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Romney better off as a Latino?

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
September 19, 2012 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's national convention on September 17 in Los Angeles
Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's national convention on September 17 in Los Angeles
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In remarks secretly taped, Mitt Romney said "jokingly" he'd have better chance if he were Latino
  • Ruben Navarrette says Romney's taped remarks reveal a blindness to his advantages
  • He says Romney hasn't had to struggle to overcome the odds that minorities face
  • Navarette: He criticizes people for feeling entitled but neglects his own sense of entitlement

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

(CNN) -- Sometimes a story comes along that is so utterly ridiculous that, as a commentator, your first instinct is to deal with it tongue-in-cheek.

And so it is with Mitt Romney's videotaped remarks to a roomful of donors at a fundraiser in May in Boca Raton, Florida. The GOP presidential candidate appears to say that he wishes he were Latino because he thinks it would be "helpful" to his quest and give him a "better shot" at the presidency.

Referring to his father, George, Romney told the audience:

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

"My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."

I'm tempted to respond with this: "Mitt Romney thinks it would be helpful if he were Latino. Well, Mitt, I'm Latino. And I think it would be helpful to me if I were worth $250 million. Wanna switch?"

Opinion: Can Romney connect with Latino voters?

Or, given President Barack Obama's heavy-handed immigration policies, with this: "What Mitt Romney doesn't realize is that if he were Mexican, there's a 94.6% chance that he would've already been deported by his opponent."

Romney's comments are clearly absurd, and so it's hard to take them seriously. Did the rich white guy really claim to want to be Latino because he thought it would help him win the presidency?

Romney camp. defends Latino comment
Romney rep: "This is a bump in the road"

That's strange. Being Latino didn't seem to help Bill Richardson.

The former New Mexico governor ran for president in 2008, and he didn't get beyond the New Hampshire primary. Also, by Romney's logic, you would think that we've had a whole slew of Latinos elected president; there hasn't been a single one -- if you don't count Jimmy Smits playing President-elect Matt Santos on the final season of "The West Wing."

Romney should quit while he's ahead. Statistically, he has the golden ticket. He's a rich white male, and they're overrepresented in the exclusive club of the 44 individuals to ever serve as president. Barack Obama is an exception, and even he satisfies two of three characteristics: rich and male.

But, if Mitt really wants to get in touch with his inner Mexican, I think he'll find that it's not all churros and chocolate or pinatas and pan dulce. You see -- and you might find this hard to believe, Mitt -- but there is still a lot of discrimination in this country against Latinos as whites hunker down and try to hold on to what they have in the face of changing demographics.

For instance, Romney has two Harvard degrees, and so do I. But I'll go out on a limb here and guess that he never had anyone suggest that he was only admitted to that prestigious university because of affirmative action. Or that he is frequently told, as I am, to "go back to Mexico" -- which is ironic, given that, since I'm the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and Romney is the son of a Mexican immigrant, the GOP presidential candidate is one generation closer to the motherland than I am.

Yet, as difficult as it is, we must take Romney's comments seriously. There are three reasons that they're troubling.

First, judging from the videotape, when Romney suggested that his path to the White House would have been covered in rose petals if only he had been born Mexican, the crowd loved it. What are they thinking?

Are these the kind of people who tell themselves that their sons and daughters would have gotten into Yale or Princeton if some black kid hadn't taken their spot? Do they really believe that racial and ethnic minorities have it easy in this country? And if so, what country are they living in?

Politics: Romney makes case to Latinos, vows 'reasonable solution' on immigration

Second, if you look at the rest of Romney's remarks -- about the 47% of Americans who pay no taxes and "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it" -- he makes a good point. Many Americans do have an entitlement mentality, and it's a real problem.

Where Romney went wrong is that the sense of entitlement isn't limited to those on government aid. It includes the kind of fat cat donors who were in the audience. They get tax breaks and corporate subsidies. They raise their kids to think they're entitled to not do the jobs that immigrants wind up doing. Romney scolded those who think they're entitled, and then he seemed to wink at the audience and tell them: "present company excluded."

Lastly, it's hard to come up with a better example of an American who sees himself as a victim with a sense of entitlement than Mitt Romney. Think about what he said. This was no joke.

Romney sounds frustrated. By suggesting that he'd have a better chance at winning this election if he were Latino, Romney is playing the victim. Poor me, I had the misfortune to be born a white male. It's clear that he thinks he was entitled to a much smoother path to the White House.

Is Romney able to fix what's broken with America? Or are people like Mitt Romney what's broken with America?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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