The McCain campaign released a new TV ad last week, one that is stirring up some controversy in the blogosphere. The ad, titled “God’s Children,” is featured in both English and with Spanish subtitles and describes the historic and present-day contributions Latinos have made on the front lines of this nation’s wars.
Using McCain’s remarks at the June 5, 2007 Republican Primary Debate, the piece concludes with McCain saying “So let’s, from time to time, remember that these are God’s children. They must come into our country legally, but they have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them.”
You can watch the English version below:
Access the version with Spanish subtitles here.
Some have called the ad “offensive” and “paternalistic.” In her recent post, Marisa Treviño of Latina Lista called the ad out for its suggestion that most Latinos in the U.S. and in the military are immigrants. She accurately noted how the ad works from the “false assumption that all Latinos are recent immigrants” in making its point that “they” are “God’s children.” She calls for the Hispanic/Latino politicos out there to demand the removal of the ad from the airwaves.
But McCain’s attitude also is paternalistic, and underlying his comments is the archaic, imperialist sense of noblesse oblige — the assumption that even though God chose, sadly, to make “them” (either the lower classes or some variety of colonized people) inferior to “us,” we still have a moral duty to be kind to them and to recognize whatever good qualities they may have. Even the sentence structure of the ad — that the subject (whites) should think nice things about the object (Latinos) — is colonial.
I think both of them provide good analyses of the ad, hopefully in ways that help us all think about these media bites in more nuanced and critical ways. But, I’m not so sure the ad is mistakenly practicing the kind of colonialist thought and rhetorical simplification of which they accuse it.
Upon first watching the ad my first thought was “What a conscious manipulation of white paternalism.” (I know! Academia really messes with your analytical habits.) I didn’t see the ad as misstepping but rather trying to walk the big “white” line of “interlocutor for the oppressed.” John McCain is speaking to Latinos in the ad by, literally, demonstrating how he speaks about us to a broader white public. He is talking down an illogical white hysteria with respect to immigration, celebrating Latino patriotism and service, and using the notion of God to create a sense of humanism. This is made even more powerfully clear by the venue of his remarks–a gathering of Republicans from a year ago–and the careful cuts to the audience (of serious whites) left in the ad.
I certainly agree that McCain is working from the assumption that Latinos=immigrants, negating the historic presence of Latinos in this nation before, well, it was a nation. As the Pew Hispanic Center shows us in their compilation report from earlier this year (see Table 3), about 60% of the Latino population in the U.S. is “native born,” that is, born here. When I saw this mistaken belief used as the foundational assumption of the ad, however, I interpreted it as seizing the dominant rhetoric in order to focus on the most oppressed and powerless among us (Latinos), which suggests his “authentic” posture.
McCain speaks generally about people with “Hispanic backgrounds” as participating in patriotic service to the maintenance of this “blessed nation.” He begins by noting that service by the most severe and dramatic of its indications–one’s life given in combat. In playing up the martial tradition of Latinos, McCain ‘s ad massages those impulses within the Latino community, impulses that have deep roots. It not only comes off as respectful of “values” and history within the Latino populace, but it also (because of the setting and context of the commercial) translates into him publicly recognizing Latinos as “Americans.”
The conclusion uses the language of Christian conservativism to elucidate a kind of humanism, again, directed at whites but relating to Latinos. Latinos become both “people” and religious at the same time.
I am not a political fan of John McCain, and I am not swayed at all by his most recent commercial. I do, however, see it as a potentially effective ad. It won’t win votes from many of “us” (Latino leftists) but it can speak widely to the broad base of the so-called “Latino electorate.” In its conscious attempt to win Latino votes by showing how John McCain can competently work as an intermediary between the anti-Latino America and the one of Latino aspiration, it is paternalistic, yes, but in a way too many of us might desire in a political leader.