From The Economist
The Puerto Rico problemFor many reasons, mainland politicians find the territory too hard a place to talk aboutLexington
Jul 11th 2015POLITICIANS do love a morality tale. Just ask the Greeks. American political leaders, in common with so many around the world, relish casting Grecian agonies as an Aesop’s fable for modern times (pitting northern European ants against Mediterranean grasshoppers). That makes it striking—and revealing—that mainland political bosses seem reluctant to sermonise about a debt crisis much closer to home, in the autonomous American territory of Puerto Rico. …Yet among mainland political leaders, debate about Puerto Rico has been distinctly cautious and technocratic—when bigwigs discuss the island at all …On July 7th Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential contest, ended days of equivocation and called for Congress to grant Puerto Rico the same access to federal bankruptcy protections that the 50 states enjoy when trying to save indebted municipalities or public services. Some conservative groups call that approach a “taxpayer bail-out”, and accuse Democrats of plotting to let Puerto Rico walk away from its debts like Argentina, Venezuela or other leftist scofflaws. Those critics would be on stronger political ground if Mrs Clinton’s ideas were not almost a carbon copy of a proposal by one of her main Republican rivals, Jeb Bush. Mr Bush, a former governor of Florida, argues that Puerto Rico should be granted the same bankruptcy rights as the 50 states—not least because he thinks the island should one day become state number 51.
Giving Puerto Rico two U.S. Senators and seven Electoral Votes is another one of Jeb’s strategic masterstrokes for helping the Republican Party. You see, while the GOP loses on each transaction, it makes up for that with volume. Or something. I’m not a master strategist like Jeb is, so it’s all still a little fuzzy in my head. You know, you might almost think that Jeb is focused less on the welfare of the GOP than on that of his Nuevo Bush Dynasty.
In part, this bipartisan mood of caution is explained by a crude calculation: Puerto Ricans have become too important to offend. Though the 3.5m inhabitants of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections and only send a non-voting delegate to Congress, they are American citizens and enjoy full voting rights if they move to one of the 50 states. For decades, the votes of the Puerto Rican diaspora hardly swayed national elections, because most lived in New York or New Jersey where Democrats romp home in presidential contests. But since 1990 legions of Nuyoricans, or Puerto Ricans living in New York and the north-east, have migrated to the battleground state of Florida, drawn by sunshine, cheap homes and jobs. In the past decade they have been joined by hundreds of thousands of islanders fleeing economic stagnation and high crime. There are about 5m Puerto Ricans on the mainland now, a fifth of them in Florida. …
As Christopher Caldwell observed
“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.”
Alongside electoral maths, there is another reason why mainland politicians may be reluctant to talk too much about Puerto Rico. It involves guilt. America is proud to be a superpower that never built an empire. But Puerto Rico was, in essence, grabbed as a colony in 1898, after a brief war ended four centuries of rule by Spain (islanders went from being “fervently Spanish” to “enthusiastically American” within 24 hours, grumbled one of the vanquished Spanish commanders at the time).
If that were the problem, there’d be a simple solution: independence.
But of course the real problem with talking about Puerto Rice is race: Puerto Ricans have high crime and welfare rates and low test scores
, so we have to treat them with rhetorical kid gloves in case anyone thinks we are implying that they have high crime and welfare rates and low test scores.
* By the way, how does anybody think that The Economist
is improved by still using anonymously-written articles like this? I think Time
got rid of anonymous articles around 1973-1975. It’s not like the reporters and columnists for The Economist
say things that would get them in trouble. The Economist
is like a radio station that has copyrighted “Lewis & Clark” as the name of their funny morning men so they can fire the current DJs if they ask for a raise and replace them with some other guys.
I haven’t subscribed to The Economist
since about 1985, but back then it was clear that the strength of the magazine were the single long “survey” on a topic per magazine while the news articles tended to be tripe. Granted, tripe extruded with the self-confidence that only an Oxbridge PP&E bachelor’s degree combined with anonymity confers …