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
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail