LatinaLista — Running for the presidency of the United States can make a person do some weird stuff like changing positions on an issue which at one time was considered the right thing to do and suddenly is considered to be too sympathetic to a constituency under attack.
The latest example of “changing the course of political discourse” is Sen. McCain’s stance on affirmative action. ABC News reports that Sen. McCain has reversed himself on the issue.
Senator John McCain
However, before he gets too comfortable in endorsing a bill that would eliminate race and gender considerations back in his home state of Arizona, he better seriously consider how this impacts not just Hispanics in civilian life, but in the one arena that he never passes up professing a great love for when appearing before a Latino audience — the military.
When Sen. McCain appeared on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, he was asked about the proposed state ballot in Arizona that would end affirmative action.
STEPHANOPOULOS: “Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?”
MCCAIN: “Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of the proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “But the one here in Arizona you support?”
McCAIN: “I support it, yes.”
When reporters questioned McCain’s campaign about the switch in his position, campaign workers were at a loss to explain it. As one said, “I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain’s remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves.”
This sudden reversal is troubling because it’s a clear example that McCain won’t stand up to party conservatives who are dictating the Republican Party’s stand on the issues, and particularly those that impact the Latino electorate.
Major General Freddie Valenzuela
Yet, something that McCain didn’t anticipate when he voiced on national TV his support for such a measure is how it squarely contradicts with what one retired, high-ranking Latino officer has decided to reveal about the military.
On a personal level, McCain’s change in position has to be deeply disappointing to retired Major General Freddie Valenzuela, who in his new book “No Greater Love: The Lives and Times of Hispanic Soldiers,” states that one of the reasons why he wrote his book was “to try to make the playing field more level and to help the army become more sensitive to diversity issues and stave off any backlash based on ill perceptions.”
In his book, Valenzuela dedicates a whole section to “Dealing with Discrimination” in the military. Valenzuela writes, “Hispanics are proportionally the most killed and the most wounded, and in fact, Hispanics have a twenty percent higher chance of dying in combat than non-Hispanics. Yet they are also the least decorated.”
While Valenzuela does write that he feels the army’s promotion and award system is “objectively fair,” it’s clear that he struggles with criticizing a part of his life that he obviously holds in high regard — as McCain.
But the important thing is that Valenzuela, no matter how much he professes his admiration for the service that was a part of his life for 33 years, reiterates on several occasions just how dismally un-diverse the military is when it comes to the upper ranks.
“As I have stated in the book, if the U.S. Army is truly committed to promoting diversity within the institution, it must continue to increase minority representation in the ranks. This requires that senior leadership — starting with the administration and going all the way down through the military hierarchy — openly commit itself to the recruitment, retention, development and support of those servicemen and servicewomen who were previously forgotten.”
Affirmative action was put into place because it forced institutions to see past the negative racial stereotypes and those hiring to put aside their ingrained prejudices and include people of color among their labor force, management and ranks. McCain’s endorsement of the anti-affirmative action bill implies that he feels it’s no longer needed — a decision he reached most obviously by listening only to people who support such a bill.
As President of the nation, we would expect him to make a more informed decision and look at the racial make-up of institutions to see if we really have evolved as a country to the point where affirmative action is no longer necessary.
So far, in every speech before a Latino audience, Sen. McCain includes the same passages regarding military service and Hispanics.
Let me close by expressing my gratitude for the contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to the security of the country I have served all my adult life. I represent Arizona where Spanish was spoken before English was, and where the character and prosperity of our state owes much to the Arizonans of Hispanic descent who live there. And I know this country, which I love more than almost anything, would be poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from Mexico, Central and South America.
When you take the solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it is hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Lopez that so sadly adorn it. When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters, my fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. As a private citizen or as President, I will never, never do anything to dishonor our obligations to them and their families.
If that is true, then Sen. McCain should be listening to his “brother” Major General Freddie Valenzuela and recognize that affirmative action is not a concept whose time has come and gone but one that has reached selective success.