After nearly half a century, President Obama will end the drought of no sitting U.S. President making an official visit to the island territory of Puerto Rico. The President’s trip will fulfill the campaign promise of then-candidate Obama to return to Puerto Rico as the Chief Executive, just as the 2012 presidential campaign kicks off.
In this light, it’s not entirely surprising that the President will be in Puerto Rico for less than five hours to, among other things, fundraise for his re-election campaign.
Raising money in an election season is nothing new, but today’s presidential visit to Puerto Rico stands out because of the obvious political calculus to win over Hispanic voters. The visit to Puerto Rico comes on the heels of news that Katherine Archuleta will be the political director for Obama 2012, the first Hispanic to hold the position, whose duties include “an emphasis on Hispanic community outreach.”
As the presidential campaign continues to heat up, expect the President and his surrogates to spend considerable time on the stump focusing on immigration reform to win over Hispanic voters, particularly those in important swing states. In fact, as Carrie Brown of Politico describes, the President’s visit to Puerto Rico is a “natural extension of this strategy” to attract support among the eligible Puerto Rican voters in the state of Florida—a critical swing state.
But if the President is hoping to run the same plays from the 2008 campaign playbook to win over Hispanics, he could be in for a rude awakening. Hispanics, like the rest of the country, are struggling to cope in a weak economy with high unemployment and becoming increasingly more skeptical of the President and his policies.
Beyond immigration, Hispanics are struggling with the same economic concerns and economic security as the rest of the country. The President will have to enact bold policies and defy special interests to resist calls for greater government advocacy and increased government spending.
A good starting place to defy conventional orthodoxy would be moving beyond overtures in support of free trade and spending what is left of his political capital to jump-start the stalled negotiations in Congress to approve the pending trade agreements with Panama and Colombia. Increased trade within the hemisphere would be a great way to create economic opportunities and increase U.S. competitive advantage in an increasingly global world.
In short, the President’s trip to Puerto Rico won’t reduce the alarmingly high Hispanic unemployment rate that stands well over 10 percent. The President’s rhetoric must be followed by sustained policies that will look beyond political calculations while resisting calls from his closest advisors to reduce Hispanics into monolithic single-issue voters.
President Obama must embrace the free-market principles that created the economic conditions that attracted immigrants—including Hispanics—in the first place, and resist policies that would increase the size and scope of the federal government and the burden on working families.
A freer and more competitive economy will help all Americans, including Hispanics.
Israel Ortega is the Editor of Heritage Libertad, www.libertad.org, the Spanish language page of The Heritage Foundation.