latino since he doesn't speak Spanish. Now the question is whether it matters that Kaine speaks fluent Spanish.

Sure, Hispanic advocacy group leaders like Pili Tobar of the Latino Victory Fund, Ben Monterroso of Mi Familia Vota and others were quick to note that Kaine spent time in Honduras running a Jesuit school, is one of the few Spanish speakers in the Senate and has proved himself a "true friend" to the Latino community.

But the language thing has become a bit of a controversy.

Sylvia Manzano, a principal at the Latino Decisions polling firm, told NBC Latino that Kaine "provides a unique opportunity to communicate directly with Spanish-language media and their audiences."

Meanwhile, others were grinding their teeth.

Jimmy C. Patino Jr., a University of Minnesota Chicano studies professor, told the Associated Press, "The superficial usage of Spanish by a white politician to appeal to the Latino vote, in addition to the Clinton campaign's decision not to pick a Latino like Julian Castro for vice president, does reveal a long history of the Democratic Party taking the Latino community for granted."

Nelson Flores, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, whipped off an angry blog post in which he pointed out the irony of this linguistic pat on the back during a time when Latin American immigrants get harassed for not speaking English and U.S.-born Hispanics get their ethnicity questioned for not speaking their parents' language:

"I think it is great that Tim Kaine speaks Spanish. Bilingualism is a skill that more Americans should have. That said, I wonder why it is that his bilingualism is being celebrated while the bilingualism of the Latin[o] community continues to be policed and denigrated." The Kaine Spanish celebration is especially annoying, Flores says, because of "the mistaken assumption that most Latin[o] people prefer Spanish to English, which is far from the truth."

Ultimately, all that matters is whether Clinton can turn out the Latino vote, and it's unclear whether Kaine's language skills will have any impact on that. Whether he can be an asset to Clinton's campaign as an ambassador to Hispanics seems shaky given that such a scenario started off on the wrong foot.

In a mini-debacle similar to when Trump supporters were seen holding up placards blaring "Latinos Para Trump," during the Republican National Convention (they were meant to translate into "Latinos for Trump" but technically said something closer to "Latinos for the use of Trump"), the Clinton campaign tweeted out a message quoting Kaine about the values of "our community" in Spanish, with a glaring grammar error in it. Nothing huge, or crazy, but it undermined the whole fluency thing.

Ultimately, Latinos — and others — will care more about what a new president and vice president can do about the economy, jobs, education and national security than about whether their promises are made in multiple languages.

Kaine wasted no time in reinforcing his Hispanic bona fides by promising, in Spanish no less, that a Clinton administration would begin working on comprehensive immigration reform "in the first 100 days."

Well, in 2008 candidate Barack Obama promised Latinos there would be an immigration reform bill during his first year in office, and we saw how that turned out.

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