Friday, June 1, 2007

Lou Dobbs and "Chauvinism"

Tom Riggins fine blog piece about CNN's one note guy, Lou Dobbs, got me to thinking about what Dobbs represents right now. I work out in a gym fairly regularly where CNN (and Dobbs) is on pretty regularly, until some sports event comes on. Also, I sometimes run into Dobbs program when I'm channel surfing.

Dobbs sees himself as "neither right nor left" as he pound away on the issue of illegal immigration, disconnecting it from the imperialist political economy aka "globalization," which has created a new multi-tiered labor market. Along with vigilantes guarding the border and spokesman for economic and cultural
nationalism, Dobbs is one of the few "mainstream" media commentators who has trade union representatives on to discuss political questions. Dobbs is suspicious of "free markets" and no friend of policies like NAFTA.

But, in the tradition of reactionaries who seek to appeal to the masses of people through the world, he short circuits discussion and analysis of real problems (which to give him some credit he raises when others don't) with a search for scapegoats, which leads to both fixations and delusions.

Virtually every day, Dobbs points to "broken borders" the way earlier demagogues portrayed legal immigrants during the period of "free immigration" before the 1920s as "un-American" in their ideas and their customs.
Dobbs criticizes the Republicans for supporting employers because of "money" and Democrats for supporting "undocumented workers" (a term he doesn't use of course) because of votes (whose votes he doesn't say)
Dobbs appeals to Americans, particularly workers, who face wage and living standard stagnation and oppose the export of capital and jobs from the United States.

But instead of raising questions about how living standards and purchasing power can be raised in poor countries and how productive well-paying jobs can be created in the United States, he harps endlessly on "broken borders, undocumented workers who constitute an "enemy within" and seems to believe, if one takes him seriously, that something like an "Iron Curtain" (to use a phrase that was used for reactionary purposes in a very different context could bring back an America of high wages, strong unions, and general economic
and social well-being.

Lou Dobbs fixation of undocumented workers makes that society less and less likely to happen. The falsehood which has gotten him in trouble, that is his increasing the percentage of illegal immigrants in federal jails by more than five times, gets us away from the fact that there are more than 2 million people in the jails of our prison industrial complex. Even if Dobbs figures were true, instead of being completely false, they would not explain on any level the huge increase in the U.S. prison population.

What undocumented workers need most of all is unionization and labor protection, to eliminate the competition that their cheap and super-exploited labor creates with documented workers. Undocumented workers find themselves as harassed day laborers, sweat shop workers, victims of criminal labor contractors who cheat them regularly out of their meager wages.

Lou Dobbs portrayal of them as somthing akin to barbarian invaders and his repeating that theme over and over again reminds me most, as a U.S. historian, of those post Reconstruction Southern politicians like "Pitch Fork" Ben Tillman of South Carolina who appealed to poor whites with attacks on the wealthy but then both preached and practiced racist policies of segregation and disenfranchisement (sustained with and by a racist ideology of white supremacy) as the way for poor whites to achieve a better life.

Of course, those policies and the racist ideology that sustained them made life steadily worse for poor
whites in the South, whose own political rights declined with their living standards.

When I was a student at City College over forty years ago, a professor in a European history class told us about Nicholas Chauvin, a writer who had bene an officer under Napoleon and who after Napoleon's defeat wrote articles on every subject conceivable with one theme, everything that was French was superior and everything that wasn't French was inferior and a threat to French culture and France itself. By the end of hte 19th century, Chauvin gave his name to his way of thinking through the world and "chauvinism" came into general usage. as it still is.

If Lou Dobbs keeps on with his fixation on illegal immigrants, perhaps a century from now, opposition to "open borders" and free and equal exchanges among peoples will be called "Dobbsism." Maybe, if the global warming that George Bush has finally hinted may exist becomes rapid and pervasive and a global socialist economy (the real solution to the problems of "globalization") doesn't exist, commentators accused of "Dobbsism" will be denouncing illegal immigrants from the swamps of North America taking away jobs and undermining the quality of life in the Yukon!

--Norman Markowitz

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