SAN DIEGO -- It's like they say: The pioneers take the arrows.
Julián Castro is but the latest example. This week, my friend of nearly two decades -- who most pundits agreed won the first Democratic debate in June but failed to meet the threshold for recent debates -- abruptly ended his nearly yearlong presidential bid, which was always plagued by a poor showing in the polls.
Ah yes, the polls. Castro hit home runs on multiple fronts: giving voice to the downtrodden, marginalized and forgotten; advancing thorny issues like police violence and whether early-voting states should better reflect America's diversity; and prodding fellow Democrats to be braver in taking positions on such issues as decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings.
But Castro struck out in the polls. Before exiting the race, he was polling at 1%.
As part of the media, I blame the media.
The demise of Castro's White House bid isn't just a sad statement about the unwillingness of allegedly progressive white voters in early-voting states to get behind the most progressive candidate in the race. It isn't just an indictment against the Democratic National Committee, which is getting what it seems to have wanted -- the simplicity of a narrow field of choices bereft of the racial or ethnic diversity that could scare off skittish white voters in Rust Belt states.
It's also a poor reflection on the Fourth Estate, and how we manipulate presidential races. Media neglect leads to low poll numbers, which hurts fundraising. Then the media cites a lack of money as an excuse to write you off. It's a vicious circle.
But who gets polled? Is it mostly people in homogenous states like Iowa (85% white) and New Hampshire (90% white)?
When someone actually bothered to ask Latinos who they supported, Castro did well. In April, a national poll of Latino voters by the polling firm Latino Decisions put Castro in fourth place in what was then still a crowded field. Castro trailed only Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and -- the liberal white media's official "Latino" stand-in -- Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke, who we were often reminded speaks better Spanish than the former secretary of housing and urban development. Castro's lack of Spanish fluency, which seemed to interest white reporters more than it did Latino voters, was just one of the arrows that Castro took. It didn't draw blood. News flash: 80% of U.S. Latinos speak English.
What ultimately felled Castro were the arrows of neglect, disregard and indifference. He wasn't attacked by the media, the Democratic Party and white Democrats who live in early voting states. Worse, he was ignored by them.
Why? Because they didn't have the foggiest idea where to put him, or what to do with him, or where he fit in the national tapestry. As Mexican Americans, Castro and I come from a tribe that makes up the majority of Latinos but which remains concentrated in the Southwest -- far away from the media capitals of New York and Washington.
Among the confused were baby boomers, many of whom believe they are the most enlightened people in the world. Too bad their worldview is outdated. They think that because they were part of the March on Washington or rode with the Freedom Riders, they're experts on race and diversity. But they're trapped in a black-and-white paradigm. Talk to them about Latinos, who now outnumber African Americans in the United States, and their heads explode. They just don't have the bandwidth to go through that seminar again.
My favorite politician of all time, Robert F. Kennedy, had it right. On June 6, 1966 -- almost exactly two years before he was assassinated -- he delivered the speech of his life, at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In it, Kennedy quoted Niccolò Machiavelli, the famous Italian philosopher, who wrote in his seminal book, "The Prince": "It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
It's easy to do what I do, sit in the stands and throw darts. My friend climbed into the arena. He led the way in introducing a new order of things, which is always difficult and perilous and uncertain. Yet, he held on to his dignity.
Bravo, Julian -- and gracias. You made history. You made our people proud. And, no matter what anyone says, you made a difference.
CORRECTION: A previous column stated that the last time U.S. troops marched into Mexico was during the U.S.-Mexican War of the mid-1800s. Yet in the early 1900s, Gen. John Pershing led American troops into Mexico in pursuit of revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.
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