AUSTIN, Texas — Dec. 16, 2005, is a day that will live in infamy in the Hall of Fame of Unintended Republican Consequences.
A bunch of the guys were just noodling around in the House of Representatives in Washington, see, kind of fooling around with the idea that they might get some traction out of immigration as a hot-button issue. The old hot buttons have kind of cooled off here lately, with people up in arms about Iraq, oil, health insurance and all this other stuff that makes the boys say, "Who me?" Where's a good divisive social issue when you need one? They weren't that far wrong — some variation on the race card usually works.
Trouble is, they played the card, tried to make every illegal worker in the country a felon and woke up the Sleeping Brown Giant, instead.
Who knew? Unions, organizers, community workers, priests and preachers, and Lord knows the Democrats have been trying to wake the Sleeping Giant for years. That it would happen someday was an article of faith when I first started watching Texas politics 40 years ago. Who knew all it would take was one softly played, very ugly, very nasty little piece of racial political pandering. And there was the Giant, out on the streets in the millions. For those who know the Latin emphasis on respect and dignity, maybe it's not such a surprise after all.
The Waking Giant clearly makes a good part of Anglo America uncomfortable — I suppose if the R's really want to push racial division, it will work and we can commit some monumental folly like building a fence on the border. But as a founding member of the Anti-Hypocrisy on Border Issues Party, I'm ready to bet Republican money, which after all hires the illegal workers, has too much at stake to let their party go off on a racist toot. You can let the right-wing radio commentators bloviate all they want, to get the young jackboots all stirred up, but it's still Wal-Mart hiring these people. Believe me, their employers are big Republican donors.
The solution to this problem is so simple: Do the right thing. As that great economist "High" Hightower of Denison, Texas, said, "Everyone does better when everyone does better." We won't need a fence or even a border when Mexico is doing better.
It does not take great economic acumen to realize that Mexico was damaged by NAFTA, that the surge in immigration has been caused by our own selfish and stupid trade policies, which benefit few of us, also. And domestic policies, I might add. The conservatives have been preaching this Me First stuff as though life were a race to the finish and the only object is to pick up as much money as you can. It doesn't work — not even if you wind up with a lot of toys. As another noted economist said, we are becoming a nation of private opulence and public squalor.
Look, we all do better when we all do better. You raise the minimum wage, it works for everyone.
Rabbi Michael Lerner ("The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right") is urging a 20-year commitment of 5 percent of GDP to end world poverty. The money would not be committed to governments, but to NGOs with solid records. And I say, why the hell not?
Is selfish and stupid working out so well for us? The progressive religious people will be meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 17-20 for a Spiritual Activism Conference. Naturally, being lefties, they pose no threat to separation of church and state. Amazing how easy it is to keep that clear just by thinking it through.