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Beast of the Month - May 2006
Tom Tancredo, Immigrant-bashing Politician
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
From the film Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
On March 25, up to two million people (according to the Spanish-language TV network Univision) marched on downtown Los Angeles and other cities across the nation, in protest of proposed federal legislation (already passed in the House of Representatives) that would not only make illegal immigration a felony, but make it illegal for those involved in social services and charities (such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters and emergency clinics) to help them. This was just preseason, however, as millions more came to the street nationally on a May Day protest and celebration of Latino culture.
This was no Cinco de Mayo happy hour at Acapulco Restaurant. The term "waking a sleeping giant" is often used in politics for pure hyperbole, but here is a case where the hype was exceeded. Hispanics are currently 14.1 % of the American population, and as they are the only demographic group which takes the biblical command "be fruitful and multiply" to heart, that percentage is definitely with a bullet. The Congressional bill was punitive to the extreme, and the massive response to it was rightful and powerful display of cultural pride and social justice. Twelve years ago in California, Pete Wilson was reelected Governor despite a dismal record, under a race-baiting strategy of scapegoating Hispanics. The massive protests indicate another round of scapegoating won't occur without a fight.
We at The Konformist already hear some readers screaming at the top of your lungs: "But it's not about Hispanics! It's not even about immigration! It's about ILLEGAL immigration!!!" Fair enough, for those who actually mean it, though even sincere supporters of new restrictions involving immigration would be dishonest if they denied some racism (and not all of it subtle) fueled the movement.
Having said that, though it may not be politically correct to point out, it would be dishonest to pretend the massive influx of illegal immigrants from south of the border hasn't been a depressant on wages, especially on unskilled laborers. Writer Thom Hartmann hit the nail on the head in an article for CommonDreams.org, "Today's Immigration Battle: Corporatists vs. Racists (and Labor is Left Behind.)" During the Reagan Years, only one to two million illegal immigrants were part of the American workforce. Now, the number is between seven and fifteen million. This is by design, as huge korporations (most notably firms such as Walmart and Tyson Foods) exploit this cheaper labor force and use it to extort lower wages from others in the working class. Little surprise then that many right-wing politicians with little sympathy for either minorities or the working poor (most notably George W. Bush) have not only avoided jumping on the immigration hysteria bandwagon, but have instead pushed for policies that, while appearing progressive and tolerant, are really nothing more than boondoggles for big business.
So there, we admit it: immigration is a complex issue. That said, let The Konformist boldly declare a few things:
1. Current US immigration policies and realities are not good for American workers, and they aren't good for immigrant workers either.
2. Most of this talk about "legal" versus "illegal" is a bunch of rubbish. The fact is, the reason so many immigrants enter America illegally is they have no legal means of entering this country. Whatever the serious economic problems are in the United States, they're nothing compared to those in Mexico. It is this economic desperation that fuels migration, and to expect anyone to obey laws that would leave them in an even worse level of abject poverty is ridiculous.
3. Though the phenomenon of illegal immigration is certainly on a radical and disturbing increase over the last twenty years, it isn't as if the phenomenon never existed before. All one has to do is look up the history of the derogatory term for Italians, wops, to discover that it comes from the phrase "without papers."
4. The economic problems of Mexico are no accident. They are, like those in the vast majority of the Third World, the result of policies designed by the IMF and World Bank to keep developing countries in a continued state of deprivation. The only nations to escape this downward spiral have been those fortunate enough to have both the ability to ignore the IMF-WB edicts and leaders willing to face the risks of doing so (the most notable recent example being Venezuela under Hugo Chavez.)
This leads us to the final, and most important, point of all:
5. The problems in the United States are not caused by men whose first name is Pedro, but rather by men whose last name is Rockefeller.
The Konformist doesn't pretend to have a monopoly on the truth, but we'd like to think the above declarations are a good starting point for the discussion of immigration. The Konformist would even argue any discussion of immigration that didn't agree with the above would be coming from a deceitful place and would be fundamentally flawed. Which leads us to Tom Tancredo, The Konformist Beast of the Month.
Tancredo, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, represents the leader of the next likely populist movement in the GOP. As with most populist movements, this is bad news to the party establishment, not the least of which is Karl Rove. Rove has referred to Tancredo as "a traitor to the party" and "a traitor to the president [sic]" for ripping on Bush's border security plans. (Tancredo warned that if another terrorist attack hit America after Shrub's proposal, "the blood of the people killed" would be on Bush's hands.)
Rove's detestation notwithstanding, Tancredo does have a strong following, strong enough to win the Survey St. Louis March Madness 2006 GOP Presidential poll. The poll, while not scientific, represents the strength of Republican candidates among its most devoted followers. Using the NCAA Tournament's six rounds of 64 candidates, the field was whittled down to Tancredo as the winner. (Personally, in keeping with the times, The Konformist thinks using an American Idol format would be more apropos, but we digress.) In the finale, Tancredo crushed Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, winning 77.4 percent of the vote. This was his most contentious battle, as the worst total he received in the other rounds was 79.9, facing the following: Texas Governor Rick Perry, Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan and Virginia Senator George Allen. Politically speaking, there wasn't a slouch in the group he ass-whupped.
As founder and chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, Tancredo has a bully pulpit to keep himself in increasingly higher profile. Of course, with this comes more focus on his amazing ability to make an ass of himself. Among his greatest (or worst) hits:
* In April 2005, after George W. Bush called the armed anti-immigrant Minutemen patrolling the Arizona border "vigilantes," Tancredo shot back that Bush should have to write an apology on a blackboard 100 times, then erase the chalk with his tongue.
* Once declared hysterically at a political rally illegal immigrants "need to be found before it is too late! They're coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren! It's just despicable!"
* When the Denver Post described the plight of an illegal immigrant high school valedictorian with a 3.9 grade point average, Tancredo quickly showed his sympathy by trying to find and deport the boy and his family.
* In July 2005, when Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu publicly advocated the use of nuclear weapons against the US in a hypothetical Sino-American war, Tancredo demanded an apology, declaring: "For a senior government official to exhibit such tremendous stupidity by making such a brazen threat is hardly characteristic of a modern nation." Coincidentally, on the same day while on a right-wing radio talk show, he proclaimed the U.S. should "take out" Mecca and other Islamic holy sites if the country is hit by a major Islamic terrorist attack. He has yet to apologize.
Boners aside, Tancredo was the author of H.R. 946, The Mass Immigration Reduction Act of 2003, which would limit legal immigration to 30,000 annually for at least five years. The bill had little support in Congress and went nowhere, but it gave him active support from the major anti-immigration organizations in the country. It is this base support that fuels his apparent desires for the White House in 2008. And it is this base support which scares the Republican establishment.
Tancredo isn't alone within the right-wing in exploiting the frustrations, angers and fears of the masses involving immigration. Among his fellow travelers, from the friends-in-low-places to those higher on the media food chain:
* Jared Taylor - Editor of American Renaissance, a well-written, albeit offensive, journal on "race, immigration, and the decline of civility." By "civility" he means the decline of the "white" race, which he believes is under assault. He's also a member of The National Policy Institute, which "speaks for White Americans." Taylor claims he isn't a white supremacist, but rather a white separatist, a distinction that means little in practice. Supremacist or separatist, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center quotes him as writing African Americans are "crime-prone," "dissipated," "pathological" and "deviant." Potok sums it up: "Jared Taylor is the cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy. He is the guy who is providing the intellectual heft, in effect, to modern-day Klansmen."
* Kevin MacDonald - Long Beach State professor who specializes in evolutionary psychology, he uses his field to promote a pet obsession on Jews. He wrote a trilogy on the issue, and claims Jews use a "group evolutionary strategy" to make themselves genetically inclined to both superior intelligence and adherency to collectivist behavior. He writes about immigration on VDARE, a Website dedicated to anti-immigration that includes Jared Taylor as a contributor. On the site, he linked immigration to his Hebrew-fixation, arguing mass immigration is a Jewish plot to keep other races at each other's throat rather than focus on the bigger issue (namely, the Jews.)
* Glenn Spencer - Described as the "Paul Revere of the anti-immigration movement" by the SPLC Intelligence Report, Spencer runs the American Patrol Website, which demands the deportation of all illegal immigrants, is against politicians of Hispanic descent no matter their political stance, and has made reference to race wars. He referred to the recent pro-immigration protests as "The Second Mexican War." Taylor and MacDonald both were on his radio show as welcomed guests. Spencer is also a prime promoter of the Aztlan Reconquista conspiracy, which alleges a secret Mexican plot to reconquer the Southwest. In 1999, he stated the following: "RECONQUISTA IS REAL... EVERY ILLEGAL ALIEN IN OUR NATION MUST BE DEPORTED IMMEDIATELY... IF WE CAN BOMB THE TV STATION IN BELGRADE [in the former Yugoslavia], WE CAN SHUT DOWN [U.S. Spanish-language stations] TELEMUNDO AND UNIVISION." In a 1996 letter to The LA Times, he added: "The Mexican culture is based on deceit. Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival."
* Barbara Coe - Joined the nativist movement after standing in the lobby of an OC social services office, which she described as looking like the UN. In 1994, she organized a group called the California Coalition for Immigration Reform to help write and push through California's Proposition 187, which proposed to cut off illegal immigrants from social services like public schools and hospitals. (The initiative passed but was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.) A member of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, Coe has described Mexicans as "savages," and frothed last year at an anti-immigration rally: "We are suffering robbery, rape and murder of law-abiding citizens at the hands of illegal barbarians who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos." Another Aztlan Reconquista conspiracist, Coe has derided Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as part of the plot to return Southern California to Mexico. Meanwhile, she calls Tancredo is a "gold-plated, card-carrying patriot."
* Chris Simcox - Cofounder and spokesman of the Minuteman Project, "a citizens' Neighborhood Watch on our border." Formed in 2004, the Minutemen are a private border security operation that monitors the flow of Mexicans into the U.S. A previous group he founded in 2002, Civil Homeland Defense, used a policy of "citizen arrest" to detain thousands of people entering the USA. Simcox claims to have no racist beliefs and there has been little evidence to link the Minutemen to racist groups. However, court records related to his divorce indicate a man with a history of mental instability and psychotic violence, and multiple witnesses interviewed by the SPLC claim he once attempted to molest his own daughter in a drunken stupor. Whatever the truth of these allegations, here's what Simcox said to the SPLC in a 2003 interview: "These people don't come here to work. They come here to rob and deal drugs. We need the National Guard to clean up our cities and round them up." He also once said of immigrants: "They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughter and they are evil people." In one speech, he added his own spin to the Aztlan conspiracy, alleging it was a Chinese communist plot: "There's something very fishy going on at the border. The Mexican army is driving American vehicles -- but carrying Chinese weapons. I have personally seen what I can only believe to be Chinese troops." In the same speech, he added: "They're trashing their neighborhoods, refusing to assimilate, standing on street corners, jeering at little girls walking on their way to school." (That, without trying, The Konformist found two quotes of young women being threatened sexually suggests it may be an obsession of his, as multiple witnesses have alleged.)
* Jim Gilchrist - The other half of the Minutemen founders, Gilchrist has no history of mental illness or violence, but appears to have strong political ambitions instead. He's changed his tune in chameleon-like turns that would impress even David Bowie or Madonna. He publicly admitted as recently as 2003, he voted for Green Party candidate Peter Camejo for California Governor due to his left-wing economic agenda. He then morphed himself into a right-wing Republican as he jumped on the Minutemen bandwagon, and began making dire political rantings. He declared, "40 years from now, I see neighborhood armies of 20 to 40 going out and killing and invading one another. The United States is going to have 100 tribes with 100 languages and no common bond. Its future mayhem." He would add, "Illegal immigrants will destroy this country. Every time a Mexican flag is planted on American soil, it is a declaration of war." Meanwhile, he would state on his Website: "At the current rate of invasion, the United States will be completely overrun with ILLEGAL aliens by the year 2025... ILLEGAL aliens and their offspring will be the dominant population in the U.S. and will have made such inroads into the political and social systems that they will have more influence than the U.S. Constitution over how the U.S. is governed. That ugly consequence is already taking place. The United States of America is under invasion." These more brash statements would disappear after he ran for Congress in late 2005 under the American Independent Party. Ironically, representing the AIP (a party formed by former Alabama Governor George Wallace to defend segregation) has moderated his pronouncements, and he finished a respectable third in December 2005 with over a quarter of the vote.
* Pat and/or Angela "Bay" Buchanan - Pistol Pat may be an outcast from the GOP, but that is by choice. After turns as a Tricky Dick speechwriter and Uncle Ronnie's Communications Director, Pat ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 (leading to his infamous "Cultural War" speech at that year's convention) and 1996 (finishing a formidable second to Bob Dole.) He then ran in 2000 under the Reform Party banner, finishing in fourth place (though supposedly winning key votes in Palm Beach County.) Meanwhile, his younger sis Bay was Reagan's Treasury Secretary from 1981-83, then managed all three of her brother's campaigns. (Incidentally, The Konformist must ask: has anyone seen the two of them together? Because Bay sure looks like Pat in drag.) For all his brilliance as a writer and his incisive criticism of both the neocon agenda and globalism, Pat is still a good fascist at heart. He attacks multiculturalism as "an across-the-board assault on our Anglo-American heritage" and long has placed immigrants just a notch below homosexuals as his favorite scapegoat for America's problems. Meanwhile, Bay is currently both a CNN commentator (where Pat became famous on Crossfire) and chairwoman of Team America, a PAC founded by Tancredo.
* Lou Dobbs - A CNN correspondent since it was founded, Dobbs morphed from his role as host of the innocuous Moneyline to his current strident position as host of Lou Dobbs Tonight. To his credit, Dobbs covers issues such as international trade on his show with criticisms rarely aired on any news network, with sharp attacks on outsourcing and offshoring. That said, has increasingly showcased a mono-obsession on immigration that borders on the pathological. He regularly uses the alarmist headings of "Exporting America" and "Broken Borders" for stories, and a Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting investigation revealed his use of sensationalistic soundbites (segments devoted to illegal immigrants who get free medical care, commit sex crimes, clog up federal prisons, carry dangerous diseases and smuggle drugs), skewed guestlists to effectively frame the parameters of debate and dubious economic stats (odd considering his business news background.) He also reveals a hobby horse over referring to illegal immigrants on his show as "illegal aliens" instead, a more pejorative term that also helps frame the debate.
Where does Tancredo fit on this spectrum, from ranting white separatist to respectable CNN talking head? Tancredo may lack the intellectual firepower of Dobbs or Pat, but makes up for it with a fundraising ability and high profile that has him a power player on the immigration battle.
This is what freaks out the GOP establishment. Tancredo is a case of chickens coming home to roost. Since the days of Nixon, Republicans have trolled the underbelly of the "Angry White Male" phenomenon, inciting economic frustrations with ugly (if usually subliminal) appeals to racism that worked, even if it required taking a shower afterwards. Yet as former Bush speechwriter David Frum has pointed out, "There's no issue where the beliefs and interests of the party rank-and-file diverge more radically from the beliefs and interests of the party's leaders." Simply put, the GOP leaders don't want to play the race card here, as illegal immigration pits the AWMs against big business that profits off it. It also threatens the long-term power of the party: Hispanics, after all, are the demographic future of the USA, and Republican strategists believe they can win this demographic with crude appeals to their Roman Catholic background railing against abortion and homosexuality.
Of course, despite his strong base support, Tancredo chances to win the GOP Presidential nod are quite dubious: money talks, after all, and the big money (unsurprisingly) is not backing him. He does, however, have the ability to run a serious third party candidacy, and if he does, he could be the wild card to American politics that hasn't been seen since the days of George Wallace.
In any case, we salute Tom Tancredo as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Tommy!!!
Arellano, Gustavo. "The Anti-Immigrant Movements Trotsky." Orange County Weekly 10 February 2005 <http://www.ocweekly.com/news/news/the-anti-immigrant-movements-trotsky/19152>.
Blumenthal, Max. "Vigilante Injustice." Salon 22 May 2003 <http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2003/05/22/vigilante/index.html>.
Crowley, Michael. "Border War." New Republic 28 March 2005.
Frum, David. "GOP, You Are Warned." NewsMax 10 January 2005 <http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/1/10/140820.shtml>.
Hart, Peter. "Dobbs' Choice." Extra! January/February 2004.
Martin, Patrick. "As Mass Demonstrations Continue, Republicans Split Over Anti-immigration Bill." World Socialist Web Site 29 March 2006 <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/mar2006/immi-m29.shtml>.
"Presidential March Madness 2006." Survey Saint Louis April 2006 <http://www.surveysaintlouis.com/marchmadness/bracket2006.gif>.
Valle, Ramon and Azul, Rafael. "More Than a Million March in Los Angeles, Other US Cities in Defense of Immigrant Rights." World Socialist Web Site 27 March 2006 <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/mar2006/immi-m27.shtml>.
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