Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Huck Bush: The Barefoot Boy from Midland"

At the GOP convention in 2000, a propaganda film portraying George Bush's "roots" was shown. Bush, the film contended, grow up with Mexican American and Black friends who had found memories of him in a sort of integrated version of Mayberry, RFD, in the old Andy Griffith television program of the 1960s.

Nobody I knew believed this film, which provided a context for Bush's "compassionate conservatism" campaign "message. (I do know a few Republicans and they didn't believe it either).African Americans and Latinos I knew at the time were particularly outraged at it, which encouraged them to take seriously the idea that the grandson of a wealthy and ruling class connected U.S. Senator from Connecticut and the son of a wealthy and ruling class connected oil man from Texas would live in this kind of society.

If this were true, Texas in the 1950s and 1960s had become a classless Communist society where all social distinctions were without meaning and one could be an oil executive in the morning and a farmer in the afternoon.

I thought of that Republican propaganda film which many of us laughed at in 2000 when I read a New York Times major article today connecting Bush's fight for his immigration legislation to his carefree youth in Midland, Texas. Except this is an article not a film and this is the New York Times, not the Republican National Committee (or even the Wall Street Journal) and many still think there is or at least should be a difference.

The article begins with an anecdote. A Mexican American women who owns a small restaurant in Midland closed her restaurant to go to a demonstration against penalties for illegal immigrants and faced a boycott by the locals. Bush ate regularly in the restaurant, readers are informed, and his three closet friends, including a former Commerce Secretary, stood by her (as I assume would Aunt Bea, Floyd the Barber, and Gomer Pyle of Mayberry, none of whom ever held cabinet positions).

But that is just the beginning of the "story." Bush "grew up" in Midland, albeit going to boarding school and college "in the more genteel settings of Andover and Yale" (how many of his barefoot boy Mexican American buddies made their way to any college, much less a ruling class one like Yale, isn't a question the reporter asks).

As a "young hard drinking oil man" (Rutenberg's words not mine, although I would mention that GW was both very unsuccessful and made it into the oil business only because of his family's wealth and power), young Bush "had a particular empathy" for the Mexican immigrants who worked hard and succeeded without his social privileges.

This was aided and abetted when Bush's parents "hired a live-in Mexican maid in Texas who became part of the family" (now the story or sitcom changes a little and becomes akin to Beulah, the African American maid
who became part of the family in a famous 1950s sitcom by the same name which opponents of racism in media saw as a continuation of the Mammy stereotype)

The rest of the story tells how Bush I came to Midland in 1948 (no mention about the money and connection to the local oil elite his father provided for him) later started an oil company named Zapata Petroleum (named after the popular film, Viva Zapata, although the real Zapata would turn over in his grave) and subsequently had as his partner in the firm a Mexican citizen who was " a contender for the Mexican Presidency before being imprisoned for fraud" (which may be the most significant fact in the article to understanding this administration's policies).

Young George saw the Mexican laborers (whose labor was cheap which was why he saw so many of them) working in the oil fields and in the local businesses. There is even a picture of young George in the oil fields that his father's company owned.

But the oil industry boomed and according to the article, young George and later "adult George" came to respect more and more the Horatio Alger Chicanos who made it on their own, opened up a chain of selling burritos, etc.

The article ends with a section portraying Bush as "El Defender," and highlighting his and his rich local Republican friends conflicts with the local Republican party, which regards any legislation to give undocumented workers anything save deportation as un-American.

Actually, I have spent so much time dealing with this human interest article pretending to be news and analysis because it really is pretty disgraceful. Just as television news uses the tabloid techniques of action-adventure TV series, this article seems to come straight from Comedy Central, albeit with less analysis.

First, its tone is condescending to Mexican Americans and Latinos generally. Instead of dealing positively with the contributions that Mexican Americans and other Latino people have made to U.S. society and culture, it has Bush in coming to accept them because they worked hard, made money, and became businessmen (employers of labor).

Portraying the leader of a political party which has sought to reverse anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation and policies for four decades on the grounds that such policies are "reverse discrimination" and undermine individual initiative in such a way shouldn't be taken seriously, unless one believes that soap opera and sitcom formulas can be used to "humanize" GW Bush at this late date and make anyone take "compassionate conservatism" seriously

Even the maid whom the article quotes Bush as saying that she was a "second mother" was hardly an equal but rather a servant and servants by law and custom are not and cannot be close relatives.

Let's get to the real issues, though, about which the article is clueless.

The large increase in undocumented workers in the U.S. is the consequence of the export of capital to Mexico and Central America to create "enterprise zones" to produce goods for the U.S. market, the devastating effects of "free trade" on rural and handicraft based economies, and the "willingness" of capitalists here like good old Zapata Petroleum in the past, although in much greater numbers, to employ very cheap service labor at the bottom of the service economy and subordinate capitalists in Mexico and other Latin American countries to "dump" their surplus population as they continue to reap profits from their role as middle men for U.S. based companies, however their actions may weaken the national capitalist classes of their own countries.

Real cultural pluralism has nothing to do with what Bush and any group in his party represent, because the development of a democratic multi-cultural society in the United States has nothing to do with "accepting" immigrants who become "American" when they become petty capitalists, because, however ruling-class media and the right generally seek to convince people of it, America is not and cannot be a country of three hundred million capitalists and would-be capitalists.Real cultural pluralism and multi-culturalism, which are very worthwhile ideals, has nothing to do with defining a nation and a civilization with both the struggle to become a petty capitalist and at the same time the denial that there are differences between a capitalist who owns a small restaurant or even a chain selling Burritos in Midland Texas and a capitalist who owns the Zapata Petroleum Company.

Real cultural pluralism and a multi-cultural United States can be achieved in the long run by raising the living standards of Mexico and Central America and providing super-exploited undocumented workers here with trade union protection and rights, so that they in their desperation do not flee here and hold U.S. wage rates down because the countries from which they come develop their own economies with mass purchasing power and viable internal markets.

That has nothing to do with either the aims of the Bush immigration legislation or the sentiments of most of its opponents, which merely applies to human labor as a commodity the old debate among capitalists between the advocates of free trade in commodities and the advocates of national protectionist policies in commodities.

And I doubt that GW Bush was ever a Huck Finn or a "compassionate conservative from Midland, no matter how many beers he drank with Mexican Americans and how many basketball games he played at the Y. He always had choices that would lead him into a world a great material privilege and those lower middle class people from Midland whose fond memories Rutenberg uses in his article never had.

Norman Markowitz

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