Kerry's courting of Latinos is no laughing matter

July 15, 2004|By Linda Chavez

WASHINGTON -- I don't like being called a cockroach. But apparently, Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards think it's funny to compare Hispanic Republicans to roaches -- or so it seems, based on their behavior at a recent fund-raiser in New York City.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards were both yukking it up at Radio City Music Hall last week when a star-studded lineup of comedians and rock stars entertained the crowd with off-color jokes and Bush-bashing, raising $7.5 million in the process.

Neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Edwards said a word when Whoopi Goldberg made nasty sexual allusions to both the president's and vice president's names. In fact, the New York Post's Deborah Orin reports that Mr. Kerry "could be seen laughing uproariously" during the Goldberg riff, full of vulgar language and even worse taste.

You would think they'd be a little more wary of associating themselves with ethnically offensive remarks, however. So when comedian John Leguizamo said he refuses to believe there are any Hispanic Republicans -- "Latins for Republicans, it's like roaches for Raid" -- you might have hoped Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards would feel compelled to say something to distance themselves.

During the primaries, Howard Dean ran into similar difficulties at another star-studded New York fund-raiser where entertainers made heavy use of the "N" word, but Dr. Dean had the good sense to come on stage and say he didn't like the tone of some of the odious humor.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards stayed mum on the dirty jokes this time around.

Can you imagine the outcry if Republicans hosted an event in which performers compared Latinos to cockroaches based on their voting behavior? It is almost inconceivable that the media would not be all over the story, with round-the-clock coverage, demands that heads roll and, ultimately, the candidate taking the blame. The double standard is appalling. When Democrats use four-letter words, make raunchy references to their opponents, even when they insult minority groups, the media give them a pass.

Ironically, the Kerry campaign announced this week that it will be spending $1 million in Spanish-language advertising over the next two weeks to appeal to Hispanic voters. Kerry spokesman Jose Villarreal said that the ad campaign "underscores that Hispanic voters are a key element of John Kerry's campaign strategy, and we expect to vigorously contest and handily win that vote."

The ads will portray Mr. Kerry as "a man of faith, a man of family, a man of honor, a man working for our community," trying to play to the Latino community's traditional Catholic, socially conservative base.

One wonders what Latinos would think if they could hear Ms. Goldberg's lewd attacks on the president or maybe Mr. Leguizamo's cockroach reference. I doubt the Kerry-Edwards campaign will be playing up the candidates' support for partial-birth abortion, or their opposition to parental notification for underage girls seeking abortions, either.

Nor will those Spanish language ads mention the candidates' opposition to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. In fact, the only way Democrats can hope to maintain the loyalty of most Hispanics is by downplaying the party's positions on a host of social issues.

Despite what Democrats and the media seem to believe, Hispanics are not monolithic in their political affinities. If the Democrats don't clean up their act, they may find Hispanics abandoning the party in droves. George W. Bush won almost half of the Mexican-American vote when he ran for re-election as Texas governor, and he's in good position to win about 40 percent of the Latino vote in his presidential re-election bid. If that happens, we'll see who has the last laugh.

Linda Chavez's syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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