Page Two: The Politics of Distraction
In the face of failure at home and abroad, the right turns on immigrants
Certainly, immigration is and has been a major issue. But what about Iraq, al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden (has he been caught?), Social Security reform, national security, tax-cutting budget balancing, AIDS in Africa, spreading democracy, and battling the axis of evil, as well as reactionary political and social reform?
The intensity and sense of urgency around the immigration discussion seems disproportionately overwhelming. Even if you have been awake, but just not paying much attention, this ferocity is disconcerting. What catastrophic incident has caused this issue to be moved to the front burner, with the maximum possible heat?
Have terrorists been caught crossing our southern border? Has the drain of that population bankrupted and shredded our already shrinking, ever more flimsy social safety net? Have illegal immigrants gone on a Days of Rage-style urban rampage, leaving cities aflame? Are their numbers reaching epidemic proportions?
Some would say "yes" to all of those. They claim that illegal immigrants are "invading" the U.S., parasitically devouring public-education and health-service funds with the intent of subverting and destroying Western civilization and the American lifestyle.
Witness this excerpt from a recent letter to "Postmarks": "The furor over illegal immigration brings to mind the wisdom of W.C. Fields reflected in the title Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. ... If this continues, in the near future America will become a Third World entity. ... This problem now gravely exposes America and humanity to the horror of tyranny and destitution. ... We must condemn the current Latin American leaders who encourage their citizens to invade the U.S. ... [K]eep neo-leftist Democrats away from American political power, and elect conservative Republicans to national office who will vigorously defend our sovereign borders."
Illegal immigration is a complex issue, one for which with any kind of movement is almost impossible because of the intensely concerned constituencies' radically different agendas. Yet those opposed to open borders offer only easy answers: Implement strict border enforcement and build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico now. Drive those already here home by denying them employment (by outrageously fining any American employer hiring them), education, driver's licenses, and any public services. Concurrently, round them up to send them back home, with no possibility of returning.
There are any number of logical refutations of the above positions. It is estimated that illegal workers contribute about $10 billion to Social Security that they never collect, though they cost about $2.2 billion a year in government health services. They are crucial to the marketplace's filling many low-level labor and service jobs Americans won't. (Note: This is not to argue that there are no Americans who will take these jobs or even that they won't take them at the same pay. Those are straw-man arguments there is not a large enough American work force to do the jobs, especially at prevailing wages.) But even this brief discussion dignifies the current immigration debate.
This is not a debate over policy or practice; it is not a legitimate concern about the health and integrity of the nation. Sadly, this debate is not even driven by standards that reach the level of inane isolationism, bigoted xenophobia, and personal self-interest over community. The driving force is far more base.
Consider a quick look back at the world of the first paragraph. The federal government and most of the states were controlled by "conservative" right-wing Republicans. Public mass-media discourse had been dramatically stunted and slanted. Red-white-and-blue-blooded, two-fisted patriots insisted on a vision of American purity, based on the unswerving certainty of Christian principles, as well as the world domination of Western culture, religion, philosophy, economics, and politics.
This was a world of clear-cut, highly differentiated blacks and whites, good and evil, truth and lies of unchanging moral standards, applicable to all under any circumstances. Correct actions and policies were obvious (almost always exactly as viewed by the Bush administration and the conservative right), while anything else was motivated by the most evil, corrupted motives and driven by satanic ambitions.
In the bright, burning light of the one clear, U.S.-centric, God-blessed-and-given, capitalistic, democratic vision other ideologies, religions, (and let's be honest) nationalities, and races paled. Our truths exposed their lies.
If our Rip Winkle, a mere 18 months earlier, watched the FOX network or listened to talk radio, Iraq was overwhelmingly the predominant topic. In so many ways, it validated all of those attitudes: how right the U.S. was to be in Iraq, and how successful the occupation, as we brought democracy to the Iraqis. At the same time, this country had returned to our rightful place as the sole, dominant national power of the modern world. Democrats (read: leftists/communists/socialists/suicidal pacifists) and other anti-war activists had been proven wrong, exposed as America-haters, racists, cowards, and impractical dreamers who wanted to embrace the terrorists rather than destroy them.
Now, this might seem cheap and too convenient a neo-leftist, misguided attempt to shift the debate away from the real problem but, right now, go turn on talk radio. Illegal immigration is the dominant, and almost only, topic. The invasion of the country and corruption of American civilization is lamented. Americans, especially our elected leaders, are chastised for doing nothing. For the part of our population that is dependent on easy answers and needs an identifiable enemy to hate, illegal immigration is the new Iraq.
This issue certainly fits the bill, not only providing an outside "enemy," but allowing an attack on clueless, apathetic (if not traitorous) citizens (read: liberal Democrat, anti-American, anti-moral-values, communist, socialist, fifth columnists). There are no problems that can't be solved by attacking other Americans.
Forget that outside of many border communities and a few border states, illegal immigration does not pose massive national problems. It's those damn elections!
Consider the concerns facing Republicans. Driven by pundits, talk radio, and the need for convenient enemies and simple solutions, the Republican base is demanding that illegal immigration be prioritized, our borders protected, and civilization saved. Any kind of amnesty for those already here is unacceptable to this group. Ignore that expelling 12 million illegals is not a real option: Are we not a nation of laws?
Yet the business community, which usually has Republicans at their beck and call, insists on the need for a cheap workforce, as do most Americans, even those supposedly against open borders, because of the economics involved. Many things cost less when labor costs less.
Yes, this is an artificial problem and a minor issue, driven to prominence by shallow ideological needs. Senators opposing amnesty and immigration reform do so for the cheapest political reasons and not out of any principles. This is a situation created by hate talk and illogical exaggerations, defined by undiluted demagogy and those unashamedly addicted to the same.
After invading Iraq for no real reason. After well over a trillion dollars is going to be wasted, thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, and many more wounded. After tacitly endorsing the fundamentalist, terrorist view of the xenophobic arrogance of the West in general and the U.S. in particular. After all this, the "more patriotic than anybody else (especially you)" right wing without apology, self-awareness, or acceptance of any responsibility again is following the same militantly nationalistic, irrationally fantastical, unjustified presumptions that led us into the quicksand of Iraq.
Illegal immigration is not a major problem facing the United States, though it is of genuine and contradictory concerns. The reason for its prominence is a need for enemies on the part of those who vow undying love to this country while evidencing not even limited affection for its principles.
This is 1984. Turn on talk radio. You will hear endless gibberish about illegal immigration. Iraq will be hardly mentioned, if at all. Socialist George Orwell saw this coming, as right-wing America still does not. The response to terrorism can't be terrorism; the response to fascism can't be fascism; and the response to anti-American rhetoric and values can't be the destruction of the Constitution.
Kevin Connor of KGSR-FM's morning show has resigned from the station to work at ME TV. Kevin's contributions to the Austin creative scene are legion, spreading far beyond just his knowledgeable and extensive support of the music scene. The extent of this loss will only become more apparent in the next few months, even though he is being replaced by Brian Beck, another favorite deejay who also boasts an impressive knowledge of music. Connor's presence in and contributions to the Austin community, with its ongoing dialogues, have been equally widespread, passionate, and influential.
But all this is talk and ideas. I will forever miss listening to Kevin in the morning, finding his show a place to root and flourish. I have known him too long; we came up at the same time and fought the good fight as allies and as friends. I will remember the music he played and the way he introduced it.
This shouldn't sound like an obituary, but instead strong, affectionate congratulations! Kevin is not leaving town and will continue to be a force in the community. We anxiously wait to see the wonders he will work on TV, wishing him the best in all new ventures. I look forward to working together in new ways on different projects, as well as on the long-running ones. But, gosh, I will miss him during morning drives, the sun just up, the air fresh, as he championed the music, celebrated Austin, and welcomed the day.