Blogosphere missed it on Martinez

The blogosphere blew it on the ascension of Mel Martinez to general chairman of the Republican Party. Bloggers didn’t get their facts straight about the Florida senator and, thankfully, failed to block his selection. I would have written about this last week, before the vote, but it would have been seen by bloggers as a sign that Martinez was fading: “See, they’re defending him, so he must be in trouble.” He wasn’t (as the results proved), yet there’s still a record that needs to be set straight.

The blogosphere blew it on the ascension of Mel Martinez to general chairman of the Republican Party. Bloggers didn’t get their facts straight about the Florida senator and, thankfully, failed to block his selection. I would have written about this last week, before the vote, but it would have been seen by bloggers as a sign that Martinez was fading: “See, they’re defending him, so he must be in trouble.” He wasn’t (as the results proved), yet there’s still a record that needs to be set straight.

What did bloggers have so wrong about Martinez? First, conservative scribblers tried to stick the “moderate” label on him. They knew they couldn’t get away with the nastier “RINO” label (Republican in name only), so they settled for moderate, a moniker that, when delivered with the right sneer, is the current slur of choice. But is it accurate in Martinez’s case? He’s devoutly pro-life, pugnaciously pro-gun rights, fearlessly anti-tax, and courageously pro-democracy. That’s his core and it sounds conservative to me.

Objective minds agree. The American Conservative Union gave Martinez a perfect score for its most recent (2005) ratings of senators, besting even ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Right-to-Life gives Martinez a rating of 100 percent for 2005 and 2006. Even the left agrees. The Americans for Democratic Action gave Martinez a perfect “0” (zero) in 2006 while they gave conservative darlings Santorum and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) higher scores of 5.

A second, weirder attack on Martinez by bloggers focused on his ethnicity. They reasoned that because he is Cuban, Hispanics of every other ilk — Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, South Americans — will dislike him and the party he represents. The Bush White House made a terrible faux pas in tapping a Cuban to lead the RNC, bloggers warned. Do these people get their insights on Hispanic culture at Taco Bell? Yes, Hispanics have their differences. Cubans have a reputation for being “uppity,” and this can make them less popular with some Mexicans or Puerto Ricans, but the notion that Hispanic solidarity is fractured by a Cuban is nonsense.

As evidence for this conclusion, I would suggest that bloggers check out the Hispanic Summit held annually in Orlando, Fla. This hugely successful event brings out all the Latino communities of central Florida for several days of speeches and panel discussions featuring top national and international Hispanic speakers. Orlando’s Hispanic population is disproportionately Puerto Rican, not Cuban. But when Cubano Martinez speaks there, it’s like Elvis is back in Vegas. He’s a rock star and Hispanics of every stripe hang on his words and reach out to touch him. Hey, his name ends in a ‘Z,’ he speaks Spanish, and that’s enough for most Hispanics.

Speaking of Spanish, the cranks over at English First tried to rev up a Stop Martinez blog by suggesting that the senator is trying to undermine English in America. Sure, Martinez occasionally speaks some Spanish to connect culturally with Hispanics in an audience. But it’s not an abandonment of English. Even at the Hispanic Summit, he said a few sentences in Spanish and then returned to the English text. Far from abandoning English, Martinez wants to speak it perfectly. He tells a story about being a young lawyer trying to explain a legal matter and having listeners fixate on his accent. “Where are you from?” they asked. Martinez realized that people weren’t listening to what he said but how he said it. So he tells audiences how he resolved then to speak English so well that people would listen to what he said rather than how. Let me tell you: When he recounts that story, Republicans swoon. Martinez doesn’t have to apologize for speaking Spanish on occasion. He just needs to tell America about the importance of his excellent English.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.