In last night’s presidential debate Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and incumbent President Barack Obama was quite different than the first one. CNN’s Candy Crowley was an engaged moderator. President Obama stepped up his game, and the town hall format allowed the candidates to answer questions that regular people like you and me need to have answered to make an informed decision on November 6. But there was a failure to communicate to Latinos, and here are some reasons why:
1: Acting like only College Graduates Need Jobs
Romney told soon to be college graduate Jeremy Epstein that having unemployment at the college graduate level was “unacceptable.” Obama added the need for community colleges to train people for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs, but what both candidates failed to address is how do we even get our kids to stay in schools. Latinos have the highest high school dropout rates in the country. Unemployment rates are highest among those with some college or no college education, and while overall unemployment is dropping, it remains unacceptably high in the Latino community. When do we begin to address the structural inequities that limit the ability of people to support their families? Or are jobs only for college graduates?
2: Acting like Only the Middle Class Pay Taxes
When Mary Follano asked Governor Romney about cutting tax rates and eliminating deductions, the answers from both candidates became about the attack on the middle class. Romney said that middle income earners would get a tax break but would be limited on the number of credits and deductions claimed. While Obama challenged Romney on his math not making sense, no one mentioned the poor and working class. The poorest fifth of households paid an average of 4.0 percent of their incomes in federal taxes. The next-to-the bottom fifth paid an average of 10.6 percent of their incomes in federal taxes. Are those rates going to be cut? What about the payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, state and local taxes that the working poor pay? We’ll never know because the poor and working class barely exist for the candidates.
3: Not Dealing with the intersection of Racial and Gender Pay Inequity.
Many debate watchers were pleased when Katherine Fenton asked about females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Obama displayed his Lilly Ledbetter Act credibility, and Romney had “binders full of women.” But neither candidate acknowledged that the income disparities are worse for Latinas. On average, Latinas earn $.60 cents for every dollar a man makes, and their median weekly earnings lag behind those of their white, African American, and Asian counterparts. We can’t talk about gendered income inequality without talking about how that intersects with racism for women of color.
4: Immigration Double Speak
This debate touched on the immigration issue more than we have seen so far in the any of the debates. While Romney certainly is not going to win the Latino vote by explaining away self-deportation, Obama can’t expect to win either when he talks up smart enforcement that deports “gang bangers” when his own numbers show that under his largest effort, Secure Communities, many non-criminals are being deported. E-Verify, the flawed employment verification program touted by Romney last night, continues to be expanded under the Obama administration. Obama even misspoke about his administrative actions, saying that he is offering a pathway to citizenship to the undocumented brought to the U.S. as children. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) does not do that.
5: Not enough of us
If the debate audience was representative of undecided voters in the New York area, there should have been more people of color and especially more Latinos. The economy, foreign policy, immigration, education, and health care are all Latino issues, but unless we hear those issues as seen from our perspective, we will get pigeonholed as one issue voters. The biggest failure happened before either candidate even opened their mouths. It happened with us not being at the table.