The "Dos Caras" Controversy: Slinging Mud in Spanish

Latino outreach roared onto the front page of the mainstream media yesterday, after a new Spanish- language TV ad by Sen. Barack Obama accused John McCain of having “dos caras” or “two faces” when it comes to relations with Latinos.

“They want us to forget the insults we’ve put up with, the intolerance,” an announcer says as a picture and quotes from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh flash on screen saying, “stupid and unqualified Mexicans,” and, “shut your mouth or get out.”

“John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces. One tells lies just to get our vote and another, even worse, continues the failed policies of George Bush that put special interests ahead of working families,” the ad continues.

The ad had both the McCain campaign and Rush Limbaugh crying foul.

“Obama is now stoking racism in the country,” Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail to Politico‘s Jonathan Martin. “Obama is a disgrace – he wants the public to think he is Mr. Nice Guy while his thugs are in Alaska looking for dirt on Palin and he runs race-baiting ads and lies about what he has done and what McCain has done.”

ABC News’ Jake Tapper declared the ad “erróneo” or mistaken in the quotes attributed to Limbaugh, saying they were taken out of context. Tapper said that the first quote was used by Limbaugh not to claim that all Mexicans were, “stupid and unqualified,” but that Americans shouldn’t be upset that jobs which didn’t require skilled labor were offshored to Mexico.

Tapper wrote:

Railing against NAFTA in 1993, Limbaugh said, “If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine ’cause those are the kinds of jobs NAFTA is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I’m serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”

Not one of his most eloquent moments, to be sure, but his larger point was that NAFTA would mean that unskilled stupid Mexicans would be doing the jobs of unskilled stupid Americans.

The other quote attributed to Limbaugh comes from his writing his own facetious immigration proposal, in which he claimed that U.S. should adopt Mexican immigration laws which bar anyone but citizens from protesting. [Here’s a transcript of Limbaugh’s reaction yesterday, when he revisited the “Limbaugh Laws.”]

The fact checks may do little to comfort Latinos, which raises another point. While the Republican brand has been tarnished nationwide, the party’s name may be most blackened among this group. The Obama ad hits on a central fear among Latinos that has allowed a Democratic candidate with little history among this community to hold a substantial lead over McCain since July.

McCain has tried to cut into that lead with his own set of advertisements, which came before the “Dos Caras” ad and called Obama “dishonest” and blamed him and fellow Democrats for the failure of the immigration reform bill. Both the Obama campaign and pro-immigration groups have denounced the ad.

And while Obama does have a lead among Latinos, in key areas across the country the Latino vote is still up for grabs as we have discussed on this blog. On Monday, McCain spoke to a predominantly Hispanic audience in Orlando and vowed to make immigration reform one of his, “first priorities,” if elected. Central Florida has a growing Latino community known for its political independence.

McCain also repeated the claims from his ad before Monday’s audience that Obama voted for amendments that “would have killed” the immigration bill.

The Miami Herald pointed out that McCain avoided the topic of immigration reform earlier in the day when he appeared in Jacksonville, reliably Republican turf. But a rush by Democrats to claim “dos caras” may be unfair. Since the primaries ended neither candidate has seemed interested in discussing immigration reform.

McCain continues to pull ahead in Florida, but Obama will follow in his footsteps tomorrow and Saturday when he campaigns in Jacksonville and Coral Gables.

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