(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on January 24, 2001)
We call them “man on the street” interviews – those unscientific polls that journalists do when we want ordinary people, instead of newsmakers, to react to a breaking story.
We do them quite often, and they are very effective in illustrating a variety of opinions on any given issue. Sometimes they require a lot of “leg work” – seeking the people who are directly affected, and making sure they represent the whole spectrum of public opinion.
On Monday, on my way to do some legwork among Latinos to get their views on the new Bush administration, I took a shortcut.
“What do you think of the new president?” I asked in Spanish on the airwaves of WADO Radio in New York City. “Will George W. Bush bring positive or negative changes to the nation, and to the Latino community in this country?”
As a guest host on the popular Primera Plana (Front Page) talk-radio program, I was given the opportunity to do “man [and women] on the street” interviews while sitting in a radio studio in midtown Manhattan. And in just a few minutes, I had plenty of notes and many good quotes.
“I was enchanted by that beautiful [inauguration] ceremony,” said Flor, a Republican from Manhattan. “God bless America and my beautiful president and his family.”
But on the radio, it doesn't take too long to find diversity.
“I think Bush is going to bury this country and I think that his so-called compassion is all rhetoric,” said Agosto, a Bronx Democrat who voted for Al Gore. “How can he be compassionate when he is obviously controlled by racist elements?”
Edgar, from Jersey City, agreed. He said that by the president's conservative-leaning Cabinet appointments, he is already showing that he will deviate from the compassionate agenda he outlined during his campaign.
“Latin America should be forewarned, especially my homeland Colombia,” Edgar said, “because these characters are warriors. Their solutions are by force instead of by dialogue.”
On the street, it may take a while to find the right people who have strong sentiments on a particular subject. But on the radio, when they call, it's because they already have strong convictions and they can't wait to express them.
“I feel very happy for this great nation,” said Sonia, from West New York. “God bless our president.”
Her sentiments were not shared by Luis, from Manhattan, who noted that he “would feel a lot better” if all the votes had been counted in Florida. “He was put there,” Luis added, “but not by the people.”
Olga, from Brooklyn, agreed. “When I became an American citizen, I did it because I valued my right to vote,” she said. “But this is a president who fought to suppress the will of the voters.”
When you interview people on the street, you do it in groups of two or three. But when you do it on talk radio, they are all listening – and reacting – to each other.
“Morality has been restored to the presidency,” said Hilda, from West New York. “The White House must be happy to have a moral family living there again.”
To which Elbert, from Union City, responded, “I don't believe that electoral fraud is something moral.”
Approaching people on the street, you may find some moderates, who want Bush to rule like a moderate. But on the radio, it seems like most people are calling from one of the two ends of the political spectrum. For them, there is no middle ground. Bush is either going to be the best or the worst president.
“Now we can breathe clean, fresh air because an era of immorality is over in the White House," said Ana, from Elizabeth.
“This president and this government represent the same regression the Republicans want for us,” said Arcadio, from West New York. “Clinton was not an angel, he made some errors, but he was a man who inspired confidence in the masses. This man [Bush] is too fictitious. We have to accept it, we have no choice, but the whole world knows this is an illegitimate president.”
As for what Bush will do for Latinos, there are as many theories as countries in our Latin American rainbow. But again, on the radio, there seems to be no middle ground. Bush is either going to be so good that he is going to convert all Latinos into Republicans; or so bad that all of the 35 percent of U.S. Latinos who voted for him will feel betrayed.
“I don't think Bush will do anything for us Hispanics,” said Manuel, from Manhattan, who said he fears that Bush's military-minded colleagues will lead this country to war. “And you know who gets called first and sent off to fight this country's wars nowadays: Hispanics,” he said. “Forget about it. We're going backwards.”
But Carmen, a Union City resident, “firmly” believes Bush's promise to be a compassionate conservative. “He will be just and he will recognize the needs of working people,” she said, “regardless of their race.”
Yet Rosa, from Manhattan, noted that she was not impressed because the Republicans had Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin performing at one of the inaugural ceremonies. “That doesn't help us feed our children,” she said, noting that Bush is going to have to do a lot more than superficial acts to inspire confidence among Latinos.
On the street, the jury may still be out on the Bush presidency. But on the radio, he has already been tried and convicted, or exonerated – depending on the caller.