Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's not Immigration. It's the Economy.

To control the immigration debate, the Right has constructed a box made of the same-old, same-old tried-and-failed reactionary memes, and all of us are trapped within it.

Have you noticed? We never, ever seem to talk outside that box. Even when we seek to rebut, we repeat the memes and reinforce them in the public mind.

Individually and collectively, these sound bites are nothing but voter registration and privatization enhancement devices. That’s it. They have no basis in reality because that’s not the point. The point is to obscure reality, not reveal it. The point is to create a new reality and marshal the masses to defend it.

Observe the trap. Every one of the handful of popular immigration disinformation nuggets is designed to hook, recruit, and redirect the attention of one or more vulnerable sectors of the public. The disgruntled, the fearful, the racist, the desperate, and/or the bankrupt and the medically besieged have to be distracted from reality, captured for the Republican Party, and given a pressure valve, a scapegoat to shoot at. Ergo, “illegals.”

It’s no accident that Lou Dobbs--voice of the populist Right--commiserates with the middle class while he pumps far Right propaganda to the masses: Elections aren’t won without the middle class. So far, thanks largely to his megaphone, we either lamely rebut the memes (a lost cause; you can’t prove a negative), or we sit on the sidelines, frightened ourselves or frozen between false polarities like opposing labor or opposing immigrants.

But today's election results in Virginia and elesewhere, and the economic trends highlighted in today’s Financial Times may point the way for a whole new conversation. It turns out that voters are not driven as one to the GOP by immigration after all. It turns out that after a long post-traumatic stress disorder coma, Americans are waking to the real dimensions of the disaster the Right has wrought. Let's hope the Democrats wake up and smell the anger.

Meanwhile, indeed there are real considerations to be faced in the complex immigration issue, but we're trapped in a GOP sound chamber and missing the facts pretty much entirely.

Here’s my take on some of the memes, who they target, and how they function.

“Illegals” steal jobs and force down wages. There are millions of underpaid and un-benefitted “union orphans” and unemployed workers stranded on our shores waving adieu at jobs gone overseas and wages depressed by the GOP wealth transfer machine. How better to channel their rage than by telling them that a horde of brown people is stampeding across the land to steal their jobs? The sheer beauty of it! This meme positions the Right as the outraged friend of the workin’ man, and polarizes African Americans and Latinos. It also puts rotten rock liberals, who acquired their political values from a bumper sticker, between a rock and a hard place: Oh Lordy! Whom to support when the union people are fighting with the Black people! God forbid we question the premise.

“Illegals” steal elections. So many corruptions beset us, but undocumented workers lining up to vote is not among them. Still, this meme is perfect cover for Rightwingers who want to diddle state voter registration rules and tweak those little black boxes. It hooks the racism in us all, and drives a lot of Americans to the polls to support “voter fraud” propositions that actually are intended to defraud minorities, not to un-fix fixed votes. Heightened ID requirements and other measures are designed to keep poor people and minorities from voting, but under cover of “voter fraud,” GOP secretaries of state and tainted highway patrolmen get away with tricks that ordinarily would land them in jail.

“Illegals" bring crime to the neighborhood. "Illegals" drive down property values.” How many people who’ve played by the rules actually haven’t gotten where they expected to be? Hard work hasn’t automatically brought the American Dream—not since the 1970s, not since corporations took health insurance and pensions off the table and gave 99% of the productivity yield to the CEO.

More recently, millions were prodded to seize lowered mortgage interest rates, but weren’t told that their lenders were giving kickbacks for higher home appraisals. Now that house values are tanking and crime driven by poverty and drugs is rising across the country, a lot of furious people want something more tangible to smack down than Countrywide’s voice mail hell, and a lot of corporate lobbyists, drug dealers, and mortgage raiders desperately need the GOP to divert them.

They’re nothin’ but a bunch of "illegals!” This meme of perverted genius is the cinder-like heart of Rightwing xenophobia and racism. It reduces a whole person—a human being with a name, a family, a story, and a dream—to one word, a word that acts to numb us to the huge difference between what is merely legal and what is just. As cleverly, that word points us away from our own complicity: It was we who allowed our politicians to create NAFTA and CAFTA, and it is we who benefit from prices that are subsidized on the backs of the very people we demonize. Nice. But as long as we focus on those “illegals,” we aren’t likely to focus on NAFTA and CAFTA or global warming. It’s old-fashioned rabble-rousing; if nothing else can get the rabble pissed off and to the polls, the vision of thieving brown hordes and cowboy militias surely will. This is class war, only, as “employer sanctions” measures are about to demonstrate graphically, we’re shooting each other.\

“Illegals" don't pay taxes. Not exactly. The fact is that working Americans are funding the war, the country, and wealthy Republicans, who simply are not carrying their weight. But taxes are always a sore point. Paint the Democrats as tax raisers and friends of dirt-poor free-loading "tax cheaters," and paint the GOP as the party of law and order. Like the “illegals” meme, the tax meme appeals to the dutiful, unassuming law abiding voters among us—the so called “moral majority.” They may be God-fearing, but all the same, somehow they aren’t part of the new GOP aristocracy. Like the rest of us, they may wonder where the money went. Better to vote righteous indignation than to consider the possibility that they’ve been had, bad, by King George II.

“Illegals" have driven our hospitals into the ground and shred our safety nets and public schools. Somebody has, that’s for sure, but not brown-skin immigrants. For-profit hospital corporations like that owned by the Frist family shut down small rural hospitals to drive down costs. Right-wing fundamentalists attack school funding in favor of privatization—charter schools, private schools, and school voucher programs--and in favor of curriculum control through coordinated home and private Christian schooling. Neo-Con Republicans un-fund New Deal federal safety nets in the name of privatization or small government (except in Iraq), and shift social service costs to already overburdened states. We may notice that the lynchpins of the New Deal lie in tatters, but it’s hard to see clauses buried deep in government funding bills. Besides, it’s easier to gratify the dispossessed if we put fences militias on the border. It’s also more profitable to build private mercenary armies, private prisons, and miles of walls than tend to the nation’s social and physical infrastructure.

The debate as it is currently constructed really isn't about immigration. That's just the screen. It's the subtext that is controlling us. Time for us to get out of the box, look at the facts about immigration, and notice that loud crashing sound around us.

It's our disintegrating country, thanks to the GOP. This is what the Virginia voters are waking up to. And Rahm Emmanuel, James Carville, and Hillary Clinton are dead wrong to steer the party away from telling it like it is.