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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Becerra should’ve sat this game out

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, is these days being mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination. Ruben Navarrette Jr. believes that he has spent most of his time in Congress scurrying away from Latino immigrants in need.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, is these days being mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination. Ruben Navarrette Jr. believes that he has spent most of his time in Congress scurrying away from Latino immigrants in need. Associated Press file

Democrats have a creepy new parlor game: pushing the concept that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are fake Latinos.

Apparently, somewhere, there is a test. And these overachievers failed it – even though Rubio speaks better Spanish than many of his detractors and, as a child, Cruz was known as “Felito,” which paid homage to his father, Rafael.

Still, the partisans claim, the Republican presidential candidates don’t “identify” as Latino.

What happened to what Democrats told us in 2008 and 2012, about how one of Barack Obama’s chief attributes was that he was “post-racial”? Didn’t it used to be a good thing not to be hung up on race or ethnicity?

Not anymore. In December, The New York Times charged into the arena with a presumptuous article titled: “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz diverge in approach to their Hispanic identity.”

Recently, I was on a public radio show in New York when the host, who is Jewish, asked a question that we never hear from the media: “How Jewish is Bernie Sanders?” Huh? The obvious answer is: “As Jewish as he wants to be. Mind your own business. Next question.”

Cruz and Rubio aren’t so lucky. While Sanders’ identity is treated as a personal matter, theirs is a matter for public debate.

Remember how it was a sign of enlightenment that Obama was seen by many not as a black president but as a president who happened to be black? Why not say that Cruz and Rubio aren’t Latino senators but senators who happen to be Latino?

Not happening. In the media, and other Democratic circles, it’s open season on these Cuban Americans.

The latest shot came from Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, who joined the chorus by accusing Cruz and Rubio of “running from their heritage.”

First, I suppose it’s a good thing that Democrats have gotten smart and started using Latinos to attack other Latinos. We no longer have only white Democrats arguing that Latino Republicans aren’t really Latinos. Those optics were not good.

That’s what happened in 2001, when a brilliant and high-powered lawyer named Miguel Estrada was nominated by George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Concerned that Estrada might wind up on the Supreme Court, white Senate Democrats filibustered the nomination. Some lawmakers even had the gall to insist that Estrada wasn’t representative of Latinos. How would they know?

Second, if the message is that Cruz and Rubio are not authentically Latino, Becerra is not the right messenger.

Elected to Congress in 1992, with undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, Becerra never made a peep when the Clinton administration militarized the U.S.-Mexico border through Operation Gatekeeper. Or when President Clinton signed a bill that made it easier to deport people and harder for them to return legally.

Years later, with President Obama in the White House, Becerra did not side with his colleague Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in protesting Obama’s deportation juggernaut, or join his other colleague, Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, in resigning from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to protest the group’s support for the Senate immigration bill, which would have further militarized the border with more fencing and a doubling of the ranks of the Border Patrol.

Nor did Becerra raise his voice and criticize Obama for locking up women and children refugees from Central America and keeping them in detention where a federal judge had to intervene and demand their release.

Lastly, a couple of years ago, Becerra bungled a faceoff with Erika Andiola, a youth leader in the “Dreamer” movement who now works for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Andiola urged the congressman to pressure Obama to curb deportations. According to Andiola’s account, which she penned for The Huffington Post, Becerra shrugged off the idea and insisted that the undocumented should concentrate on becoming citizens so they could elect more Democrats. The same party that is deporting all these people.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Becerra – who is these days being mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination – has the nerve to claim that “I’m Latino before I’m Democrat.” Given that he has spent most of his time in Congress scurrying away from Latino immigrants in need – when party loyalty demanded it, the congressman has it exactly backward.

Becerra should be careful with this game, since two can play it.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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