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Nixon's Hispanic Vision: Meditations On A Miracle

   HOUSTON — A popular affirmation, goes something like this: every moment is a choice between regret and the future; choose the future.

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   HOUSTON — A popular affirmation, goes something like this: every moment is a choice between regret and the future; choose the future.

   Aphorisms like that, especially those posted on the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator, seem to help people overcome all sorts of problems, from low self-esteem to alcoholism. They remind us we have more power over our lives than we assume we do. But we must address the real demons of the past that hitchhike into the present and the future and dump them.   

   This comes to mind with publication of “The Nixons: A Family Portrait,” a memoir by former President Richard Nixon’s brother Edward. Co-authored with Karen Olson, it goes into some of the influences upon that very complex president. With the passage of time — and the Watergate crimes ceasing as the singular event that defined Nixon’s presidency — a kinder, gentler figure emerges.

   Some promotional material even frames the book in terms around the statement by the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy’s regret that he didn’t take up Richard Nixon’s offer to work on a bipartisan national healthcare plan in 1971. If they had worked together, we would not have the present gut-wrenching debate that puts money as the fulcrum between life and death.

   There is plenty more about Richard Nixon to put into perspective. For instance, it is well known that, already in the late 1960s, Republicans understood they were becoming a minority party in national elections and Nixon was the game changer. He devised a “southern strategy” to win parts of the South from Democrats. And he appealed to the “silent majority” by culling out from the Democratic coalition those groups that were intolerant of racial and student unrest and anti-war sympathizers.

   During the 1970 census, the term “Hispanic,” under pressure from some Latino groups, I might add, was applied to identify and define that demographic. Hispanics were a new source for national economic expansion and electoral gains, as we now fully realize. Yet, it’s taken some portions of the Latino community to get over the designation and the endless bickering over which is “right” or preferred, “Hispanic” or “Latino.”

   More important is that the Nixon White House gave unprecedented attention to Hispanic issues — some of it to undercut the influence that Lyndon Johnson had had — and a strategy to shepherd entrepreneurs and middle-class Latinos into Republican ranks. What they did and how they did it is, in part, revealed in the Watergate Commission’s public record.

   What was started back then, of course, was fumbled during George W. Bush’s presidency so that Republican Latinos are at their lowest point in the last 40 years. Yet, the Q&A that Clint Bolick, research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, asked himself in 2007 is patently obvious: “Should Republicans court Hispanic voters? Only if they want to survive.”

   The Nixon White House saw this eventuality already in 1970.

   How the GOP blew the opportunity after four decades of effort is something for Republicans to regret.

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   But now is the present, and tomorrow is the future. Our fortune cookie tells us that despite some valiant efforts in some states such as Arizona, far too much of the Republican leadership is steeped in mythic America. Even their platitudes about economics and ideology ring hollow or banal, more in tune with a revival meeting than a party platform. 

   Many Republicans stand to learn a thing or two from the affirmation about the road back to pragmatism (and not the manipulativeness, racialism and law-skirting behavior) of Richard Nixon.

   People take up affirmations because they judge themselves capable of change. One spiritual leader, Deepak Chopra, has a version of the affirmation that might apply. He presents it something like, “Every decision is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. Choose the miracle.”

   Perhaps it will take a miracle. At least that’s better than what’s going on now.

   [José de la Isla’s latest digital book, sponsored by The Ford Foundation, is available free at www.DayNightLifeDeathHope.com. He writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service and is author of The Rise of Hispanic Political Power (2003). E-mail him at [email protected].]

   © 2009

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