Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is among the most-mentioned of potential Democratic vice-presidential picks, heavily touted on the McLaughlin Group and anywhere Robert Novak is permitted to express himself. Richardson's unique selling proposition: He's half-Hispanic. This is supposed to give the Democrats a leg up with the "burgeoning Hispanic vote."
Hmmm. Let's think about this for more than two seconds. Hispanics now constitute about 5 percent of the national electorate. African-Americans, on the other hand, are 10 percent of the electorate. Hispanics are concentrated in states like California, New York, and Florida whose electoral votes are not up for grabs in 2000 (they are safe for either Bush or Gore). But black voters are a factor in the presidential swing states of the Midwest. Congressional Democrats also need a large black turnout if they are to regain the House.
Here is the impolite thought: Will black voters really be inspired to vote Democratic if Gore chooses a Hispanic VP nominee, when the Democrats have never chosen a black VP nominee? Will African-Americans turn out in solidarity with their fellow oppressed people of color? Or will they resent this newer immigrant group jumping the queue, so to speak, to claim the first minority spot on a national ticket?
That's crude, I know. But then the whole idea that Hispanics will vote automatically for Richardson because he's Hispanic is pretty crude to begin with. We're talking crude here, as is often the case when we play identity politics. On this crude level, choosing a Hispanic running mate seems like a pretty good way to trigger not-very-submerged African-American fears that their privileged place as America's most prominent minority is about to be usurped, even as Hispanic immigrants pass them on the economic ladder and in sheer numbers. You don't have to live in Miami (where there were riots in the black part of town after two blacks were shot and killed by a Hispanic policeman) to recognize that relations between these two American minorities are not a simple, PC-friendly matter.
Certainly it's hard to believe that Gore and his advisers are dumb enough to be stampeded by the media's Great Hispanic Awakening hype. Sure, Gore could still pick Richardson on the grounds that the energy secretary's ability outweighs any consideration of ethnic politics--i.e., in spite of, rather than because of, Richardson's unique ethnic selling proposition. But kausfiles suspects Gore will be more calculating (and cruder) than that.