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:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail