Obama: Latino problems are nation's problems

The president delivers a strong address to the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus dinner.

Published September 17, 2009 2:23PM (EDT)

Last night here in Washington, President Obama gave the featured speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's annual gala. We'll have to see what, if any, response there is from the xenophobic corners of conservative talk radio and television. But somehow I'm guessing Obama's "todos somos Americanos" theme won't be very well received.

First, some key condensed excerpts:

Our success has long depended on our willingness to see our challenges as ones we have to face together; our willingness to live up to a simple ideal: Todos somos Americanos. We are all Americans. (Applause.)

Because when there's a young Latina stuck in a crumbling school, who starts to actually believe she's worth less because she doesn't have more, that isn't just a problem for that child. That isn't just a problem for the Hispanic community. That's a problem for a nation….We'll provide a complete and competitive education for every student, because our prosperity as a nation requires that we harness the talents of all our people, not just some -- Todos somos Americanos. (Applause.)

When the unemployment rate for Latinos and Latinas is higher than 10 percent, it isn't just a problem for families worried about paying the bills or keeping their home. This is not just a problem for the Hispanic community. It's a problem for a nation….And by giving every American the security and stability of quality, affordable health insurance. Todos somos Americanos. (Applause.)

You know how important it is to pass health insurance reform. You know that Hispanics are more likely to be uninsured and Hispanic small business owners, like all small business owners, are struggling with higher health care costs than large….But the problems in our health care system aren't just a Hispanic American problem, they're an American problem.

….We know that here, in America, we can only prosper as one nation, as one people. We know that here in America we rise or fall together. Todos somos Americanos.

Latino Democrats were initially wary of Obama's candidacy. Several key figures in the Latino Democratic community told me in 2008 that they thought there were way too few Latinos in top positions on his campaign, and that Obama was counting on winning the primary without their support. (Hillary Clinton dominated Obama among Latino prmary voters.)

As Karl Rove knew full well, Latinos are a key constituency in the battle between the parties for dominance. Latinos came back to Obama in the general eletction, and his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court returned that loyalty. As for voters wary that Obama only cares about people of color, last night's speech is going to read a lot differently from how it was received by attendees in the audiences. Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck could be must-see-TV tonight.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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