The cost of promising too much and not delivering
We are so used to hearing politicians make a thousand promises and not delivering later that it's now normal to believe they do it because they are used to it, out of meanness or because they know that in the long run few people will remember what they promised. Or they will blame their opponents for blocking their best intentions. Their argument goes like this, more or less: I tried to deliver, but they did not allow me, the circumstances changed or they already forgot.
Candidates are especially adept at promising a lot and not delivering. It's easy to say that things must change, when it's up to the other side to do it. But once in office, those campaign promises begin to disappear, one after another.
I am sure you can remember a bunch of Latin American and U.S. politicians who promised the sun and the moon, and of course did nothing. In Mexico, where I come from, we had a president, José López Portillo, who promised in 1981 to “defend the peso like a dog.” The phrase became famous. But of course he did not defend the national currency. There was a terrible economic crisis and many Mexicans – including me – left the country soon afterward.
I am telling you this a few days before the U.S. elections. They are called “mid-term” but in fact they are won with the votes of the parties' bases and extremes. No one wins elections with the center's votes any more. At play are 435 federal House seats and one-third of the Senate and all kinds of other posts, including several state governorships.
History, which is very forceful, tells us that the party of the president usually loses votes and power in the mid-term elections. The last polls I saw – in the trusted www.fivethirtyeight.com – indicate the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate as well.
If that happens, forget about an immigration reform to legalize the more than 10 million undocumented migrants in the United States. Republicans are not ready to move unless border security is guaranteed. And that is impossible. The border between Mexico and the United States is porous because of history and nature. It will never be impenetrable. Neither walls, deserts, a grand river or thousands of border patrol agents can stop someone looking for a better future on the other side. And you have the Cuban and Venezuelan refugees to prove it.
The one who made a big promise on immigration to us Hispanics was the Democrat Barack Obama. When he was still a candidate in 2008, he promised in an interview with me that “we will have, in the first year (of his presidency) an immigration proposal that I can strongly support.” In the first year, I asked him again. “In the first year,” he answered. But he did not meet his promise, even though the Democratic party had a super-majority for approving any laws in both chambers of Congress from January to August of 2009.
In 2016, candidate Hillary Clinton promised she would send Congress a bill to legalize undocumented migrants in her first 100 days in the White House. But Donald Trump beat her. Then Joe Biden promised to send Congress an immigration reform bill on his first day as president. And he did, on January 20, 2021. The problem was that Biden never had the votes needed to pass his bill. And it went nowhere.
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Three promises. Three disappointments.
Hispanics well remember the immigration promises of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. And how they were used to bring in Hispanic votes. They also know the promises were never fulfilled, for different reasons. There's enormous frustration and weariness among many members of our community because of those unmet promises. Since 1986, when Republican Ronald Reagan approved the last immigration reform, we have been hearing the same things. And we don't want any more empty promises.
“I want to say that Hispanics have understood that the Democrats have been playing with them for 30 years, and that's the truth,” Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar told me. And since Obama's promise in 2008, “everything has been false promises.” The Cuban-American Salazar has her own immigration reform proposal, Plan Dignity.
Democrats “always use this issue, in every election, to win the Latin vote,” said Republican Rep. Mayra Flores who recently won a Texas district dominated by Democrats for more than 100 years and is seeking reelection. “They have a majority (in the House) and in the Senate, and they have the president. And still, they have been unable to do anything,” she told me in an interview.
Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat, does not agree with the Republican representatives. The Senate is split in half, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. And the reality is that the 60 votes needed to start a debate on immigration reform are not there today. Democrats need “the cooperation of enough Republicans in the Senate and we have not done that,” the California senator told me. “Republicans who tell me they agree in private” don't say it in public, he added.
And that's where we stand.
Nothing is happening.
I understand that issues more important than immigration are at stake in the Nov. 8 elections. The economy, inflation and jobs with good salaries show up at the top of nearly all polls.
There's also enormous concern over the future of democracy in the United States and access to safe abortions. But the immigration issue is very present among Hispanics, something very close to their hearts. We are all immigrants, or know someone who is. And since Democrats have promised so much for such a long time, on an issue so important and significant, and have not fulfilled their promises, the patience of Hispanics is running out and they want urgent results. It's possible that many will vote for the other party.
More and more Hispanics are switching to the Republican party when it comes to presidential votes. Donald Trump went from 28 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016 to 38 percent in 2020, according to a New York Times analysis. That pushes Republicans closer to the goal set by former President George W. Bush and adviser Karl Rove – to split the Hispanic vote in half.
We will soon know, in the coming elections, whether the Hispanic vote's shift toward the Republican party remains or is uniquely a Trump phenomenon. But what is already clear is that to promise a lot and not deliver is not the best way to win votes. Everyone eventually gets tired. He who promises much gives little.