Hyping up its launch of Latinos for Obama, which kicks off this week, Obama 2012 will highlight the effort with a series of house parties across the country and a conference call featuring comedian George Lopez. Alongside Lopez will be the campaign’s National Political Director Katherine Archuleta and Adrian Saenz, the National Latino Vote Director.
But will the “funny man” be able to assuage Obama supporters who may not be as enthused for the President as they were four years ago? And is the use of a comedian noted for sexist and tired race humor the message that the Latino outreach arm of the Obama/Biden team wants to publicly project?
While President Obama still enjoys substantial support among Latino voters, in the past three years his presidential approval rating within the community has declined from 81% in May of 2009 to 66% in October of 2011. A poll released in December 2011 shows that only 54% of Latino voters are certain they will vote for Obama in 2012.
Two facts lead to lukewarm support from Latinos for this President: he failed to deliver on his promise of immigration reform in his first term and his Administration is widely known for record setting deportations that have broken up families. In just six months last year, the United States deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S. born children, creating a virtual foster care crisis. Additionally, the proliferation of the Secure Communities program across the country has empowered local law enforcement to act in an immigration policing fashion that has created “deportation hotspots.”
Latino communities have felt the impact of the Secure Communities program, as the burden shifts to community residents who may have to display their identification at checkpoints including citizens and legal resident green card holders. Despite some administrative policy changes that prioritize certain noncitizens for deportation over others, the devastation to the immigrant and by extension the Latino community still lingers.
Can George Lopez make Latinos who were negatively affected by the current administration’s policies laugh and forget? Perhaps, but this reeks of “Hispandering” at its worst and doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence among people who might want to support President Obama.
Lizbeth Mateo, from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and Dream Activist California, told Politic365, “I can see why the Obama campaign would reach out to George Lopez to talk about issues that affect our community. But while this administration has been talking and talking, it has failed to do anything.”
“This administration recognizes the importance of our vote, but not of reducing the record number of deportations, passing the DREAM Act or any other reform,” adds Mateo. “I wish that celebrities like George Lopez and others would recognize that tearing families apart and leaving thousands of children in foster care are not laughing matters. Throwing house parties and starting ‘conversations’ around election time are not enough.”
The use of George Lopez could also reflect the lack of key unifying leaders within the Latino community and the reality that he just might connect with the mass of Latino voters because of his recognition in entertainment.
Stephen Nuño, a professor of political science at Northern Arizona University, explains that “George Lopez is well liked and widely recognized, as is Eva Longoria. President Obama’s immigration policy does present problems, but Latinos like Lopez and Longoria are sure to follow the Democrat’s messaging, blaming Republican intransigence on the issue.”
“It’s not only convenient to take advantage of current partisan loyalties, but it’s also largely true.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of surrogate George Lopez ends up being for the Obama campaign in this election cycle. Without the platform of his late night show, there will be fewer opportunities for him to say something offensive that could be replayed and repeated over and over again. But there’s also the issue that the Obama administration’s policies have not always been beneficial to the community, and sending out a “funny man” to talk on its behalf could backfire with people who don’t admire Lopez’s brand of humor.