Old insults resurface - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Old insults resurface

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Posted: Thursday, March 4, 2010 10:00 am | Updated: 3:50 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Boy, here's a time warp that goes back to bellbottom pants and the intense public feelings of the '70s.

The Hispanic Leadership Fund, a conservative-leaning non-profit group, criticized TV host Donny Deutsch for calling Florida's Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio a "coconut" on "The Joy Behar Show." The anachronistic shibboleth was popular in the late '60s and '70s to mean roughly "brown on the outside, white on the inside."

It was a complement to "Oreo," black on the outside, white on the inside. There were, of course, similar terms applied to targeted members of most major ethnic groups.

Mean-spirited characterizations like "coconut" back then were meant to "out" individuals who were not "authentic" enough or sufficiently orthodox in their points of view when students and other activists were trying their rhetorical power on for size. It was intended to impeach somebody's credibility, like saying Sarah Palin's political ideas come from a trailer-park think tank.

Today, as back then, name-calling is a convenient way to stop the other side by stigmatizing it. We have already seen how that worked on health care.

When the conservative brand is applied to name-calling it often causes a political current to travel like electricity to the nerve endings of Latino independents. "Conservative" is a designer label intended to mean a kind of political purity. It is a demarcation about who's in and who's out.

This is grating because Latinos, as constituents and candidates, have a long civic history of breaking open the closed doors of party politics among liberals and conservatives and Republicans and Democrats when the barrier is ideological. Historically, Latino groups have perceived politics as an extension of civic life for community improvement.

It has a well-documented history going back to the 1920s, so it's not exactly new, but it is worthy for political newcomers to know about. Even with Google so readily available, few partisans take the time to understand it. They are often too busy telling others what to believe and recruiting true believers, even if that approach to politics can be ruinous.

Take for instance the Republican gubernatorial contest developing in Nevada, Brian Sandoval, former attorney general and federal judge, is leading incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons for the GOP nomination. Sandoval, according to a Feb. 22-24 Mason-Dixon poll, would defeat Democrat Rory Reid, a Clark County commissioner and son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a general election match-up.

While 51 percent of those polled view Gibbons unfavorably and only 17 percent see him positively, Gibbons gained on Sandoval, according to Erik Herzik of the University of Nevada by courting "the most conservative wing of the party." He "could be an ax murderer," said Herzik, so long as he doesn't raise taxes.

Although there are other ways to increase revenues, the no-tax mantra can be used recklessly by conservative groups. That's what brought down President George H.W. Bush in 1992. It has also stymied the fiscal-policy evolution of the Republican Party.

An ideological-purity test to be Republican entails the "right" answer to a checklist that presumably defines conservative and excludes many Latinos who have had a bellyful of unkept Democratic promises. Yet Republicans are making the party unattractive to large numbers of Latinos. It also definitively undoes the coalitions formed by Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the two Bushes.

On the other hand, if the Republican Party is to be redeemed, its future is in the hands of candidates like Sandoval in Nevada and others who look to Republicans as a party and not a club. As such, there's no room for pit bull name-calling and disguised aspersions.

After having it called to his attention, Donny Deutsch tweeted, "I said 'coconut' meaning simple, goofy, bananas. Wasn't even aware it could be a racially charged word."

Oh brother! Why did he have to refer to that fruit that's yellow on the outside and white on the inside?

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him joseisla3@yahoo.com.

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