Latin Lovers

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Como se dice "pander" en Español?

The closest translation seems to be saconería, or insincere flattery. In some Latin American countries, the panderer is a sobón, or kiss-up. Others say he's a chupamedias -- literally, one who sucks socks.

But whatever you want to call it, Barack Obama and John McCain were doing it yesterday -- en abundancia .

The candidates appeared separately before the League of United Latin American Citizens at the Washington Hilton, making for a fun-filled afternoon of identity politics. The McCain campaign stocked the audience with posters announcing "Estamos Unidos McCain," while the Obama campaign supplied stickers and posters saying, "Latinos for Obama."

"Sí, se puede!" Obama, who doesn't speak Spanish, said as he arrived on stage.

There was a whole lot of sock-sucking going on.

McCain, a former prisoner of war, came armed with el pander armado, the military pander. "When you take a solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it's hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez and Lopez," he observed, lauding the "thousands of Hispanic Americans" in the military.

Four hours later, Obama countered with his own military pander. He spoke of the Hispanic soldier who "was denied burial beside the men he fought with and bled with because of the color of his skin."

The resourceful McCain also attempted the rarely employed pander prisionero, the jail pander. He spoke about how he refused early release from a Vietnam prison, because "my beloved friend Everett Alvarez, a brave American of Mexican descent, had been shot down years before I was."

Obama had a version of the jail pander, too. He spoke of immigrants "arrested for crimes they didn't commit and thrown in jail by juries they couldn't serve on."

Predictably, he exploited the economic woes with el pander laboral -- the jobs pander. "Hispanics lose their jobs faster than almost anybody else, or work jobs that pay less and come with fewer benefits," he declared. The Democrat supplemented that with el pander médico -- the health-care pander. "We have 1 in 3 Latinas who don't have health care," he protested.

McCain attempted the difficult el pander a la pequeña y mediana empresa, the small-business pander. "There are 2 million -- 2 million -- Latino-owned businesses in America, a number that's growing very rapidly," he said. "Two million of them."

They exchanged versions of el pander escolar, the education pander. "Today, studies show that half of Hispanics and half of African Americans entering high school don't graduate with their class," McCain bemoaned. Obama met his ante by saying that "Latino students . . . are dropping out of school faster than nearly anybody else," and he raised him with a pledge to help "a Hispanic girl stuck in a crumbling school who graduates without learning to read."

Naturally, el pander migratorio, the immigration pander, figured prominently. "I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation," McCain said, to "deal practically and humanely with those who came here, as my distant ancestors did, to build a better, safer life for their families." Obama, in turn, said that "Senator McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform," but "when he was running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance." But not Obama. "I marched with you in the streets of Chicago to meet our immigration challenge," he said.

Chupamedias! But no sobón worth his sycophancy would leave a political speech without the usual el pander amigable, fraternal pander, that identifies the politician with his host. "It's a wonderful pleasure for me to be back with you again -- so many friends, so many allies, so many partners in the struggle that we've waged together," McCain flattered.

Obama answered with an extended celebration of LULAC's purpose. "All for one and one for all: It's the idea that's at the heart of LULAC," he said. "And it's what this election is all about. It's about the future we can build together."

Both men closed their speeches in similar fashion -- by dropping all dignity and pouring on the praise. It's called el pander desnudo, the naked pander. "Let me close by briefly talking about my respect and gratitude for the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the culture, economy and security of the country that I have had the great honor of serving all my life," McCain uttered. "I represent the great state of Arizona, where Spanish was spoken before English was."

Obama had no problem surpassing that pander. He spoke of his work "to help end the outrage of Latinas making 57 cents for every dollar," his toil "as a civil rights lawyer to register Latino voters and ensure that Hispanics had an equal voice in city hall," and his view that "America has nothing to fear from our newcomers."

Obama desnudo told LULAC: "This election could well be decided by Latino voters. . . . I know how powerful a community you are. I also know how powerful you could be on November 4 if you translate your numbers into votes."

The last sock had been sucked. Obama left the stage to dance music with a Latin beat.

For a video version of this column, visit

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company