My interview with Obama was during Hispanic Heritage Month of 2011, almost a decade ago, in the White House. It’s hard to believe how much the U.S. changed. And myself. With Trump the world turned upside down. I worked for the Huffington Post as Senior Editor and moved back to La Opinión and served as Editor in Chief for seven years. This January I «retired» at 68, but not really. I work not less than before and write much more.
In his most important appearance for Latino media in 2011, the President may have unveiled the new version of himself: “El Obama 3.0”, a far cry from the predecessor: border-enforcer, consensus-seeker ‘Obama USA 2.0’.
The new version is as follows: President Obama asserted this week that he supports immigration reform “for those persons who are here, we have to make sure that we provide a pathway to earning a legal status in this country…” even if “they may have to pay a fine, learn English, take other steps.”
He considers it “to be a top priority” for undocumented immigrants to “get out of the shadows.” He is strongly in favor of the DREAM Act, “which would allow young people who have grown up here as Americans and did not break laws themselves but rather were brought here by their parents, they should be studying, serving our military, contributing to our society, starting businesses.”
The President gave a strong signal that “we are open to a new relationship with Cuba if the Cuban government starts taking the proper steps to open up its own country” and “following through on releasing political prisoners”. That prompted a quick and negative reaction by no other than Fidel Castro.
Finally, he expressed his certainty that “within my lifetime we will have a Latino candidate for President who is very competitive and may win”.
His statements came Wednesday, when the President, who is running for reelection in November, 2012, answered questions fielded from this reporter, for HuffPost LatinoVoices and AOL Latino, together with representatives of other Hispanic online media.
For Professor Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, there was a dire need for the change in focus that led to Obama 3:0: Obama, he asserts, lost most of the coalition that elevated him to victory and that included the Latino vote.
He “was naive about how hard would be to keep his base”, says Regalado. Even if we are living in special circumstances of high recession and a “confrontational political landscape” where “the litmus test for right wing republicans is to say no to everything this Administration does.”
The question is: Will these positions that made Obama popular with Latinos during the 2007-2008 campaign be enough to regain their trust?
“He believed it will a lot easier to keep the Latino vote,” says Regalado. “Now, many Hispanic voters are skeptical, even bitter.”
These people “don’t have the fervor they had in 2008.”
To be sure, the President expressed on Wednesday some novel interpretations. To explain why deportation numbers under his Administration are as large in 3 years as Bush’s in 8 years (in excess of one million), he answered:
“The statistics are actually a little deceptive because what we’ve been doing is with the stronger border enforcement we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours, sent back — that’s counted as a deportation.”
Regardless of this claim’s accuracy it shows the President’s willingness to create some distance from ‘Obama USA 2.0’, the one of concessions to the right, to border enforcers, tea partyists and deportationists.
Instead, his credo is based on the ‘Obama 1.0’, that of the first campaign, the one which energized and received the support of 67% of Latino voters, as part of a DreamTeam coalition where Prof. Regalado indicates were also “the youth, African Americans, organized labor, many women, environmentalist, and Jews.”
It is a coalition that until this new charm offensive began seemed doomed, buried.
To recoup Hispanics and revive the coalition, Obama has to climb a steep mountain.
“Latinos are asking themselves, how do I know there’s change when my circumstances and my community stayed the same or became worse? They feel a difference between the rhetoric and their reality,” in spite of the extraordinarily difficulties the President is facing, says Regalado.
At Wednesday’s roundtable, and even as his demeanor was quiet and concerned, Obama pulled all the strings that endeared him in the past with a community fascinated with the man who — as they always remember — promised immigration reform in his first year of office.
Is this ‘El Obama 3.0’ a key to victory next November?
According to Prof. Regalado, “Obama needs the Latino vote to survive reelection. We expect a razor thin margin of victory, so if he holds the 67% of Latinos, and that percentage is not diluted by the numbers of those that won’t go to the polls, chances are he will be reelected.”
He tries hard. When an AOL user from New York City wondered about the slow progress of the DREAM Act, he grew frustrated:
“I think there’s been a great disservice done to the cause of getting the DREAM Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things. It’s just not true.”
I don’t know if the President was exasperated because of what he considers people’s misunderstanding or because of the stiff opposition in Congress. But he is right about this: a considerable number of those who submitted their questions online actually expect the President to solve their problems.
And so they asked why he didn’t pass immigration reform, or the DREAM Act, or expedited the federal investigation of Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, or repealed the Defense of Marriage Act, or increased payments of Social Security.
Maybe it is because they perceived him, truly, as one of us. As if he were the first Latino President.