Power To Speak

Power To Speak

The Meg Whitman undocumented housekeeper flap is yet another example of our confused and hypocritical attitudes toward undocumented immigrants. Lost amid all the analysis concerning how the former eBay chief has handled the reports that she employed Nicky Diaz for nine years, is what the incident says about our moral bearing as Californians.

There are legitimate points on both sides of the immigration debate. The real data regarding undocumented immigration’s impact on the state is mixed enough to provide ammunition for both sides. The general scholarly consensus is that undocumented immigration is a net benefit nationally in terms of reduced costs for goods and services and taxes paid to the federal government. Individual gateway states like California, however, do bear significant costs in terms of providing services like education and health care.  

But let’s set the numbers aside for a moment. What concerns me about this debate is how we treat undocumented immigrants as “nonpersons.” Rather than simply responding to the housekeeper herself and addressing her claims, the Whitman campaign’s tactic has been to blame the Brown campaign for planting the story in the media. In her press conference, Diaz claimed that she felt as though the Whitmans were “throwing her away like a piece of garbage.”

Soon after, pundits littered the airwaves, news outlets and the blogosphere to highlight how convenient it was that this revelation was coming out so close to an election.

Sure, there are politics being played on this issue, but let’s be serious. Does anyone genuinely think that Meg Whitman really gave much of a thought to whether her housekeeper was documented? How many of your neighbors hire undocumented immigrants to clean their houses or mow their lawns? Why don’t they check their immigration status? It’s largely because most people really don’t care one way or the other. That’s the problem.  

Despite the yeoman’s work that many undocumented immigrants do, many of us persist in believing the worst about them: They are criminals, they are lazy, they are here to have “anchor babies.” Certainly, there are reasons to be concerned about porous borders and legitimate questions to be asked about what sovereignty means. The citizens of a sovereign nation should have the right to determine who gets entry into the community.

But the types of policy debates we have and the ideas we put forward in support of our positions matter. In California’s immigration debate, undocumented immigrants are presented as nonpersons. One clear example of this is the reference to undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” Whether intended by the user or not, this one-word description strips humanity from this group of people. Calling undocumented immigrants “illegals” says that they are not simply in violation of immigration law, but that that fact is the beginning and end of their entire existence.  

You can find this dehumanizing discourse on the other side of the debate as well. Many supporters of the status quo claim that undocumented workers are “hard workers” who “don’t complain” when asked to endure long hours, dangerous conditions and low pay. People who make this claim fail to “see” undocumented immigrants, too. If you ask undocumented immigrants, many of them feel invisible in this society. They want to feel a sense of social connection, but their employers often ignore them. But we seldom hear this position presented in the media. Maybe that’s why Diaz’s statement that she felt as if she was being “thrown away like garbage” by the Whitmans was so compelling.  

I do not ask my fellow Californians to shift their positions on this issue, but I do ask that when we talk about this issue, we recognize that undocumented immigrants are complex people with depth and dimension. They are not simply “illegals,” nor are they “hard working, happy people” who are grateful to clean your toilets. Let’s talk about our fellow humans like the thinking, feeling people they are. Maybe we can start by bringing them into the conversation about undocumented immigration.   

Jose Marichal, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. He teaches and writes about public policy, race and politics, civic engagement, the Internet and politics, and community development.

Power To Speak

Power To Speak

In the Sept. 28 debate of the 2010 California governor’s race, it may have seemed as though Meg Whitman held her own against the politically well-traveled former Governor Jerry Brown. Her quirky analogies, dodging of issues and overall refusal to outline any specific solutions to California’s problems were pretty much what one can expect in a political race of this nature. However, in a rather comical bit of irony, hypocrisy and general historical ignorance, the entrepreneur and former eBay CEO used a quote by the late scientist and philosopher Albert Einstein that was intended to replace the economic system that has brought her where she is today.

While trying to distinguish her from other politicians who have occupied the Governor’s Mansion, Whitman borrowed Einstein’s famous quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” There are a few problems with her use of this timeless phrase. The more obvious one is that it goes against the nature of conservatism itself, which is to preserve the status quo, which in our country means to protect the power and property interests of the elite from the masses. In California, this means protection from the labor unions, agricultural workers and public employees who simply want their fair share of the state’s abundance of land, resources and overall wealth.

The real hypocrisy is that Meg Whitman, the capitalist entrepreneur, has used a quote written by a socialist that was undoubtedly intended to undermine the capitalist system that has given her the wealth, fame and power that she has embraced.

Einstein was a very passionate and outspoken democratic socialist, so much so that federal law enforcement agencies kept a close eye on him during the Cold War. In his essay, “Why Socialism,” first published by Monthly Review in 1949, Einstein calls for “the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system oriented towards social goals.” He brilliantly explains how the predatory nature of capitalism and the concentration of wealth that results from it are the root causes of many of the world’s problems such as war, poverty, unemployment and what he calls “the crippling of individuals.” In short, he argues that it would be nothing short of insanity to try to fix all of the problems that capitalism causes while preserving a capitalist economy. “Why Socialism,” written to remove and replace the system, essentially embodies the quote that Ms. Whitman uses to defend the capitalist order.  

Einstein was a real believer in a democratic society, but argues that democracy cannot truly flourish or even exist under “an oligarchy of private capital.” Whitman’s campaign, which, ironically enough, is the single most expensive self-funded campaign in American history, epitomizes the impossibility of maintaining a democracy that can meet the needs of its citizens. Not only is the wealth controlled by the capitalists, the political power becomes concentrated in the hands of individuals and political parties that cater to the needs of the “oligarchy.” Although claiming to be a purveyor of democracy, Whitman, through her own efforts and ventures, has become an obstacle standing in its way.

In another, more extreme, case of irony, Einstein gave adequate explanation as to why Whitman was completely unaware that she quoted a socialist in a debate that would be watched all over the entire state of California. Einstein may have been very well-known as a scientist, but his role as political philosopher has been hidden rather well by the Meg Whitmans of the world for the express benefit of the corporate “fat cats” of the world. Einstein explains how, “under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education).” Thus, it is no surprise that in Time magazine’s 15-page feature on Einstein as “Person of the Century,” there is not one mention of his very prominent political and economic inclinations. Needless to say, Time magazine is part of a news corporation that is intent on protecting its interests, even if it means the neglect of pertinent information.

After explaining how capitalist interests bottle up information for their own profit-based needs, Einstein claims that “It is thus extremely difficult … for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.” If this is true, the future of democracy in America is bleak. While it may be “insanity” to elect Meg Whitman, or Jerry Brown for that matter, one of them will win, and the voting population will remain largely unaware that there are valid points outside the Democratic/Republican “box” that we seem to be stuck in. But one of them will win, nothing will change, and no matter what either one of them says, it will be “business as usual” here in California and in America.   

Bruce J. Potts resides in Ventura and teaches U.S. History at a local community college. He received a bachelor’s degree in history/education at Central Michigan University in 2002 and a master’s degree in political science from California State University, Northridge, in 2009.

Editor’s note: A report recently released showed that Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman had employed an undocumented worker as her maid for nearly a decade though in her campaign, she is fervent about cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers.

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