The Latino 11th Commandment: Thou Shall Not Criticize the "Leaders"

Ronald Reagan's famous "11th commandment" said that Republicans should not attack other Republicans.

It was a neat political slogan, simultaneously embracing the Bible and the idea that conservatives were a struggling minority that could not withstand internecine battles while simultaneously fighting the supposedly dominant Democrats.

A similar dynamic seems to have taken hold in the Latino community - regardless of objective outcomes, thou shall not criticize Latino "activists" or politicians.

I know this dynamic personally as over the last few months I have been the focus of an intense barrage of phone calls to my radio show and emails that basically say: "you should not be so critical, you should align yourself with the activists and politicians; it's not right to criticize."

What's going on here?

Part of this reaction is cultural. Many Latinos hail from countries where it is taboo to criticize politicians or other societal leaders. In some countries, they will kill you for doing it.

So many segments of the Latino community in the Untied States still carry this idea with them as if the rules of the old country are operative in the world's most free democracy.

My supposed sin? To point out that Latinos are generally badly served by opportunist "activists" and the politicians aligned with them.

Immigration reform, for example, has become a highly charged issue. The plight of some 12 million undocumented workers is a reason for concern to everyone, Latino and non-Latino.

America's ravenous hunger for cheap labor has created a gigantic black market where people are essentially incentivized to illegally immigrate with the hope of finding better paying jobs in the United States and escaping the grinding poverty of their native lands.

The Latino activist community - and there are, according to one of the major groups CHIRLA, over 800 Latino activist organizations in the United States - has by any objective standard failed in its stated mission of achieving immigration reform.

Hundreds of marches and protest since 2006 have resulted not in a reform, but in stepped up deportations, a patently anti-Latino law in Arizona - and no immigration reform.

Judging by their single response to every challenge - march! - these groups have forgotten little about the 1960's civil rights battles, but haven't learned anything about the 21st century political construct.

Political action committees, social networking and email marketing, to cite just some examples, have been eschewed by these activists for emotional speeches, calls of victimization and flashy but ineffective "action," i.e., protests of one sort or another.

And then there are the politicians.

For a very long time it was considered taboo to criticize Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He is, after all, the city's first Latino mayor since the 19th century. Early in his first term he was even positioned as the country's leading Latino leader - and possibly the nation's first Latino president.

Then reality set in.

Villaraigosa has presided over one of the worst crisis in the city's history. And while the Great Recession has not helped the city's situation, it has exposed the many flaws in Villaraigosa's leadership style, and his almost non-existent executive capacity, while ultimately letting us see that behind the flashy smile there is an empty suit.

Again, objectively speaking, the Villaraigosa mayoralty will be remembered for first, a complete non-response to the economic crisis, and then, a series of bumbling half-measures that have dragged down the city's credit rating, ballooned the debt and has made Los Angeles' situation, as former Mayor Richard Riordan has said, an "embarrassment."

As with the "activist" community, Villaraigosa is an old-time politician who came up through the ranks of a union, made his rounds of the term-limited political offices that can be had through the city's Democratic Party apparatus, and landed in a job, mayor, at least one notch above his natural ability.

The result has been a city paralyzed by the economic crisis, with a much higher level of unemployment than the rest of the nation - and no coherent vision for recovery or future growth.

As Latinos become the nation's single largest voting bloc over the next several decades, we will be called upon to constantly render political judgment on our leaders. In a representative democracy failure cannot get a pass.

Repeated actions that fail - such as the endless marches - should be called out for what they are: a failed tactic that not only does not advance the cause, it generates a backlash that impedes actual progress.

Similarly, leaders that can't deliver must be tossed out; we must be vigilant guardians of not just democracy - but also the viability of our nation. Mediocre political leaders lead to, at best, mediocre political outcomes. And mediocrity cannot be our standard if we're to protect and extend America's leadership role in the world.

Beyond any Stalinist loyalty that we must all supposedly exhibit towards Latino activists and politicians, we must be critical so our leaders will be better at their jobs. Constructive criticism is good for the Latino community and good of the country.

And if in the process we break the 11th commandment, then so be it.