President Barack Obama’s interview with The Breakfast Club, released the day before Thanksgiving, garnered significant news and reaction due to a simple line about Hispanic evangelicals who vote their conscience. But by narrowly focusing on what Obama said, most (if not all) subsequent analyses miss the broader point about which is why that remark is offensive.
Here’s the Obama quote, within its full context- a broader point on ideological diversity beyond the liberal cloisters of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But...but listen. It’s hard winning in Georgia. Just like it’s hard winning in Iowa. Just like it’s hard winning in a lot of the country. And one thing, I think, that I hope the book also reminds us of…yeah, those of us who live in D.C., or New York, or L.A., you know...sometimes, we do not have a good enough sense of how big this country is and how a lot of folks do not accept at all things that we who are living in urban, metropolitan areas just take for granted.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Oh, I’m from South Carolina. I know.
OBAMA: Yeah, I mean...it’s...you know- you go...there are big chunks of the country- even in our own communities, right? I mean, so...so I deeply believe that people should be treated equally under the law regardless of sexual orientation.
CHARLAMAGNE: I was shocked you talked about that in the book.
OBAMA: But...but we all, you know… I mean, I think that (there are) big chunks of our community where that’s still controversial. People were surprised about a lot of Hispanic folks who voted for Trump. But there are a lot of evangelical Hispanics who...you know… the fact that Trump says racist things about Mexicans or puts detainees...you know... undocumented workers in cages- they think that’s less important than the fact that...you know...he supports their views on gay marriage or abortion.
The widely cited partial quote (starting at “People were surprised…”) comes off as factual and non-controversial, as if Obama were merely stating that there do, in fact, exist Hispanic evangelicals who give greater priority to life issues than they do to immigration. But he didn’t really just make an assertion of fact. Viewed within its full context, Obama’s remark was an expression of contempt similar, in tone and substance, to his infamous “bitter clingers” remark- the exact opposite of an acknowledgment of ideological diversity within the Hispanic community.
Obama’s smears, though, are nothing new to us. And if he feels free to vent about conservative Hispanics who don’t toe the line, it is because there is on the left a permission structure to do so. Listen to Univision anchor Jorge Ramos whine about the same thing to Spain’s El Intermedio a little over two years ago:
JORGE RAMOS: There are people that feel totally identified with this country, that believe the same things that Donald Trump believes. If you vote for someone, you partially resemble that. And also that, among Latinos, there are very conservative values that are commonly held with the Republican Party, President Trump’s party. The, the religious issue, the importance of family, the abortion issue. This explains, in part, why one out of three Hispanics vote for Donald Trump and is so conservative.
The common thread between these statements is, aside from the whiny sense of entitlement to the Hispanic vote and seething contempt for those who don’t toe the line, a default labeling of Hispanics who voted for President Donald Trump as social conservatives. But this reveals a further disconnect with the community that both Obama and Ramos claim to champion.
Trump’s 2020 Spanish-language messaging was narrowly limited to anti-socialism, economic empowerment, and law-and-order. There were no Trump ads about abortion or the Supreme Court. The Trump coalition is diverse and the same is true for Trump supporters within the Hispanic community, from Miami-Dade to the Rio Grande Valley and from Lawrence, MA to Los Angeles.
And therein lies the offensive nature of Obama’s remarks. They are not merely a statement of fact but an expression of sneering contempt for those Hispanics who do not conform to what is expected of them. The expectation being, in this case, that Hispanics be single-issue immigration voters that turn out en masse for whomever flings open the border- La Raza über alles. Economic empowerment, personal liberty, school choice, free exercise of religion- all these other issues must become subordinate to immigration and if you vote your conscience or, as Ramos puts it, “feel totally identified with this country” then you are a race-traitor. That’s precisely the point Obama was trying to make within his broader discussion of what gets taken for granted in big liberal cities.
Obama’s been out of office for four years but his demagoguery game, aided and abetted by a Spanish-language media that looked the other way as he smeared a big chunk of the community they claim to champion, is as strong as ever.