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The United States Presidential Election 2008: Bill Richardson and the New Mestizo- a Case Study in Racial Contradiction

Barack Obama and Bill Richardson both embody the “new mestizo” or contemporary racial mixtures that are taking place in the United States and increasing. Despite his Anglo-American surname, Bill Richardson like Barack Obama continues identifying himself as ethnically “mixed” or mestizo in racial origins.

By Peter J. Garcia

As the grim economic reality sets in as a result of eight years of failed conservative political leadership, the United States is waking up to a very tragic twenty-first century. The need for social, political, and economic change in the United States is long overdue. Obviously the economic situation has worsened since past presidents and Congress negotiated deficit-reduction deals in 1990, 1993, and 1997. The current federal deficit was estimated at $357 billion before the series of recent bank failures and government bailouts.

Regardless of which candidate wins the presidency, the economic situation is unlikely to improve soon especially in the light of failure of several economic institutions like Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie May and Freddie Mac and life insurance giant AIG. The future commander in chief will spend much time, energy, and attention fixing the damage left behind by the Bush administration and regaining global confidence in the beleaguered United States. Noam Chomsky argues in Profit over People , that the assaults on democracy and markets are furthermore related. “Their roots lie in the power of corporate entities that are increasingly interlinked and reliant on powerful states, and largely unaccountable to the public.” Chomsky argues that their immense power has been growing as a result of social policy that is globalizing the structural model of the third world, with sectors of enormous wealth and privilege alongside an increase in “the proportion of those who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings”

Under the current administration United Stages democracy has been subverted through the usurpation of the 2000 presidential election, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the undermining of habeas corpus, torture at Abu Ghraib prison, domestic espionage and the deceit and lying on the part of government officials to the U.S. Congress and Senate. The general population is now disillusioned especially following the rampant political fraud, incompetence, and scandals by conservative leadership and GOP politicians including a serious mortgage crisis, increasing fuel and food costs, fierce political debates over immigration and national security. The Republican leadership is mired in public image disasters and political embarrassments by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abrahamoff, Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, and public sex and pedophile incidents involving Senator Larry Craig and Congressman Mark Foley. Not to mention felony offenses by Representative Tom Delay and the late ENRON founder Kenneth Lay and allegations of perjury and humiliating resignations of presidential appointments Michael D. Brown, Head of FEMA following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General.

The political blunders of President George W. Bush have proven to be disastrous as the United States now lacks credibility as a world power. Viewed by many nations as an imperialist adversary, Osama Bin Laden assumed blame for the 9/11 attacks yet many conspiracy theories have brought into question whether or not it was an insider coup d’état. The U.S. military interventions in the Middle East have made the United States only more vulnerable to further terrorism at the same time increasing domestic violence is occurring in local schools, malls, and cities. The current epic moment is grand in contradiction, violence, and complexity. In Time Passages George Lipsitz describes the present moment in world history as marked by the failure of two grand narratives- the liberal faith in progress, modernization, and the bureaucratic state, and the conservative faith in free trade, de-regulation, and the ‘free market.’

For Lipsitz, neo-conservative politics in all industrialized countries encouraged and subsidized the creation of a world economy under the control of multinational corporations and institutions by dismantling social welfare structures in the metropolis and the externalization of class tensions while fragmenting its potential opponents. The ideology of free market economics appears to have triumphed all around the world, but rather than prosperity and freedom for all, it has produced extravagant wealth for the few and mostly austerity, corruption, and instability for the many. Gender and race have certainly been central throughout the early democratic national election as Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson competed throughout the primary elections. Barack Obama promises to be a uniter and harbinger of “change we can believe in” hoping to help Americans overcome or at least bridge racial barriers. He rightfully charges Republicans with attempting to scare voters by suggesting he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills” or stressing his affirmative-action experience and the racial challenges ahead. Obama’s website highlights his experience as an activist: “As a community organizer, Obama helped 150,000 African-Americans register to vote. As a civil rights lawyer, he litigated employment and housing discrimination and voting rights cases.” Obama has discussed his ancestry and late parent’s marriage and separation and he is aware that there exists a high incidence of disproportionate single parent families affecting communities of color especially Blacks. Obama was chided by older Black leaders including the Reverend Jesse Jackson who took issue with a Father’s Day speech at Apostolic Church that focused on strengthening urban families. The speech was delivered in the first Chicago church Obama attended after repudiating Jeremiah Wright and after resigning Wright’s Trinity Church after incendiary comments made by Father Michael Pfleger.

According to journalist Eric Easter, the fear among critics is that the real audience that day was not the Black people in the pews at all, but the white people in middle America looking for a strong signal that Obama was rejecting the politics of racial division and animosity. However, the Father’s Day speech is only indicative of a broader issue. Rightly or wrongly, some progressives are deeply suspicious of the change in white America that has led to Obama’s lead. Specifically that white people don’t just want political change, they want a change in the racial dynamic. And hearing about black problems doesn’t fit into their idea of this new America that will be created when Obama becomes president ( Obama’s biracial status continues to be overlooked by the media and the mainstream. Raised by his white maternal grandparents, married to an African American women and a longtime member of the “Black” church, Obama identifies himself and is identified by media as an African American despite his mixed racial origins. However, more important are endorsements earned by Obama by Cornell West and other African-American leaders throughout the United States including popular talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. Issues of race among Latinos are equally complex and confusing than those of Blacks. Bill Richardson also endorsed Obama early in the race and the media described this as a betrayal of longtime friends the Clintons. In 2005, there were about 296.4 million people in the United States, including a minority population of 98 million according to recent figures released by the United States Census Bureau. Between July 1, 2004 and July 1, 2005, the Latino population increased by 1.3 million, or 3.3 percent, to 42.7 million people. Over 500,000 people came through immigration while the remaining 800,000 were the result of a natural increase that is calculated by births minus deaths.

Likewise, it is estimated that there are at least 12 million undocumented immigrants that are in the United States illegally. The economic transformation resulting from NAFTA (the North American Free-Trade Agreement) is what intensified the recent labor situation throughout the hemisphere and has contributed most to the demographic changes. Latinos account for nearly half the country’s population growth of 2.8 million people and remains young with a median age of 27.2 years, compared with 36.2 for the population as a whole. Recent census forecasts predict that Latinos will continue increasing demographically.

One important fact overlooked today is births not immigration account for most of the growth in the nation's Hispanic population, suggesting a reversal of trends of the past 30 years. The Hispanic baby boom is transforming the demographics of small-town America in a dramatic way. Some rural counties where the population had been shrinking and aging are growing because of Hispanic immigration and births and now must provide services for the young. According to Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, "All the focus is on immigration,” suggesting natural increase - more births than deaths - is accelerating among Hispanics here because Hispanics are younger than the U.S. population as a whole with a median age of 27.2, compared with 37.9 overall, 40.8 for whites, 35.4 for Asians and 31.1 for blacks.

Because Latinos are younger and likely to have more children, Hispanics are having an impact that far outlasts their initial entry into the country. From 2000 to 2007, the Hispanic population grew by 10.2 million - 58.6 percent from natural increase. The total U.S. population grew 20.2 million, about 60 percent from natural increase, in that period. "There's no way older white populations can replace themselves," Johnson says. Barack Obama and Bill Richardson both embody the “new mestizo” or contemporary racial mixtures that are taking place in the United States and increasing. It is predicted that the “white” and “black” populations will likely be absorbed into the racial hybrid admixture emerging in the United States by the end of this century. Despite his Anglo-American surname, Bill Richardson like Barack Obama continues identifying himself as ethnically “mixed” or mestizo in racial origins.

Barack Obama and Bill Richardson represent the racial realities of the future of the Post-American new world order or what Gloria Anzaldua referred to as the “new mestizaje”. According to Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera , because the future depends on the straddling of two or more cultures. . . . To live in the Borderlands means knowing that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years, is no longer speaking to you, (…) that denying the Anglo inside you is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black. For Richardson the new mestizo epitomizes the postmodern struggle with opposites because of his mixed race and culture and his political confrontation with neoliberalism. Although Richardson may have earned the confidence of Latinos in New Mexico, he’s hardly known to raza outside of New Mexico.

Sociologist Irene Blea believes Chicanos lack trust in those who symbolize the American Dream and fear having to give up or lose the fragile hold they have on their own culture. Latinos no longer want to be exploited by corporate America. Nor do they want to be absorbed by Anglo values like consumerism, materialism, and individualism. They do not want to have individualistic, profit-oriented, competitive dominant American values imposed on their traditional ways of life. For Blea “Anglos fear that if people of color come into power, then they will treat Anglos the way Anglos have treated people of color” and that “the bases upon which their society rests will be revealed as lies and will crumble”.

Will having a mixed race “Black” President in the White House create a radical shift in the operations of power and social justice in the body politic? I believe the shift is already occurring at the socio-political level while Washington remains clueless over the complexities over critical race, ethnicity, or gender. According to Naom Chomsky, for most of the U.S. population, incomes have stagnated or declined for fifteen years along with working conditions and job security. Inequality has reached levels unknown for seventy years, far beyond other industrial countries. The United States has the highest level of child poverty of any industrial society, followed by the rest of the English-speaking world.

Throughout the 1990s, the increasing gap between the affluent and New Mexico's poor is most obvious and extreme in Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe, where changes wrought by newcomers have been dramatic. Real estate prices skyrocketed, and many local Hispanics have been relegated to low-cost mobile homes. In the Rio Abajo region, due in part to the new job market, newly arrived people from other places are induced to fill the better paying jobs. Many of the newcomers move into upper-middle class enclaves reflective of wealth and power, such as "the Heights" of Albuquerque. According to sociologist Felipe Gonzalez, the new arrivals come with resources or land the high-dollar, middle-management jobs that allow them to build larger homes in places distant from the downtown and the traditional Hispanic settlements along the river. Able to pay higher prices, they force up the cost of housing adding another layer of inequality for native New Mexicans.

It is clear that ideological unity among classes is nonexistent in New Mexico and throughout the entire nation for that matter. Chemical dependency, suicide, alcoholism, and drug addiction are some of the most dire problems facing the state today. Anthropologist Michael L. Trujillo believes that "poverty and the painful experience of alienation symbolized by land-loss seems to go far in explaining why Río Arriba County has the highest rate of drug –related deaths in New Mexico and why New Mexico has the highest rate of drug-related deaths of any state."

New Mexico’s per capita income and government salaries, consistently have ranked in the bottom five of the nation, along with the states of the Deep South. Long-time residents with modest state salaries and minimum-wage tourism service jobs rarely can afford to live in places like Santa Fe, Taos, and some parts of Albuquerque.

Bill Richardson and New Mexico’s Tri-Cultural Heritage

Elected governor of New Mexico in 2002 William Blaine Richardson has held the greatest number of significant political and public offices of any Latino in U.S. history. Born on November 15, 1947 to Mexican and Anglo parents, he is New Mexico’s first biracial or coyote governor. Raised in an affluent household in Mexico City with his Mexican socialite mother and his American banker father, Richardson attended Tufts University, where he received his bachelor’s degree before earning a Master’s degree in 1971 from Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

According to his biographer Cristina Muñoz, Richardson’s political career began in 1980 when he ran unsuccessfully for election as New Mexico’s representative to the Ninety-seventh Congress in the United States. Charged with being a carpetbagger since he lacked any long-term ties with the state, Richardson said he moved to New Mexico because of its “Anglo-Latin ethnic stew” and joked that he was a perfect candidate to represent the state because of his Anglo surname, his Spanish/English bilingual ability, and his Indian appearance. He pursued the office again in 1983 and was elected to the Ninety-eighth Congress as a Democrat from New Mexico’s third district. Many political scientists have written that his election was especially challenging because New Mexico’s third district is considered one of the most diverse in the nation with its triethnic constituency of 44 percent Anglos, 34 percent Hispanics, and 20 percent American Indians.

Richardson was reelected to his congressional seat seven times, each victory occurring with a remarkable 60 percent of the vote total. During his congressional tenure he served as Chief Deputy Democratic Whip and was an active member of the House Commerce, Resources, and Intelligence Committees. Many observers credit his success in elective office and politics as partly due to his energetic interaction with his home constituency, as witnessed by his holding more than 2,000 town hall meetings in New Mexico during his fourteen-year congressional tenure.

On December 13, 1996, President Clinton nominated Representative Richardson to be U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and he was sworn to office in early 1997. Before, during, and after Richardson’s tenure at the United Nations he was asked to address numerous international diplomatic negotiations and to troubleshoot several crises. Ambassador Richardson was credited specifically with freeing hostages and prisoners from Croatia, Burma, Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, and Sudan. According to Muñoz, “As a result of Richardson’s high-profile diplomacy and relentless efforts to promote peace around the world, he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize on four separate occasions”. On July 18, 1998, President Clinton nominated Ambassador Bill Richardson to be his secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the new secretary of energy that same year. Secretary Richardson thus became the highest-ranking “mixed race Latino” in the Clinton administration and the first New Mexican to serve as Secretary of Energy tackling problems such as environmental protections, gas and oil usage and prices, security breaches at nuclear weapons laboratories, and other pressing issues.

Richardson continues to emphasize the importance of environmental responsibility--an issue which remains at the forefront of his political agenda especially the U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources. As secretary he also championed the concerns of energy industry workers, including asking Congress to provide compensation for the fist time to Energy Department employees who fell ill due to their work. In addition, he made it a priority of his administration to make two-thirds of his appointments to women and minorities to redress decades of exclusionary hiring practices.

After leaving his cabinet position as energy secretary in 2001, Richardson returned to elective politics when he officially announced his candidacy for governor of New Mexico in January 2002. He was elected governor on November 5, 2002 by the largest margin of any candidate since 1964. His bipartisan victory was unprecedented in the state, and he took office January 1, 2003. According to Muñoz, “in the escalated post-September 11th tensions associated with foreign policy, Governor Richardson served the Bush Administration by agreeing to open talks with the North Korean government about their nuclear weapons. Richardson’s over-two-decades-long political career has enjoyed many successes and shows considerable promise for the future”.

During his run for president, Bill Richardson highlighted his tax record and balanced budget in New Mexico along with his illustrious international policy and political track record. He used tax cuts to create eighty thousand jobs many high tech and upper middle class positions. New Mexico is up to sixth in the nation for job growth and Richardson put over six hundred million dollars into classrooms further cutting school bureaucracy. Richardson did not fare well in the early presidential primaries and withdrew his candidacy.

Richardson dropped out of the 2008 presidential race in January and endorsed Obama two months later. Richardson was among several governors frequently mentioned in political circles as a possible running mate for Obama. However, Obama caved into pressure choosing Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. Richardson continues promoting Obama’s energy and economic policies. “Sen. Obama will push for a second stimulus package that will send out another round of rebate checks to the American people, Richardson said in the Democrats’ weekly radio speech (June 2008). “He’ll tax the record profits of oil companies and use the money to help struggling families pay their energy bills.”

Peter J. Garcia is an assistant professor of Ethnomusicology and folklore in the Department of Chicano Studies, California State University, Northridge. His book Decolonizing Enchantment: Lyricism, Ritual, and Echoes of Nuevo Mexicano Popular Musics is in production with the University of New Mexico Press.

Copyright © Peter J. Garcia. All rights reserved.