Maria Elvira Salazar apparently has a short memory.
Just two years ago the former TV journalist faced sleazy accusations during her Republican primary bid for Florida’s 27th congressional district. A rival called Salazar, who is Cuban-American, a fan of Cuba’s late communist dictator Fidel Castro simply because she’d interviewed Castro in 1995. One especially underhanded attack ad edited the interview to make it look and sound as if she’d fallen in love with el comandante. The spot asked: “Whose side are you on, Maria?”
I wrote a commentary defending Salazar – and called her win in that primary an encouraging sign that Miami politics was shedding its sinister McCarthyism.
But boy do I look stupid and naïve now, folks. This year’s election not only confirmed malicious McCarthyism is alive and smearing in South Florida – it showcased Salazar as one of its most enthusiastic practitioners.
On Tuesday Salazar unseated the 27th District’s Democratic congresswoman, Donna Shalala, in no small part by conjuring the same slur tactics Salazar faced in that 2018 primary. She branded Shalala – as falsely and toxically as Salazar was labeled two years ago – a “socialist” in the mold of all the left-wing Latin American dictators so many Latinos in South Florida have fled. She hurled that same bogus epithet at the Black Lives Matter racial justice movement and claimed Shalala, Joe Biden and the Democrats get their orders from its leaders.
I have no partisan objection to Salazar going to Congress. I reside in the 27th District, a swing swath that’s getting used to being represented by Democrats and Republicans alike. As a registered independent I’ve voted for congressional candidates from both parties.
So it’s not Salazar’s election that bothers me. It’s how she got elected. The sheer hypocrisy of it, of course, but also the way it’s contributed to the unhinged orgy of ¡tú eres comunista! hysteria that defined this election cycle in South Florida – and which promises to further darken civic discourse and practices here for years to come precisely because it was so successful.
Boy, do I look stupid: This year’s election not only confirmed malicious Miami McCarthyism is alive and smearing – it showcased Salazar as one of its most enthusiastic practitioners.
South Florida’s red-baiting resurrection is mostly due to President Trump. He helped make Miami McCarthyism acceptable again – the idea that it’s OK to demonize political opponents as radical socialistas, even if it’s a bald-faced lie, because anti-communism’s heroic ends justify any slanderous means. (It’s the mirror image of communism’s belief that its heroic ends justify any slanderous means.)
That’s helped open the door in recent years to destructive social-media witch hunts in the Venezuelan community; to the rise of coarse web bullies like Alexander Otaola in the Cuban-American sphere; to frighteningly racist and outright threatening rhetoric on local Spanish-language outlets like Actualidad Radio and Radio Mambí and in publications like LIBRE.
What’s just as civically harmful as the reckless bile is the shameless double standards, which Salazar paraded in ways that would have made even a two-faced politico like Fidel Castro blush. She had the unmitigated brass to call Shalala and Democrats socialistas because of policies like Obamacare; then she turned around and told voters Obamacare was OK because she knew damn well how popular it is with South Floridians – especially with the Cubans and other Latinos in her district to whom she was most loudly preaching the ¡Demócratas-son-socialistas! propaganda.
Did you follow that shell game? Salazar bet most voters here wouldn’t, and she bet right. She also correctly wagered she’d get away with being openly endorsed and promoted by foreign elected officials – including right-wing Colombian politicians like former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe.
Uribe is under investigation in Colombia for alleged involvement with paramilitary death squads and witness tampering. But he’s an anti-comunista demigod to many Colombians and other Latinos in Florida – and in the 27th District. He hosted Salazar on webinars in recent months to help boost her anti-comunista street cred with them. During one she gushes about how wonderful Uribe is (I’m not editing the video here) and how she wants to be an “Uribito” – a “little Uribe” – in the U.S. Congress.
South Florida doesn’t need a little version of Alvaro Uribe representing it in Washington. It needs a bigger version of Maria Elvira Salazar. Bigger in character, anyway, than the one she showed us in her campaign.