When it became John McCain's turn to bat in the contest to win the Hispanic vote, the senator from Arizona took a good swing at the "bola." But he got a base hit when he needed a home run.
"We believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential," McCain said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, "from the boy whose descendants (I think he meant ancestors) arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers.
"We are all God's children," he added, "and we are all Americans."
It was a gutsy statement before a crowd that had just drafted an anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic party platform, which includes "official English" and immigration enforcement-only proposals. But given the polls that say Sen. Barack Obama is leading McCain by a 3-1 margin among Latino voters, McCain needed to say much more. With the same bravado with which he was critical of his own party on other issues, McCain needed to tell both Latinos and his fellow Republicans that he is not the right-wing extremist that the GOP platform expects him to be.
McCain needed to argue that his new border-security-first proposal is the middle ground on which both sides finally can agree to fix the nation's broken immigration system. He needed to tell Latinos that Obama's plan (which used to be his own) is not realistic because Congress and the American people will not accept an amnesty plan that could encourage more illegal immigration. And he needed to tell anti-immigrant GOP zealots that once the borders are secured, they need to search through their evangelical teachings and find compassion for the 12 million illegal immigrants — "God's children" — already living here.
He didn't say that because he was obviously afraid of angering the so-called base of the Republican Party, especially those who suffer from xenophobia and those who use it for political gain. On immigration, the "maverick" was very measured.
Still, at least he was not hypocritical, which is the only way to describe the way the Democrats handled the Hispanic vote and the subject of immigration at their convention. Their base would not have been offended if they called for compassion for illegal immigrants, yet they didn't. With such a lead among Latino voters, why bother? Taking the Hispanic vote for granted is their specialty.
In fact, immigration reform was not mentioned in any of the major speeches at the Democratic convention. And vague references to immigrants, by Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, were intentionally mixed signals, hypocritical attempts to stand on both sides of the immigration debate. On immigration, instead of inspiring, Obama and Clinton were insulting.
Clinton said she ran for president "to make America once again a nation of immigrants and of laws." Obama said, "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers."
To shift the Hispanic vote dramatically in his favor, McCain needed to rise above Obama's and Clinton's two-faced rhetoric. That wasn't hard. And he did it! Obviously, reminding Republicans that a young Latina deserves the same opportunity to reach her God-given potential as a young descendant of those who came on the Mayflower was a courageous statement.
But it was not enough! Not when he's representing a party that has mastered the art of immigrant bashing. Maybe McCain has decided that with the appointment of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and with the potential she has for swaying women to vote for the Republican ticket, he doesn't need the Hispanic vote in the swing states that could give him the margin of victory. But that could be his most costly mistake.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.