With both the Democratic and Republican political conventions now over, most polls indicate that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are locked in a statistical tie, which means that the upcoming presidential debates will be crucial to this election’s outcome. Unfortunately, these forums, all three of which will feature non-Hispanic white moderators, will not reflect the diverse makeup of our nation.
I don’t quite understand why the Commission on Presidential Debates did not select a Hispanic journalist to moderate one of the October debates. This oversight is unforgivable. By leaving out Hispanics, they are leaving out one the fastest growing segments of the American electorate.
I am not casting aspersions on the moderators who were chosen. I truly admire those extraordinary journalists _ PBS’s Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer of CBS, Candy Crowley of CNN and ABC’s Martha Raddatz (the latter is moderating the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the GOP contender). But while I am sure they will all do an excellent job, this group does not reflect the electorate’s diversity.
The debates commission seems to be stuck in the 1950s, not part of modern America, where one out of every three citizens is a member of an ethnic minority. Come Election Day, 22 million Hispanic Americans will be eligible to vote. With the presidential race stuck in a dead heat, it could very well be Hispanics who determine who will occupy the White House for the next four years. Yet we were shut out of the debates as though we were invisible.
Earlier this year, in an effort to remedy this misstep, the Univision network _ where I have worked for the past 28 years _ petitioned the commission to hold an additional presidential debate that would focus on issues important to Hispanics. After the commission declined, we came up with our own solution.
We invited Obama and Romney to participate in meetings geared toward the Hispanic audience. The candidates’ representatives quickly accepted, though Obama and Romney will not appear together. No matter _ what is important is that they will both have the opportunity to clarify their stances on issues that matter to our community.
Details about the time and place of these meetings are still being determined, but we have selected some of the questions _ questions that should be asked in the debates, but some of which will perhaps not come up. The first is what, specifically, they plan to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
But while immigration is an issue that connects our community emotionally, it is not the only topic that is important to Hispanic voters. Some areas where we need to see change: the unemployment rate among Hispanics is 10.2 percent, well above the national average, which is 8.2 percent; about one in three Hispanic students drops out of high school, a tragedy when so many people in our community live in poverty; many Hispanics do not have adequate access to health system. These are just some of the topics that we want to address in our forums.
We also want the candidates to spell out the details of their foreign policy plans concerning Latin America, where many of us originated, and where many still have relatives. We want to know the candidates’ views on the dictatorship in Cuba, what they think about Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and whether they will implement new or different policies regarding the drugs and firearms that cross the border with Mexico. These are issues that probably will not be discussed in depth during the scheduled debates.
If our community has learned anything about politics, it is that we must not wait four years to address concerns that affect us now. The debate commission’s lack of vision represents a great failure. We are not invisible. On the contrary, we are an influential, growing political force.
And if we’re not invited to the party, we will hold our own.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
(September 11, 2012)