Ocasio-Cortez gets judged by an unfair standard

It seems nearly everyone wants to give Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a scolding. But what we should really do is give her a break.

Much of the criticism is driven by fear. The worlds of media and politics are largely controlled by old white men, and a 29-year-old Puerto Rican congresswoman from New York doesn’t check any of those boxes.

Some of it is fueled by jealousy. I can’t think of another freshman member of Congress who was sought out for an interview by CBS’ “60 Minutes” or who gets mobbed by tourists asking for selfies.

Whatever drives the backlash, it’s obvious and undeniable that the political novice is being singled out for criticism and held to an unfair standard. Put simply, she’s being picked on. Her most unforgivable sin? Standing up for herself, and hitting back whenever she gets punched — by the right or the left.

In this divided country, conservatives and liberals finally have something they agree on: Ocasio-Cortez needs an education. Not just on the ways of Washington, but on the ways of the world.

The newly minted representative has barely unpacked her bags, or moved into her office. And already, they expect her to know the answer to every question the media hurls at her. Many of those questions are ridiculous, and some are even unfair. She is expected to have it all buttoned down, while many of her colleagues will maintain low profiles and keep their mouths shut for at least the first year they’re in office.

Thank goodness, that’s not Ocasio-Cortez’s style. After 30 years of writing about politics, I’m burned out on politicians who talk for a living and still don’t say a darned thing. The bartender-turned-lawmaker doesn’t hold back. She spouts off.

And she takes heat for it. One minute, Fox News’ Sean Hannity is blasting the lawmaker’s “radical” ideas. The next, Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” is bristling at Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of establishment Democrats for compromising too much and is telling her to “sit still for a minute and learn the job.”

Rest assured, folks. Ocasio-Cortez is getting an education all right. Just not the kind her critics intended.

For instance, if there is one thing people of color eventually learn in life, it’s this: White people are held to different standards.

And while this will come as old news to many Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans, the standards for white people are often lower than they are for others. And white males often have the easiest ride of all.

The first time I learned this lesson, I was a college freshman staring at a roomful of my fellow Harvard Latinos and seeing a familiar pattern — light skin, high GPAs and a limited ability to speak Spanish. The university apparently didn’t want to take chances, so it skimmed the cream and played it safe.

The lesson is reinforced whenever I apply for a job, don’t get it, then watch it get filled by a white male whose resume is paltry compared with mine. Or when I see white males on cable TV “fail up” — getting raises and promotions, even with lagging ratings — when the people of color whom I know in media don’t have that experience.

Now Ocasio-Cortez has learned a similar lesson. Ever since her Democratic primary victory last June, everyone has gotten on her case. She is criticized for her tweets, her comments, her clothes, her tactics, her tone, her politics, her beliefs, even her dance moves back in college.

Republicans who championed Sarah Palin say Ocasio-Cortez is just not very smart, and those who supported Donald Trump insist she gets her facts wrong. Democrats who voted for Joe Biden criticize the congresswoman for saying the wrong thing, and those who supported Hillary Clinton complain she has difficulty telling the truth.

Welcome to the political version of The Twilight Zone.

Ocasio-Cortez is sharp, so she gets the joke. When Anderson Cooper pressed her on “60 Minutes” about whether she thought it was important to be “factually correct,” she didn’t flinch.

“It’s absolutely important,” she said. “And whenever I make a mistake, I say, ‘OK, this was clumsy,’ and then I restate what my point was. But it’s — it’s not the same thing as — as the president lying about immigrants. It’s not the same thing, at all.”

Good for her. This rock star obviously has no interest in being anyone’s pinata.

As for getting facts straight, perhaps it’s best that we — to borrow a phrase — take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seriously but not literally.

That’s still a thing, right?

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

The universal immigration debate

As many Americans have likely figured out by now, immigration is by far the most divisive issue in the United States.

In fact, in speeches, I often refer to it as the most divisive issue that Americans have had to contend with since slavery.

The immigration debate divides our country — by race, class, geography, ideology, profession, ethnicity, national origin, etc.

It divides neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members. It divides those who can sympathize — or even, if they’ve been there, empathize — with immigrants from those who cannot. It divides those who are a generation or two nearer their immigrant ancestry from those who have totally assimilated and melted into the pot.

The immigration debate certainly divides the political parties. If you watch a video of how Republicans and Democrats talked about immigration in 1980, you’ll see that it’s pretty much the opposite of how the parties talk about it today.

Back then, Republicans supported the free flow of labor and went to bat for the undocumented as hardworking individuals who deserved a shot at a better life; Democrats pushed protectionism, keeping out illegal immigrants and preventing those who were here from being legalized to protect U.S. workers from the horrors of competition.

It divides Americans based on the different realities they see when they turn on the television and view images of thousands of refugees mixed with migrants showing up uninvited at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana.

Some people see those images and think the country is being invaded by predators and takers who want to impose their culture and language on the rest of us; others see desperate human beings who simply want to provide a better and safer environment for their children, and they are willing to sacrifice everything and work their tails off to obtain it.

It divides those who want a genuine, workable, and long-term solution to the immigration problem — that is, if Americans can even decide that there is a problem — and those who prefer simple solutions that fit on bumper stickers with room left over, like “Close the Border” or “Build the Wall” or “Deport All Illegals.”

Finally, it divides those who are brave enough to hear uncomfortable truths about why people migrate from one country to another, and what can be done to better control the process, from those who prefer to hear untruths that are easier to digest.

You see, there isn’t much truth in the immigration debate. Politicians lie about immigrants, and about the opposition. Republicans talk tough and govern soft, while Democrats talk soft and govern tough.

But let’s slip the bonds of provincialism for a moment and think globally. The division wrought by immigration doesn’t stop at the borders of the United States. The debate also divides many countries. The curious part is that, in country after country, the fault lines seem oddly familiar.

Look what’s happening in northern Mexico, where thousands of Central American migrants and refugees have gathered after abandoning their homes and traveling hundreds of miles in search of better lives, safer surroundings, and brighter futures.

You would think that Mexicans — who are constantly on the move to the United States for similar reasons — would, of all people, have empathy and compassion for their displaced neighbors.

Sadly, many Mexicans didn’t react that way. In fact, they reacted horribly. The televised images coming out of Tijuana were jarring — and depressing. Angry mobs protested against the refugee caravan, and what they saw as the Mexican government’s policy of coddling the invaders and encouraging them to stay.

Do you suppose the Tijuana mob wanted to drive out the migrants in order to “Make Mexico Great Again”?

Maybe the Mexican government did want some of the refugees to stick around. Maybe get a job. There are several thousand unfilled manufacturing jobs in Tijuana, with no Mexicans to fill them. Many of the able-bodied work in auto plants that pay higher wages, or head north to the United States with the help of smugglers.

At a recent job fair in Baja, California, house painters, welders, and construction workers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador lined up to fill out applications for jobs that would keep them planted in Mexico for the foreseeable future.

So much for the claim — advanced by some — that the refugees are just coming north looking for welfare and other handouts. Turns out many just want to work.

Meanwhile, in the United States, one of the more insidious proposals, championed by the Trump administration, is to let people into the United States based on education and skills.

So, in other words, let’s run the U.S. immigration system like an Ivy League admissions office? That’s a terrible idea. Imagine the talent that would fall through the cracks.

In deciding who should be allowed entry, in most countries, prejudices come into play. Favoritism is a given. So is fear.

Whether we’re talking about Great Britain, Spain, Israel, Italy, Greece, or Canada, many people worry that immigrants change demographics, lower the standard of living, drain social services, and put a strain on jails, schools, and hospitals.

In fact, when it comes to immigrants, countries all over the world have the same national motto: “There goes the neighborhood.” And which of the world’s neighborhoods is earning a reputation these days for struggling with immigration? The winner is Europe.

That point is not lost on Hillary Clinton.

In her own public career in the United States, Clinton mastered the art of having it both ways on immigration, alternating between hard and soft. One minute, she would pander to white voters in the suburbs by declaring on a New York radio station, in 2005, that she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants.”

The next, she was pandering to Latino voters by criticizing the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families and pledging to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Now, in a recent interview with the Guardian, Clinton advised Europe to “get a handle on migration” because that is the one issue above all others that helped light the fire of right-wing populism. She called upon the leaders of European countries to send a strong signal that they will no longer “provide refuge and support.”

The former secretary of state did praise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for being “very generous and compassionate” in welcoming Syrian refugees into her country, even though the policy seems to have ended her political career. Yet, she suggested, lenient immigration policies had caused troubling developments, including Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union — and, in the United States, the election of President Donald Trump.

Finally, Clinton warned, “If we don’t deal with the migration issue, it will continue to roil the body politic.”

That’s where she lost me. I’m all for “dealing with” the migration issue. But I don’t see how skirting the topic by keeping out migrants helps you deal with it.

I also don’t understand how the centrists — if that is what Clinton is trying to be this week — expect to battle the populists if they only make them stronger by giving in on immigration. Capitulation on such an important issue only empowers the “Britain First” or “Italy First” or “Greece First” crowd.

In any case, what Clinton said brought back memories for me. I remember the exact moment when I realized that other countries all over the world were dealing with the same pressures due to immigration as the United States — and making the same mistakes.

Nearly 10 years ago, I found myself sitting around a conference table in Lake Como, Italy. A mixture of journalists and policymakers had been invited there by a Washington-based think tank to discuss the migration policies of the United States — but also the half dozen other countries represented at the table.

Our friends from Canada worried that immigrants from the Middle East were segregating in their own neighborhoods and not assimilating as fast as their hosts would like.

An editor from a newspaper in Spain talked to me about the curious reverse colonialization of immigrants from Colombia and Peru finding their way to Madrid and Barcelona.

Israelis used to hire Palestinians to clean their homes, until one of the Intifadas made them fearful and sent them looking for replacements. They found them: Southeast Asians.

The countries and languages were different, but the pattern was the same. People from country X decide they have no interest in doing their own chores, or perhaps they’ve lost the ability to do them effectively. They hire immigrants from country Y, but instantly consider them inferior — in part because they’re willing to do the dirty jobs.

They also resent the newcomers for doing work they wouldn’t do, and doing it better than they could ever do it. They don’t exactly welcome the migrants into their mainstream but force them — directly or indirectly — to gather in what evolve into ethnic neighborhoods. With everyone sticking to themselves, ignorance thrives and stereotypes flourish.

The universality of the immigration debate makes perfect sense when you think about where it draws its fuel.

I’ve written about this discussion for three decades. And — when it comes to what drives it — I have a fairly good idea of how the pie chart breaks down.

I’d dedicate 10 percent each for legitimate concerns over rule of law, public safety, the strain on public services, territorial sovereignty, and changing demographics. The other 50 percent, I would estimate, is an illegitimate mixture of racism, nativism, hatred, condescension, and fear.

The ingredients in that toxic cocktail are part of human nature. And human nature is an international phenomenon.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

A guardian angel on the border

Confronted with heart-wrenching images of children snatched from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, good people will feel as if there is nothing one person can do to make their sliver of the world a kinder and gentler place.

Robert Kennedy understood that feeling. And yet at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in June 1966, the U.S. senator pushed back.

“First is the danger of futility,” Kennedy told his audience. “The belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man.”

One such man is Richard Villasana, a bi-national guardian angel who works to spare children the pain of family separation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents often add to the pain. In El Paso, Texas, on Christmas eve, ICE agents played Scrooge by dumping hundreds of asylum-seekers in the parking lot of a bus station.

Villasana hates the thought of thousands of children being funneled into foster care. And whether those children come to the United States as unaccompanied minors or with parents who wind up incarcerated or deported, foster care is where many of these would-be refugees wind up. When they turn 18, they’re released into the streets — with no family, no home and no hope. The first time they run across a predator, they wind up on the menu.

But not if Villasana can help it. As the founder of a nonprofit organization called Forever Homes for Foster Kids, he spends his days trying to locate relatives of some of these children in the hopes that the kinfolk will take in these kids and get them out of the foster system.

What a great idea. Simple but effective.

But there is a catch. Not just anyone can do this magic trick. We’re talking about tracking down people in Third World countries with scant personal information to go on. Locating someone in the Mexican state of Oaxaca is not like finding someone in Ohio.

Luckily, Villasana has a knack for finding people by putting information together, using just phones and people skills, following a paper trail and analyzing data until the bread crumbs lead to an aunt, cousin, grandma or parent.

“You gotta remember, when I started, I was doing all this pre-Google,” he told me.

Born in Houston and raised as one of nine kids, the Mexican-American Villasana at first had no use for hyphens. “I thought of myself as American growing up,” he said. “I wouldn’t think of being Mexican until many years later.”

It was also years later that he’d learn to speak Spanish. His parents remembered well the bigotry and racism they experienced as children, he said. And they didn’t want their kids to experience the same sort of thing. Now Villasana speaks four languages — Spanish, English and some Italian and French.

He left for Desert Storm with the Naval Reserves in 1989 and later relocated to San Diego. There, he developed an international consulting business that required him to often cross the border into Tijuana. His specialty: helping US companies do business in the Mexican medical field. You have to do and say the right thing to open doors in a foreign country.

Villasana learned a lesson that seems to have eluded the person in the Oval Office: South of the border, you get more with honey than with vitriol. Before long he was known as “The Mexico Guru” and giving seminars about doing business in Mexico. He even wrote a book, “Insider Secrets for Doing Business in Mexico.” I asked him to share one of those secrets.

“Whether you speak Spanish has nothing to do with it,” he said. “The key is knowing how to talk to the Mexican people, including the Mexican government. If you approach them with respect, it puts them at ease. And they want to help you.”

Reuniting children with family is a labor of love, with an emphasis on the “labor” part. The organization operates in the red.

“This is dogged work,” he said. “It’s hard, and it’s depressing. But I keep going because I know that on the other end of this long road is a child who needs help.”

This is a good man — just the kind of person we need when things on the border are so bad.

Email Ruben Navarrette at

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Who wants a free ride?

Why would so many migrants and refugees leave home, risk everything, and put their lives in danger to try to make it to the United States?

My readers — most of whom have never been either migrant or refugee — insist that it’s all for the “benies.”

You see, ever since the Germans immigrated to the colonies in the early 1800s, and the English gave them grief for making the trip, it has been customary to look down on whatever group is coming ashore at the moment.

Now there are a lot of ways to look down on a new arrival, and over the centuries, we’ve heard them all. You could say that they bring disease, that they’re uneducated, or that they’re natural-born criminals.

But one of the most common ways of looking down on someone is to assume that they’re a bunch of takers with no desire to give anything back.

Now you’re speaking the language of many of my readers. That’s where they’re coming from.

Stacie wrote the newcomers want “to get away without paying taxes” even while cashing in on “free healthcare.” And Larry wrote that “benefits are the magnets that keep these people coming.”

What these people are saying is that migrants and refugees come here not for better lives but for a better haul, a stash of welfare, free health care, free public education, and other giveaways these people feel entitled to. America has an entitlement crisis, the critics claim.

They’re half correct. There is an entitlement crisis, all right.

But it has nothing to do with immigrants and refugees wanting free stuff.

It has to do with U.S.-born teenagers and 20-somethings wanting a free ride.

What fuels the crisis isn’t a bunch of foreigners who think Americans owe them a handout. It’s American youth who think the world owes them a living.

I know this story — a little too well. Getting my three kids to do a few chores around the house is like pulling teeth. They don’t do anything on their own; they have to be told. Everything is an argument. No one wants to do more than the next guy, or see that the guy before them is doing less than they are.

Honestly, I can’t relate to any of this. In the 1970s and 1980s, my parents raised my brother, sister and I to do chores every Saturday — as a condition of getting our allowance. During the week, they made sure we helped out, in the kitchen or in the yard, after school. And, when we became teenagers, they made sure we got jobs after school and on weekends so we could work for our spending money. On an individual level, this taught us a work ethic that has served us well throughout our lives.

But, on a larger scale, it also meant that there were fewer jobs left undone, and thus available to be filled by illegal immigrants. Back in Central California, where hard work is a way of life, my high school friends did everything from bussing tables in restaurants to picking grapes to sorting fruit in packing houses.

Somehow, we lost our way. These days, after-school and summer jobs are passé. Young people still need money. They just don’t feel as inclined to work for it as may have been the case with their parents and grandparents.

According to a report earlier this year from Pew Research Center, in 2016, only 35 percent of 16-to-19-year-olds held a summer job. That means about two-thirds spent their summer months engaged in other activities.

Compare this to 1978, when 58 percent of this group held a summer job. That’s quite a drop.

How does something like this happen? One step at a time. It starts, innocently enough, when a parent decides it’s easier to just buy a teenager what he wants than to require him to work for it. It continues when that parent tells his son or daughter that, while they’re in college, they don’t have to work in-between classes because “studying” is their job. It continues when the parent goes along with the excuse from their 20-something that the reason they can’t find a job is because life has stacked the deck against them.

And guess what lies at the end of that road? It’s entitlement. It’s the same thing that so many Americans insist acts as a magnet for immigrants and refugees to come to the United States.

We already knew that people come here from other countries because American employers are hiring, and there are jobs available. But what we don’t think about, because it’s an uncomfortable truth we want to avoid, is why those jobs are available.

It’s because too many Americans are failing at the one job they have that matters most. It’s called parenting.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

This Latino congressman should have asked Santa for a new set of manners

Ever wonder what members of Congress get for Christmas?

I hope that Luis Gutierrez got a new set of manners. Because, based on how he conducted himself at a hearing a few days before the holiday, he doesn’t have any.

The Democratic representative from Chicago played Scrooge during a grilling of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over the administration’s treatment of refugees.

For what it’s worth, as a Mexican-American, I’m usually more in sync with Gutierrez than Nielsen. About a decade ago, I applauded when the congressman got arrested outside the White House protesting President Obama’s deportation juggernaut and then toured immigrant communities devastated by the administration’s enforcement policies. And I’m aghast that Nielsen — who’s had a rocky relationship with President Donald Trump — responded to the recent and tragic deaths of young children in Border Patrol custody by coldly citing the “consequences” of parents taking their kids across the U.S.-Mexico border.

But this isn’t about politics. It’s about politeness. And, as a journalist, it’s my job to call Gutierrez on the carpet for what was really a disgraceful performance.

At best, these kinds of exchanges between political leaders should make you think. This one will make you wince.

Gutierrez began a six-minute screed by saying that Nielsen had come before the House Judiciary Committee to appear “tough and remorseless” just in time for Christmas. He then referenced her shaky tenure at the Homeland Security Department and snarked that she might not have a job in a few weeks.

Then he catapulted into a wider attack on the administration, which he claimed had set a new standard for lying to the American people about immigration.

That was saying something given how deceitful the Obama administration was on the subject. Like when Obama claimed that most of the people being deported were “gangbangers” and other criminals, only to be proven wrong.

Gutierrez wrapped up his verbal assault on Nielsen with a visit to Crazytown, claiming that a Trump-like border wall would have kept the baby Jesus from seeking refuge in Egypt.

About the only thing of value that Gutierrez had to offer was when he called out Nielsen for lying when she claimed, in a tweet, that her department did not have a policy of separating families. Of course, various members of the administration — including Nielsen herself — have defended the same policy she claimed didn’t exist.

By the time Nielsen got to defend herself, she had a lot to defend.

The Homeland Security secretary insisted that calling her a liar amounted to “fighting words” and she reiterated the ludicrous claim that the administration does not have a “policy” of family separation.

Not to get too Clintonesque, but it turns out that the whole argument hinges on the definition of the word “policy.” Nielsen seemed to be saying that, while it may be the practice to separate some families, it is not a full-blown policy. That’s because the practice is not uniformly applied to every single immigrant family that the Homeland Security Department comes into contact with — whether at the border or within the interior.

So are we to believe that the fact that the administration discriminates against families from Central America puts it in the clear?

Within seconds of Nielsen’s hair-splitting, Gutierrez apparently decided that he had heard enough. And that’s when he crossed the line. He scoffed, turned away and walked out of the committee room. That is as rude as it gets.

Nielsen had listened politely as he insulted her time and again, but he couldn’t show her the same courtesy.

We tell our children that they should never behave like this, and that they should respect even those people they disagree with.

But that sermon would really benefit our elected officials, who are often so full of themselves that there is no room for them to take in another point of view.

Besides, Gutierrez has a special responsibility to conduct himself in a dignified manner. As one of the relatively few members of Congress who are Latino, Gutierrez is supposed to represent me and people like me. And by letting his ego get the better of him, he let us all down.

Consider the times. Latinos are treated as inferior, discriminated against and accused of ruining the country we love. For America’s largest minority, these are hard days. We don’t need those who are supposed to have our back to make them any harder.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Keeping officers on the streets

For my father, it all started with a children’s book depicting a cat stuck in a tree.

Once a cop, always a cop. My dad was on the job for 37 years, and — although he’s now retired — he’ll remain a cop until he draws his last breath.

The book in question was from a series that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The main characters were two children named Dick and Jane, and they had two pets: a dog and a cat. One day, the cat climbs up a tree and a friendly neighborhood policeman helps get it down for the kids.

My dad was sold. That’s it, he thought to himself. He decided to be a policeman, so he could help people.

Now I hear, courtesy of National Public Radio, that police departments around the country are having an extremely tough time recruiting new officers. In fact, in many cities in America, tough has become more like “nearly impossible.”

There are many reasons that recruiting cops has become so difficult in so many places.

But let’s get something straight right off the bat: Salary is not one of those reasons. Today, police officers often earn a comfortable living. And when they retire, many of them wind up with a generous pension and lifetime health benefits.

Over the years, current and former law enforcement officials have told me that one factor that hurts recruitment is a dried-up pipeline from the military. From the 1970s to the 1990s, they said, police departments could count on recruiting people who had just been discharged from the military. Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and America found itself on a constant war footing that has continued to this day. Suddenly, the military isn’t so eager to discharge the people it has spent years and millions of dollars training. That leaves police departments out of luck — and looking for warm bodies elsewhere.

Also, the last five years have been brutal for the public image of law enforcement. Ever since the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, and the riots that followed — and the scattered shootings of police officers, seemingly in revenge — an already difficult and thankless job has become more difficult and more thankless.

You can’t blame millennials for not wanting to go within a hundred miles of a gig like that.

Some police departments have stooped to poaching prospects from departments in other parts of the country. Others are tweaking the marketing process to help their chances of appealing to young people who grew up in an area where police are often seen as bullies and provocateurs.

This subject weighs on the mind of Bob Harrison. Having been on the job for more than 30 years, and served chief of police in a number of California cities, Harrison has also studied business strategy at Oxford University and worked as a researcher for the RAND Corporation.

He now spends his time training the law enforcement leaders of the future. As a faculty member and course manager for the CA POST Command College, he runs weeklong programs in the San Diego area that allow those in middle management to gain the additional skills necessary to lead departments.

I asked Harrison why he thought it has become so difficult to lure recruits into law enforcement.

He cites a pair of factors: a decline in what used to be called “community policing” and the failure of many departments to do effective public relations.

“We don’t have a recruitment problem,” he told me. “We have an attraction problem. Most people want to respect and have confidence in the police but the police don’t think about building bridges back to the people.”

For him, the whole concept of policing boils down to simply lending a helping hand when people need it most.

“If I have the worst day of my life, I want to know that someone shows up,” he said.

In the last half century, police officers have gone from guardians to warriors to social workers.

“People say, ‘Well, I’m a cop, not a social worker,’ ” he said. “Sadly, you’re both. Because, at that moment when this person’s life is blowing apart, you’re the only one there.”

Wise words. At our most stressful moments, cops are often not just the first ones there. They’re the only ones coming.

Police departments need to do everything they can to get recruitment flowing again and keep officers on the street.

This starts with something that turns out to be my line of work: telling a good story. In this case, the story that needs to be told is the story of policing.

If the public understands why the police are so important, more people will step forward to fill that role.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Democratic ‘death match’ for 2020 colors the truth

I bet that all Julian Castro wants for Christmas is for former congressman Beto O’Rourke to stay retired.

And I bet O’Rourke — an Irishman who speaks Spanish and does a decent impression of a Latino Democrat — would probably just as soon not run against a real one.

But now that Castro — a rising star who served as San Antonio mayor — has launched an exploratory committee for a presidential run in 2020, and O’Rourke is polling at the top of what will be a crowded field for the Democratic nomination, pundits are quick to put the two Texans on a collision course.

Observers assume that O’Rourke takes votes from Castro, and vice versa. So, Democrats have to choose between “Team Julian” or “Team Beto.”

As a columnist, objectivity is discouraged and bias is required. So let me put my bias on the table right off the bat.

I’ve known Castro for 16 years and I consider him a friend. Of course, as my other friends can tell you, that designation doesn’t spare you from being skewered now and then. I’ve criticized Castro’s decisions, like the one to accept President Barack Obama’s nomination to be U.S. secretary of housing and urban development. HUD is the cabinet’s version of the barrio, where presidents stick Latino superstars until they lose their luster. Castro is humble, authentic, calm, pragmatic and thoughtful in attacking problems. Still, I often find him too cautious, guarded and calculating for my taste — traits that have the effect of taking an intelligent and capable young man and making him appear to be something he is not: uninteresting.

Speaking of trying to be something you’re not, I think O’Rourke is guilty of cultural appropriation. Born Robert Francis O’Rourke, he was tagged “Beto” not by Latinos but by a white male — his father, who told reporters that he thought it would be politically advantageous for his son in a state like Texas, which is now about 39 percent Latino. O’Rourke became “Robert” at Columbia University, and reverted back to “Beto” when he came home to Texas. While his supporters insist that he doesn’t pretend to be Latino, the truth is that he doesn’t discourage those who want to believe he is Latino. And yet, before white audiences, he plays it straight with mainstream messaging. You could say O’Rourke wants to have his flan and eat it, too.But that doesn’t mean I’m on Team Julian.

O’Rourke has skills. He electrifies crowds, speaks plainly and grabs hold of thorny topics with both hands. He also raised $70 million running against Ted Cruz for the Senate seat in Texas this year — and even though he lost, he delivered one of the best showings in decades for a Democrat in a statewide race. Sure, he’s a novice. But look who’s in the White House.

Besides, as a Latino, I’m offended that this somehow wound up as the celebrity death match for Democrats in 2020.

Yes, this is a Latino thing. Ethnicity drives this showdown narrative. This media concoction of Julian vs. Beto is really just a contest to see who gets to avenge Donald Trump’s anti-Latino racism.

Oops. I said the “r-word.” Get over it.

Whether you’re a cable news host or president of the United States, just wanting to secure the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t, all by itself, racist. But wanting to secure it because you think what’s on the other side of that border is inferior to what’s on this side? Well, yeah, that fits the definition pretty well.

Back to the Democrats’ death match. Why is the media so determined to pit Castro against O’Rourke? Why not set up either of them to battle Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or any one of the other nearly two dozen Democrats who are likely to vie for their party’s nomination?

A recent article floated the idea that Biden might consider O’Rourke as a running mate. But Castro and O’Rourke are automatically competitors? Color me suspicious. For some white liberals, O’Rourke might be just Latino enough — which is to say not at all. As a Latino politico recently told me, the failed Senate candidate is like that Mexican restaurant that white people gravitate to because the salsa isn’t too spicy and the chimichangas are acceptable.

That’s fine for some folks. You gotta eat. But I expect Latinos to know the real thing when they see it.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

A Donald for Democrats

All hail, Queen Alexandria!

You don’t have to support a person’s politics, or agree with their worldview, or suppress skepticism about their skills to admit that they represent something important and valuable.

To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield, there’s happening here. And what it is should be quite clear.

I’ve said for a while now that Democrats need to stop criticizing Donald Trump — and go out and get, well, their own Donald Trump.

Democrats need — as much as Republicans do — fewer politicians and more outsiders, fewer campaign promises and more straight talk, less pandering to the base and more reaching out to people who don’t usually vote, and less pampering of the privileged with more consideration for the disconnected and downtrodden.

The point is, we could have seen this coming.

Even so, who could have predicted that, when the Democratic version of the Donald arrived on the doorstep, she would come in such an unconventional package? A 29-year-old Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx whose most recent gig was as a bartender. Someone not born on third base or with a famous last name, but who took the long and hard road to Congress. Someone who still managed to defeat by 15 points Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, who had been in office since she was in grammar school, and who was willing to brave an early round of slings and arrows from the establishment of her own party.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now a member of a select club, one of 435 individuals charged with representing more than 300 million people. And she had to fight hard and break rules and defy expectations to earn her membership. The insurgent built an upstart campaign on grit and nerve, stared down the Democratic Party pooh-bahs and the Washington DC power-brokers, and showed she can take a punch and throw it right back.

Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t even been sworn in yet, and already she has cheered on protesters who occupied the office of soon-to-be-named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And with Trump-like flare, she found time, on Twitter, to bash condescending Republicans who tried to talk down to her.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina criticized her for seeming to compare Central American refugees with “Jewish families fleeing Germany,” Ocasio-Cortez brought up that Graham once insensitively joked that he feared a DNA ancestry test might reveal that he was part Iranian.

No sooner had Donald Trump Jr. taken a poke at her for being a self-described “Democratic socialist” than she shot back a not-so-friendly warning that he should tread lightly given that House Democrats would soon have subpoena power should they decide to launch a truckload of investigations.

In fact, Ocasio-Cortez has sparked a national discussion — started by the news site, — about whether we should amend the Constitution and lower the age at which someone can run for president.

The current age requirement is 35-years-old.

Sure, ”AOC” Mania is getting way out of hand. And yet, there is a reason that she can’t make it past a group of tourists in the Capitol without being hit up for a selfie.

Consider the pluses and minuses.

First, the minuses. There is a lot she doesn’t know — not just about how Congress works, but also about history, economics, world affairs, etc. Still, she hasn’t let the fact that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about stop her from talking — or, for that matter, tweeting. Also, for someone who is about to enter an institution that runs on the creed that one can attract more flies with honey than vinegar, she sometimes acts like she is short on honey and has a surplus of vinegar. Lawmakers are supposed to build bridges; Ocasio-Cortez’s expertise is in blowing them up.

Now the pluses. At a time when so much of our politics is stale and predictable, she’s refreshingly real and human. At a moment when Democrats risk being identified as the boring, business-as-usual party that caters only to the liberal elites on the coasts, and seems perfectly well-suited to be Trump’s punching bag, here comes someone who seems intent on dragging them back to their roots as champions of the working-class. And while Democratic leaders still prefer to hash out their dealmaking and differences in private, she provides transparency — and, like Trump, understands how to use the media for her own ends.

Recently, during the normally secretive orientation process for incoming members of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez blew the whistle on the top 1 percent. She revealed that corporate CEOs were given a chance to influence the future lawmakers while union leaders, grassroots activists and the heads of non-profit organizations were frozen out.

What would the Founding Fathers say? Probably something like: “Finally! Now that’s what we had in mind.”

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Brawl over wall is theater of the absurd

SAN DIEGO — The media is still buzzing about this week’s televised 17-minute confrontation between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders over a possible shutdown if Congress doesn’t approve additional funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yet, people are talking about the wrong thing.

The narrative is that soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stood up to Trump.

But, as absurd as it is, the real story is how the standoff was over something that usually unites the parties: border security.

After leaving the White House, Pelosi was asked by reporters why she kept insisting that the discussion be held behind closed doors and not “in the public view.” She claimed that it was to protect Trump from further embarrassment because he didn’t know what he was talking about. The reporters seemed to buy it.

But the actual reason that Pelosi didn’t want to have that discussion out in the open was probably because she didn’t want to publicly oppose the border wall and set up Democrats for accusations of being soft on illegal immigration. She also didn’t want to expose the fissure between Democrats who oppose the wall and those who would go along with it because they fear a backlash from voters.

Meanwhile, Schumer seemed pleased that he goaded Trump into claiming the mantle of border-protector-in-chief. To political observers, it looked like Schumer scored a tactical win by getting Trump on tape threatening a shutdown.

But, in truth, Schumer’s stunt was a hollow victory. The refugee caravan changed the equation, turning many Americans against a more lenient approach to border enforcement.

Last month, with the caravan story front and center, a Gallup poll found that the number of Americans who think immigration is the top problem facing the United States jumped to 21 percent from 13 percent the previous month.

Schumer told Trump that “experts say you can do border security without a wall.” But, of course, these are the same experts who got us to this point by tolerating illegal immigration.

Besides, Pelosi and Schumer could afford to be smug as they exited the White House. Pelosi is from California, Schumer from New York. Those are blue states. They could vote “no” on a border wall, and not pay a price. That’s not the case with centrist Blue Dog Democrats, who might conclude the safer course of action is to simply vote for Trump’s wall.

Welcome to the politics of immigration, where Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to take a hardline on the border.

The debate is a headache for both parties. Republicans have to make peace between nativists who want fewer immigrants and business, which wants more; Democrats have to referee a tug-of-war between Latinos who are fine with more immigration, and organized labor, which wants less.

No wonder so many politicians avoid tackling immigration for decades at a time.

And no wonder the media clings to familiar narratives. Why not report that, when it comes to erecting barriers on the border, Democrats and Republicans are more aligned than either side wants to admit?

Democrats love imposing structures, and drones in the sky, and extra border patrol agents, and National Guard troops on the border, and what some call “virtual walls” of electronic sensors.

The Democrats’ love affair with border security started in 1994 when President Bill Clinton militarized the U.S.-Mexico border through Operation Gatekeeper. It continued to 1996 when Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which empowered the U.S. attorney general to order barrier construction on the U.S.-Mexico border and authorized the construction of yet another layer of border fencing.

The infatuation continued to 2006 when 26 Democratic senators voted to support the Secure Fence Act, which authorized construction of about 700 miles of double-layered fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border and the use of satellites, drones and checkpoints. Democrats who voted “yes” included Schumer, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

The left says that there is a difference between a fence and a wall. But, actually, when the fence has multiple layers, the difference is negligible.

The Democrats’ fascination for border security continued to 2010 when, as a president, Obama signed the Southwest Border Security Bill, which spent $600 million to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. Among the bill’s loudest proponents were Pelosi and Schumer.

Now liberals are making a big spectacle of opposing Trump’s border wall. They say it won’t work. But maybe they’re afraid it would.

Besides, who are Democrats kidding? They appreciate a good border barricade as much as the next party.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

The GOP’s Golden State blues

In CA, the GOP is DOA.

The Republican Party in the Golden State has dissolved. For the last 20 years, my home state has been blue and then bluer. Statewide officials have almost always been Democrats, including both U.S. senators.

But there were still about a dozen or so members of Congress from California who were Republican, out of a total delegation of 53 lawmakers. That wasn’t much, but it was something. Now imagine cutting that number in half, so that Republicans only occupy about seven or eight of the congressional seats in the state.

And just like that, over a couple of decades, California becomes Massachusetts West.

Paul Ryan doesn’t understand how this happened. This week, during a Washington Post event, the outgoing House speaker brought up what he considers a “bizarre” election system in California that he claims cost Republicans seven congressional seats.

To understand what has happened in California, you need to flip the calendar back a couple of decades.

Remember Pete Wilson? He was the Republican governor who helped wipe out his party by making the GOP brand toxic with a group of Californians that represents 1 in 5 voters and nearly 40 percent of the state’s population.

Those figures are significant, but they don’t tell the whole story. Factor in all the friends, neighbors, and spouses of the people in that group — who might likewise come to resent the Republican Party for picking on their loved ones. And you can see what a terrible calculus it was to antagonize that group of voters.

And for what? The short-term benefit of Wilson winning re-election to what would be his final four-year term.

In 1994, with the state’s economy on the ropes and facing off against Kathleen Brown — heir apparent to one of the great Democratic dynasties in the history of the state — Wilson rolled the dice on the theory that he could scare up enough votes from whites who felt overrun and displaced by Latinos than he could absorb whatever losses he would suffer in terms of the Latino vote.

He even had a vehicle, a statewide ballot initiative called Proposition 187 — which would have denied education, social services, and nonemergency services to illegal immigrants and their children, even those born in the United States. Wilson hitched his re-election campaign to the initiative campaign, until they seemed to be one and the same.

California voters approved the measure, returned Wilson to the governor’s office for a second term, and doomed the long-term future of the Republican Party.

Why? Latinos didn’t forget.

But Republicans can’t say they weren’t warned. They were told this would happen, frame by frame — 24 years ago this month, during that fateful 1994 election.

The warning came from Jack Kemp and William Bennett, two of the most influential Republicans of the late-20th century and co-directors of the Washington-based center-right organization, Empower America.

The two men traveled to California to spread a simple message to Republicans: passing Proposition 187 would place their party on “the wrong side” of the immigration debate.

They were both drawing directly on the spirit of Ronald Reagan, the pro-immigration Republican who crushed Walter Mondale in 1984 by winning 40 percent of the Latino vote.

After Proposition 187 was approved by voters, it was soon struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge, just as opponents has predicted it would be.

Undaunted, the newly re-elected Wilson tried to take the issue national in order to help him run for president in 2000. Neither the national version of Proposition 187 nor Wilson’s presidential campaign got very far.

A couple weeks after the 1994 election, Kemp and Bennett spoke at an event sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. The conservative research group had just issued a new report challenging the claim by nativists that illegal immigrants take jobs and use welfare.

“Just like health care, there is no crisis in legal immigration,” Bennett told the audience. “There are some problems with illegal immigration, but … Wilson is scapegoating, d***it, and he should stop it. Now he is trying to ride this horse to a national level. Come on, Pete, get off it.”

Meanwhile, Kemp looked down the road.

“I believe there is no chance for the Republican Party to be a majority party in this country without being a party of inclusion,” he said. “We have to make the case that immigration is a blessing to America, not a curse.”

True enough. And now, for its sins, it’s the California Republican Party that is cursed. The only question is for how long.

Oh, and how’s this for a small world? You know who got his start in politics working with Bennett and Kemp at Empower America? A sharp, young, pro-immigration conservative named Paul Ryan.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns