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

Weekend Edition
May 06, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Wagner
When Liberals Run Out of Patience: the Impolite Exile of Seymour Hersh
John Stauber
Strange Bedfellows: the Bizarre Coalition of Kochs, Neocons and Democrats Allied Against Trump and His #FUvoters
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and the End of the Democratic Party
Joshua Frank
Afghanistan: Bombing the Land of the Snow Leopard
Bill Martin
Fear of Trump: Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism
Doug Johnson Hatlem
NYC Board of Elections Suspends 2nd Official, Delays Hillary Clinton v. Bernie Sanders Results Certification
Carol Miller
Pretending the Democratic Party Platform Matters
Paul Street
Hey, Bernie, Leave Them Kids Alone
Tamara Pearson
Mexico Already Has a Giant Wall, and a Mining Company Helped to Build It
Paul Craig Roberts
Somnolent Europe, Russia, and China
Dave Lindorff
Bringing the Sanders ‘Revolution’ to Philly’s Streets
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Last Gasp Imperialism
Carmelo Ruiz
The New Wave of Repression in Puerto Rico
Jack Denton
Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”
Jeffrey St. Clair
David Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books, the CounterPunch Connection
David Rosen
Poverty in America: the Deepening Crisis
Pepe Escobar
NATO on Trade, in Europe and Asia, is Doomed
Pete Dolack
Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed
Carla Blank
Prince: Pain and Dance
Gabriel Rockhill
Media Blackout on Nuit Debout
Barry Lando
Welcome to the Machine World: the Perfect Technological Storm
Hilary Goodfriend
The Wall Street Journal is Playing Dirty in El Salvador, Again
Frank Stricker
Ready for the Coming Assault on Social Security? Five Things Paul Ryan and Friends Don’t Want You to Think About
Robert Gordon
Beyond the Wall: an In-Depth Look at U.S. Immigration Policy
Roger Annis
City at the Heart of the Alberta Tar Sands Burning to the Ground
Simon Jones
RISE: New Politics for a Tired Scotland
Rob Hager
After Indiana: Sanders Wins another Purple State, But Remains Lost in a Haze of Bad Strategy and Rigged Delegate Math
Howard Lisnoff
Father Daniel Berrigan, Anti-war Hero With a Huge Blindspot
Adam Bartley
Australia-China Relations and the Politics of Canberra’s Submarine Deal
Nyla Ali Khan
The Complexity of the Kashmir Issue: “Conflict Can and Should be Handled Constructively
Josh Hoxie
American Tax Havens: Elites Don’t Have to go to Panama to Hide Their Money–They’ve Got Delaware
Ramzy Baroud
The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being Upheld?
Alli McCracken - Raed Jarrar
#IsraelSaudi: A Match Made in Hell
George Wuerthner
Working Wilderness and Other Code Words
Robert Koehler
Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz
Ron Jacobs
Psychedelic Rangers Extraordinaire
Missy Comley Beattie
It’s a Shit Show!
David Macaray
Our Best Weapon Is Being Systematically Eliminated
Colin Todhunter
Future Options: From Militarism and Monsanto to Gandhi and Bhaskar Save
Binoy Kampmark
The Trump Train Chugs Along
John Laforge
Dan Berrigan, 1921 – 2016: “We Haven’t Lost, Because We Haven’t Given Up.”
Tadeu Bijos
The Wants of Others
Norman Trabulsy Jr
John Denver and My 40th High School Reunion
Charles R. Larson
Being Gay in China, Circa 1987
David Yearsley
Skepticism, Irony, and Doubt: Williams on Bach
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail