FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How “El Gallito” Conquered Obama

by STEWART J. LAWRENCE

They don’t call Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez “El Gallito” — “The Little Rooster” — for nothing. It’s not just his diminutive size, but his outspoken style. Apparently, he’s always trying to “wake people up.” And one of his favorite targets, it turns out, is President Obama, a fellow Chicagoan and one-time friend and colleague that Gutierrez backed over Hillary Clinton in 2008.

For the past four years, the two men have locked horns repeatedly over Gutierrez’s signature issue — immigration reform. As Gutierrez tells it, the president, despite his own civil rights background, has never understood the depth and intensity of Latino aspirations, and has been far too willing to play politics with an issue that concerns his entire community – and indeed, the entire country.

He has clashed with Obama over the president’s decision to keep deporting undocumented immigrants – in fact, in record numbers, roughly 400,000 a year, ostensibly to appease conservatives and to build support for a legalization program. Early on, Obama promised to increase pressure for legalization once the debate over health care reform was settled. But it never happened. Always, the answer was the same: “Mañana.”

Gutierrez, who’s not a patient man by nature, hasn’t been willing to wait. In calls to his office, and in visits to his district and trips across the country, he recorss the pain and hardship of Latino families in deportation proceedings every day and feels compelled to act, he says.

So, he’s taken it upon himself to push and even embarrass the president by staging sit-ins, getting arrested, and in the waning months of 2012, even conducting an end-run around the White House to try to forge a bipartisan deal on the Dream Act with Florida senator Marco Rubio.

That last maneuver finally got the president’s attention. Gutierrez, in fact, may have single handedly ensured Obama’s re-election by forcing the president to issue an executive order that formally stayed the deportation of Dream Act beneficiaries, pending further legislative action. Obama had said he would never take such action. But the threat of Republicans seizing control of the immigration issue — possibly wooing back Latino electoral support — forced his hand.

Thanks to the executive order, Latino support for Obama soared back to its 2008 levels. That probably made the difference in close contests in Florida and other key battleground states that ended up deciding the 2012 election.

Gutierrez remains humble about his role in securing the deportation stay. But it’s not the first time he’s stood up to party leaders – and won. His new memoir, Still Dreaming: My Journey From the Barrio to the Capitol Hill, which includes vivid accounts of his past political races, shows a determined man unafraid of clashing with his fellow Democrats to force them to listen to the grassroots – and to take action.

In the 1980s, he resisted efforts by his own party to block the insurgent candidacy of African-American Harold Washington for Chicago mayor – and the Old Guard never forgot it. Later, when he ran for alderman, party leaders tried to sabotage his own campaign. He strongly suspects, but can’t prove, that the 1984 fire that burned down his home was a message meant to silence him. If it was, it clearly didn’t work.

Within months of getting elected to Congress in 1993, Gutierrez briefly became a national folk hero when he spoke out against a measure sponsored by President Clinton that exempted House and Senate members from a federal wage freeze. Gutierrez decided to circulate a bill that would freeze their salaries also. On the CBS program “60 Minutes,” host Morley Safer hailed him as a “Don Quixote tilting at sacred congressional windmills.” The bill failed but his fellow Democrats were not amused, and several stopped talking to him – for years.

Gutierrez credits his father’s quiet example for helping him find his political destiny. It was his father, he notes, that moved the family back to Puerto Rico when he was a young teenager. His parents wanted the family to know its roots and to recover the cultural strength they felt they were losing in Chicago. He was dumbfounded and angry at the time — but now he sees the wisdom of it all.

He learned Spanish and immersed himself in the struggles of his people. A tireless Latino advocate — and immigration reform champion — was born.

“My father was right. I never would have become the person I am today if we hadn’t gone back to Puerto Rico,” he says.

Gutierrez’ book may remind the reader of another political memoir, Obama’s Dreams of My Father, which helped launched the president’s bid for the White House. Still Dreaming may not get Gutierrez the national attention he so richly deserves, but it’s a sign of just how far the 10-term legislator has come — and where he may still be going.

For now, the presidency may be out of reach, but Obama‘s old Illinois Senate seat, currently occupied by the ailing Mark Kirk, a Republican, is up in 2016, and the country could certainly use another Latino governor — and a Democrat, for a change.

Maybe it’s time the Little Rooster crowed a little louder.

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

 

 

 

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail