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Wednesday, March 05, 2003, 12:00 a.m. Pacific

available online at: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/134645734_navarrette05.html

Bush's White House speaks fluent Latino

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

DALLAS — Supposedly, no less a heavyweight than presidential adviser Karl Rove orchestrates White House efforts to win over Latino voters.

This is the same Karl Rove who is on the cover of the March issue of Texas Monthly, under the provocative headline: "George W.'s &#$@!% Genius." And it's the same Karl Rove who is the subject of the new book, "Bush's Brain," by Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater. The authors say that the leader of the free world, before making policy decisions, often asks: "Where's Karl on this?"

So one can assume that Rove is behind recent efforts to use the plight of the "Honduran hostage" — federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada — to help President Bush rack up more points with Latinos. And if that's true, the word "genius" doesn't do Karl Rove justice.

You remember Estrada. He is President Bush's choice to sit on the prestigious U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He's also the Latino overachiever with the fabulous personal story: immigrated from Honduras barely able to speak English, graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, clerked for a Supreme Court justice, argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court and so on.

In fact, the 42-year-old lawyer would himself be wearing a black robe by now had he not become persona non grata among Senate Democrats, who want to defeat his nomination. It's not personal. It's just politics; Democrats flatly resent President Bush's appeal to Latino voters, and they won't do anything that enhances it, like helping Bush make history by putting the first Hispanic on an appeals court considered a farm club for the Supreme Court.

It has been fascinating. Democrats, who love to drone on about how much they want Latinos and other minorities to achieve, have had to swallow their words. What Democrats really mean is that they want Latinos to achieve — just so long as achievers humbly let the party of John Kennedy take credit for their achievements.

Estrada, whose reluctance to answer questions about specific cases before the Senate Judiciary Committee may have come off as arrogance, flunks the Democrats' test. And so the man who went from Honduras to Harvard has been on ice since Bush first nominated him in May 2001.

Now Bush is fighting back. He's pleading Estrada's case to Hispanic audiences, and this strategy has Rove's fingerprints all over it. The latest pleading was at a White House reception last week for about 150 members of the Latino Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of Latino organizations.

Bush seized the opportunity to talk about his stalled nominee.

It's not fair what Senate Democrats are doing to Miguel Estrada, Bush told the group. He noted the double standard, saying that Democrats are unfairly "requiring (Estrada) to answer questions that other judicial nominees ... have not been forced to answer."

And then Bush hit on the one thing that most Latinos appreciate, regardless of their politics: loyalty. The president promised, "I will stand by that man's side until he is sworn in as a judge." At that, the Latino crowd rose to its feet with thunderous applause.

Watching this unfold on television, I had to wonder: Do Democrats know what they're doing in launching an attack that could backfire?

By contrast, it seems somebody in the White House really does know what they're doing when it comes to appealing to Latino voters. And odds are, that someone is Karl Rove.

In their book, Moore and Slater insist that Rove understands the power of loyalty — especially as it relates to his influence over Bush.

"There's nothing more important in the Bush camp than loyalty," says Slater.

Ditto for the Latino community. Either Rove has done his homework with regard to the nation's largest minority, or he has access to people who have done theirs. Either way, Democrats have their work cut out for them in taking on a White House that has learned to speak to Latinos in their own language. And I don't mean Spanish.

Ruben Navarrette's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is rnavarrette@dallasnews.com

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Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company


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