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Hillary Clinton chooses VP with bilingual advantage

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Tim Kaine meets with Bolivian family

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While the biggest question raised by Donald Trump's candidacy seems to be whether he can really ruin the Republican Party in one election, the election remains the Democrats' to win as much as it is the Republicans' to lose. Though Bernie Sanders and his fans may be disappointed he was not picked as the Democrat’s Vice-Presidential candidate, Canadians may be intrigued to see bilingualism become a political advantage in the USA. 

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s VP pick, is one of the few Senators who speaks Spanish fluently, in a race where Hispanic voters are crucial in battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Hispanic voter registration has risen sharply since spring in states like Texas, California and Georgia.

Pew Research reports 55 million Hispanics in the US population. In February, Pew projected  27.3 million Hispanic voters in the 2016 election – more than any other ethnic group, including African-Americans.  Not all those 27 million may vote; almost half (44 per cent) are Millennials, not much interested in voting, unless someone pulls them to the ballot box. While conventional wisdom says that Hispanics don’t vote anyway, a population surge and rising registration indicate more voters, and more interested voters.  For it’s worth, Fortune Magazine says the Hispanic vote elected President Obama.
 
Although Canadians are used to picking up French from packages and street signs, most Americans have resisted learning Spanish, even though Home Depot entrance and exit driveways now sport Entrada and Salida signs. From the convention stage, Tim Kaine said he learned Spanish during the year he took off from Harvard for missionary work in Honduras –  running a technical school founded by Jesuit missionaries, according to his website. 

That night, Kaine wore his Catholic sensibilities on his sleeve, as Hillary Clinton wore her own Methodist diligence on hers. In a nation where right-wingers have laid claim to the term,  “religious freedom,” the Democratic Convention was an ecumenical faithfest for all, including the Muslim faith.  (Plenty of Jews presented too, but Jews don’t proselytize, and they were mostly busy with their opinions about Bernie Sanders.)

The Democrats welcomed preachers of all colours of cloth to the speaker’s stand, but clearly required they be inclusive.  Rev. William Barber called himself a “conservative evangelical preacher,”  because, he joked, he’s conservative enough to preach love instead of hate.  And as he thundered on, calling all the communities together, he endearingly stumbled on the “LGBQ, er, TQ” community. He stumbled over an unfamiliar term, but he meant it. You can see it on the Youtube video. 

“Si, se puede,” (“Yes, it is possible,”) said Tim Kaine repeatedly, fist in front of his chest, in his 30 minutes onstage alone. Besides being only one of 30 Americans who has served as Mayor, Governor and Senator, he is recognizably a Development & Peace kind of Catholic -- of the same ilk as assassinated El Salverdo Archbishop Oscar Romero, primarily concerned with protecting human life, human rights and human dignity, and shunning violence.

Although Honduras has a stable government, many citizens have fled to the States since the 1990s to escape gang violence and drug cartels. Some have come as refugees. Actually, many if not most Hispanics arrive as legal immigrants, with money in hand and a dream. 

The BBC reported on immigrant entrepeneur Rocky De La Fuentes, who became a millionaire by selling cars and real estate. Mr De La Fuentes has contributed generously to Republicans in the past. But these days, he’s been running for President himself, locally, as a Democrat.

Says the BBC:

"If the party were to thrive, Republican National Committee analysts wrote in their 2012 post-mortem, they would have to find a way to make their party more welcoming to minority voters -- particularly Hispanics. Immigration reform should be a priority. Outreach efforts must be improved. Off-putting rhetoric should be adjusted....Instead, they elected Donald Trump."

In fact, Latino pollsters put Mr Trump’s unfavourability rating with Hispanic voters at an astounding 91 per cent in some places, and about 85 per cent in most.  This, in an election where, unless the Republicans win something like two-thirds of the white vote, they need between 30 and 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in order to win.

According to Pew Research, nearly one in three 2016 voters will be a member of a minority group, be it ethnic, religious or sexual. Recognizing the new demographics, the Democrats chose the theme, “Stronger Together” and displayed a cheerful, colourful, big tent approach to speakers and audience – in contrast to the Republicans’ mostly-white crowd and presenters, who emphasized fear and xenophobia.

For 50 years Republicans have relied on Richard Nixon’s  post 1968 Civil Rights Act  “Southern Strategy” by pandering overtly and then post Ronald Reagan,  covertly, to Southern racism. Now  the Democrats see a wide open door to a game-changing Hispanic vote. From this perspective, Tim Kaine seems a strategic choice.  Alone among the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, Mr Kaine is at home in the language and the culture on the other side of that door.

In a few months, we will see whether a diverse Democratic party and a bilingual Virginia Senator can pull enough of the Hispanic vote (>25 million out of a potential 250 million voters) to  overcome the existing racial divide. Meanwhile, the US is joining the rest of the world, becoming a place where it’s an advantage to know at least two languages.

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