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On Salazar, are Dems fighting fire with fire — or trying to make two wrongs a right?

Jose Iglesias
Miami Herald
MIAMI MCCARTHYISM Former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar celebrating her congressional election victory in Miami in November 2020.

COMMENTARY: Calling GOP Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar a "socialist" as carelessly as she hurls the word herself hurts Democrats' credibility as disinformation foes.

In 2018, I wrote in defense of then-Miami TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. A Republican congressional primary opponent was branding Salazar a gal-pal of Cuba’s Fidel Castro simply because she’d once interviewed the late communist dictator. It was a slimy instance of Miami McCarthyism. And the fact that Salazar ended up winning that contest seemed a hopeful sign that such slime didn’t work here anymore.

That is, until Salazar made it work like a charm for her in 2020. To win the 27th District congressional seat she currently holds, she swapped journalistic standards for MAGA stunts and turned into one of the most unhinged McCarthyites ever to stalk Miami – falsely demonizing Democrats and everyone else in her crosshairs as bloodsucking “¡socialistas!” and “¡comunistas!

Fast forward another two years, and you can see how indelibly Salazar’s witch-hunting hysterics have stained South Florida’s political discourse. Now even Florida’s Democratic Party seems, hypocritically, to be adopting them.

In the 27th, where I live, voters recently received a flyer from the Florida Dems that pictures Salazar alongside Castro and Venezuela’s socialist dictator, Nicolás Maduro. “Salazar…Castro…Maduro,” it reads in bold black type, telling voters Salazar is a “sympathizer [of] Communist and Socialist leaders and policies” and “can’t hide from her socialist record.”

It offers little if any evidence to back that charge. But what really gobsmacks you is that it also fires the same McCarthyite ammo – that Salazar has a girl crush on Fidel – that was aimed at her four years ago.

Florida Democrats obviously think they’re simply, and justifiably, fighting fire with fire. I get that. But they also risk shooting themselves in the foot.

It's a sign of how indelibly Salazar’s witch-hunting hysterics have stained South Florida’s political discourse that even Florida’s Democratic Party seems, hypocritically, to be adopting them.

More specifically, they risk blasting their party’s credibility as a force that claims to be fighting the corrosive, GOP-stoked disinformation that’s been swamping South Florida like Cat-5 storm surge in recent years.

A few months ago an investment group led by national Democrats purchased one of the most notoriousSpanish-language boomboxes of that right-wing lie-mongering, Radio Mambí. Their stated goal is to turn the station into a more rhetorically responsible outlet, an alternative to the air raid sirens en español that promote MAGA election denialism, bogus COVID-19 treatments, white Christian nationalism and, of course, the claim that Black Lives Matter is a Satanic cult.

READ MORE: Salazar's hypocrisy reminds us how harmful 'socialista' hysteria is to South Florida

Conservative Spanish-language media here also specialize in smearing anyone who’s one nanometer to the left of former President Donald Trump as a Satanic socialist. But how is Mambí’s new Dem-dominated ownership supposed to convince South Florida that it’s combating those perfidious practices if the Florida Democratic Party is embracing them?

Marxist guerrillas

Yes, I’m more than aware that Salazar and her forces in this election cycle have only picked up (or down) where they left off in 2020. In one recent online ad, her Super PAC, Latino Vote for America, ludicrously asserts that her Democratic challenger, Colombian-American state Sen. Annette Taddeo, is friendly with Colombia’s ex-guerrilla socialist president, Gustavo Petro, even though Taddeo came to America escaping the Marxist guerrillas who kidnapped her father.

Still, most folks are likely to view the Florida Dems’ Salazar flyer less as a counterattack than as an attempt to make two wrongs a right.

Dems should read my colleague Andres Oppenheimer’s recent Miami Herald column. Andres is hardly a flaming liberal. But he points out that Salazar, and Miami’s other Cuban-American congressional representatives, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Gimenez, risk resembling the anti-democratic Latin American socialists they compare President Biden to. That’s because they’ve failed the test on defending democracy here in the U.S. by not calling out “Trump’s support for the bloody takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021” or his lies about 2020 election fraud.

Andres’ take on the collapsed credibility of those three amigos is substantiated, and therefore more convincing to readers – just as more substantiated indictments from the Florida Democratic Party would be more effective with voters.

To her credit, Taddeo’s own campaign ads take more of that tack. They link their charge that Salazar has a double-standard affinity with socialist-style control, for example, to the congresswoman’s admittedly hardline record against abortion (read women's) rights.

People can debate if that link is fair or not. But it’s fairer than calling a former journalist a socialist simply because she once interviewed Fidel Castro.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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