Blame Pancho Villa

This presidential campaign has been marked by a series of fake missteps and contrived outrage. You know the drill. Candidate X says something reflective, candid, maybe even interesting, and Candidate Y’s campaign takes the statement blatantly out of context and creates a faux scandal that feeds the news cycle. 

Hence we end up with the caricaturized charges that President Obama doesn’t believe any business owner ever built anything, and that Mitt Romney loves nothing more than firing people.

This week’s problem for Romney is that the infamous leaked video, reported by Mother Jones doesn’t fit this pattern. His disdainful dismissal of 47 percent of the electorate at the Boca Raton fundraiser last May, when he called nearly half the electorate parasitic dependents of the state, is clearly stated; arriving at that interpretation requires no dishonest editing or spinning.

As if that weren’t bad enough, many people have taken umbrage at another portion of Romney’s remarks that same evening. In talking about his family’s background, Romney said, “had [my father] been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico,” Romney quipped. “He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.”

Some Democratic Latino groups are trying to spin this as offensive somehow, but the comments strike Delve as nothing more than a good-natured acknowledgment of the importance of the Latino vote (a constituency he’s struggling with) and the peculiar nature of his family’s story. Romney’s dad was born in a highly Americanized enclave in northern Mexico, a community founded by Mormons fleeing the U.S. crackdown on polygamy in the 19th Century. While the community – known as Colonias Juárez and Dublán, in Chihuahua state – remains a flourishing place to this day (home still to dozens of Romneys, but not to polygamy), in 1912 many of the families did abandon their homes and ranches in an armed caravan known as “The Exodus” and fled back to the United States on short notice, to escape Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army. Among those seeking refuge back north of the Rio Grande was Mitt Romney’s dad, then a 5-year-old boy.

Romney’s joke about not being able to reap benefits from being a Latino despite his Mexican roots may not be offensive, but it is part of a longer-running ambivalence on the part of the candidate to publicly embrace his family’s past.  Romney, or maybe it is his team of advisers, seem to go back and forth on whether to celebrate his Mexican ties. He selectively brags about his dad being born in Mexico (say during the Florida primary, but not in Iowa). 

The subject reinforces Romney’s complicated relationship with his own biography. To talk about his Mexican roots is to raise eyebrows about the former governor’s strident immigration policies, and to draw more attention to his Mormonism. And so, a trip to visit his cousins in Mexico was never part of Romney’s campaign itinerary, even though it could have offered plenty of upside.

Interestingly, on the night in Tampa last month when Romney accepted the Republican nomination, a new concerted effort was unveiled to depict the Romneys as refugees, exiles forced to flee Mexico from the Mexican Revolution. This was a consistent narrative thread in Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech, the biographical video introducing Romney, and the candidate’s own acceptance speech. As Senator Rubio said of Romney: “And it’s the story of a man who was born into an uncertain future in a foreign country. His family came to America to escape revolution.”

Romney followed up in his own speech: “My dad had been born in Mexico and his family had to leave during the Mexican revolution. I grew up with stories of his family being fed by the U.S. Government as war refugees.”

This may be a bit awkward to point out, but that means at least back then the Romneys were part of the now-derided 47 percent, those entitled victims who need a government hand to get back on track. Blame it on Villa…

Pancho Villa image courtesy Library of Congress

Romney's Voucher Plan Could Hit Obstacles on Both Sides

On the Ed Money Watch blog, Jennifer Cohen Kabaker dives into Mitt Romney's education platform ("A Chance for Every Child") and lays out what it would take for the former governor to implement his proposal to create voucher systems for the two largest federal K-12 programs. In short, it won't be easy.

Romney's platform suggests giving federal vouchers to students to replace grants to states to distribute funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which targets low-income populations. Instead of letting state and local officials distribute these funds, the proposal would allow eligible students to take a certain amount of funding to the public or private school or district of their choice.

Kabaker acknowledges the innovation behind Romney's idea and its appeal to parents who want more control over the education of their children. But such a voucher system is not so simple. State and local officials currently distribute the funds where needed, not per-student. Switching to a system that allows the funds to follow individual students would require quite a bit of restructuring.

Additionally, she notes, to distribute the funds to individual students takes control out of the hands of local officials. And local control of schools is a long-held Republican conviction.

Kabaker concludes: "If candidate Romney becomes President Romney, we predict a long and tough road ahead for his education proposals, likely with resistance from both sides of the aisle."

Image via Shutterstock

Suppressing Votes or Standing Against Fraud?

Another week, another story about efforts to combat voter fraud. The organization True the Vote, which is working to squelch the activity of purportedly duplicitous voters, is the subject of a lengthy New York Times article today.
But the work of True the Vote is part of a much largerstory. And it’s one you can hear tomorrow at a New America event.
This summer, a group of student journalists launched an investigation into voter ID laws in America. They wondered: Are the laws upholding the right to vote by combating voter fraud– or are they corroding it by preventing thousands of Americans from casting a ballot? The results of the ten-week investigation are in. RSVP for the event here.


How Do We Create More Jobs? Support Latino Entrepreneurs

In an election dominated by a single issue – jobs -  politicians are overlooking one constituency that’s already jumpstarting the economy and driving down unemployment: Latino entrepreneurs. According to a new Council on Foreign Relations paper written by New America Emerson Fellow Alexandra Starr, Mexicans start more new businesses each year in the U.S. than any other immigrant group. But policies to nurture them – and cultivate the startups of other Latino entrepreneurs – are either underdeveloped or nonexistent. Delve caught up with Starr to talk about how this issue has played out on the campaign trail, and what policymakers should do to harness the economic power of these innovative immigrants. Excerpts from our conversation are below. 

Delve: Why did you write the report?  
Alexandra Starr: [At the Council on Foreign Relations], the feeling was that there had been a lot of attention placed on Indian entrepreneurs and on Taiwanese entrepreneurs - particularly in the high-tech sector in the United States - but that Latino entrepreneurship was often painted as the gardener who works in your neighborhood, or maybe the woman who runs a nursery co-op. We knew…that it was much broader than that. Entrepreneurs from Latin America are making waves in everything from technology to distribution, and often times creating linkages with their home countries that wouldn’t have been possible without someone with a bicultural background. Our feeling was that [this] was something that had been overlooked in the broader narrative about immigrant entrepreneurship.  
D: Immigration more broadly has received quite a bit of attention during this election season, mostly because of President Obama’s Deferred Action Program. That policy allows some young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a temporary reprieve from deportation. Will that impact entrepreneurship? 
AS: Obama’s deferred action proposal is huge. And what’s amazing about it is how expansive it is -- 1.78 million young adults and teenagers are potentially going to be able to avail themselves of this -- and the vast majority of them are of Caribbean and Latino descent, so we’re talking about the Latino population. What I’ve seen is now because there’s a potential for return on investment, a lot of kids are trying to find ways to obtain GEDs, to get some kind of vocational training if they’ve dropped out of high school. It’s bringing people back onto the mainstream. In that sense I think it’s incredibly positive.
 Whether a lot of these kids will end up being entrepreneurs is an interesting question. I was out in Silicon Valley recently and I was talking to a Peruvian-born entrepreneur who was an executive at Google.  He said one of the things he found most interesting was the second generation of Latino-born American entrepreneurs often times had a parent who was in the gardening business. He said that what they saw [ growing up] was people who figured it out --  bought the truck, hired staff, dealt with multiple orders at once. Latino rates of entrepreneurship lag those of Koreans and Indians, but it could be that with this second generation that could change. 
D: Because they have these parental role models – and a huge part of entrepreneurship is mentorship. 
AS: That’s exactly right. 
D: What policy changes are you hoping this paper will spark?
AS: One of the proposals that I came up with in the process of researching for this report is that foreigners who have the opportunity to participate in incubation programs [like Y Combinator and Tech Stars] should be allowed to stay in the United States -  as long as they meet a minimal capital startup requirement. I just heard enough stories of these super talented people who got into these incredible programs, received phenomenal training, and then went abroad to found their companies and hired people there. It really makes zero sense. 
Another thing is on the municipal level, there are things that cities can do. Part of that is proactively reaching out to their immigrant communities. New York City created a competition for local grassroots non-profits who do organizing in various immigrant communities to come up with proposals for how they would integrate serving the immigrant business community in their programming. A lot of the groups didn’t actually end up winning the competition, [but] ended up sort of opening their eyes to it. Often times when we think of social service organizations, they’re focused on very basic [things] -- helping people obtain healthcare or childcare. 
This [competition] looked at entrepreneurs as a community that also needed to be served. And those groups are particularly well suited to be ambassadors - or a linkage between city planners and immigrant entrepreneurs - because they have credibility within that demographic. We also have a lot of broad-based recommendations – trade policy is huge. [But] what struck me is that even smaller scale changes can make a difference. 
Read the full report here


Who Women Want

In a race this close, the next president will likely be the candidate women want.

It’s not unusual for presidential candidates to pay particular attention to courting female voters, seeing as 10 million more women than men voted in 2008 — but both the Romney and Obama campaigns seem to be making even more of an effort this year.

Enter Ann Romney and First Lady Michelle Obama. The candidates’ wives are playing a key role in helping their husbands woo this voting bloc. For example, both succeeded in giving electric and buzz worthy speeches during the primetime hours of each party’s convention. (Ann Romney even unashamedly shouted, “ I love you, women!”)

Their role is to make their husbands seem more likable and relatable — a full-time job complete with endless campaign stops and media appearances. Liza Mundy,  Bernard L. Schwartz fellow at New America and author of Michelle: A Biography, spoke to The Hill this week about Ann Romney and Michelle Obama's approaches to the campaign.

“I think that Ann Romney’s deployment would closely resemble Michelle Obama’s in 2008,” Mundy told The Hill. “[In 2008] she really became a proxy for the audience in describing how she took this journey from being skeptical of [Obama] to falling in love with him.”

Mundy also said in the interview that Michelle Obama did not used to be as comfortable in front of an audience but has now “perfected her role as America’s sweetheart."

When it comes to media, Ann Romney has mainly stuck to news shows, while Michelle Obama tends to appear on more relaxed shows such as “The View” or “Rachael Ray” to talk about her husband, along with other topics such as gardening and living healthy. Mundy told The Hill that Ann Romney could benefit from appearing on more daytime talk shows.

“There’s no reason for her not to play up her domesticity, the mom role,” she said, adding the role of a candidate's spouse is to say, ‘I love this man; you should love this man.”

To read the full article in The Hill, click here.

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