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Joe Lapointe

Joe Lapointe has worked as a sports reporter with the New York Times and a segment producer for "Countdown With Keith Olbermann'' on Current TV

March 15th, 2012 6:59 PM

Santorum's Puerto Rico Dog Whistle Not Lost in Translation

Rick Santorum's high-handed doubletalk about English and Spanish in Puerto Rico may seem like another mistake by the Republican presidential candidate with the hardest heart and the meanest mouth.

For sure, Santorum is crude and rude. He's a darling of right-wing hate radio and Fox News Channel because he's the dude with the nastiest attitude.

Santorum proved it when he said he wanted to vomit after reading John F. Kennedy's speech about separation of church and state. He showed it again when he said women impregnated by rapists should give birth to those babies.

But Santorum's demand this week that Puerto Ricans learn to speak English if they want to be considered for statehood might not be a mistake but rather a cynical and possibly successful strategy in his quest for the G.O.P. nomination.

Here's why. The Republicans need not worry about Hispanic support in November's election. They are losing Latino support at an alarming rate. A poll released last week by Fox News Latino showed Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney with no more than 14 per cent of the Hispanic vote while President Obama gets about 70 per cent against any of them.

With Puerto Ricans voting on a referendum about possible statehood this November, Santorum entered the fray in a way calculated to send a dog-whistle message to the bigots on the mainland who oppose "illegal immigrants."

It tells them without being specific that he is against brown-skinned people, especially those with accents. This as white xenophobes vote in red-state primaries like those Santorum won this week in the Confederate states of Alabama and Mississippi.

Bilious issues like race-baiting and race-hating are great for energizing the radical base of supporters who vote in primaries. About the only place it will not help Santorum is in Puerto Rico, which will award 20 delegates in Sunday's primary.

But Romney probably has that one won, anyway, so why shouldn't Santorum insult his hosts this week by implying they talk funny and falsely lecturing them on non-existent laws that states joining the union must speak as he does?

He has little to lose by dissing people who do not speak English as a first language or as well as he does. Remember how eloquent he sounded after President Obama urged Americans to educate themselves beyond high school?

"What a snob!" Santorum said.

So what if Pedro Pierluisi -- a Democrat who is Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate to Congress -- told CNN that Santorum has "a narrow and limiting view of what America is all about?"

That's the whole point, sir. Santorum is, after all, a supporter of Joe Arpaio, the immigrant-bashing demagogue who serves as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Santorum made a half-hearted attempt to soften his comments on Thursday, saying "I never said only English should be spoken here," he said. "Never did I even intimate that."

No, of course not. But that's beside the point. His real message came through loudly and clearly, losing nothing in the translation.

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