Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adiós Lou Dobbs

I can’t recall watching Lou Dobb’s show on CNN over the last few years, except for when segments were played on blogs that wished to underline his visceral turn against immigrants.   Prior to this turn, the only times I watched him was when the remote would land on his show and I didn’t care enough to go another lap around the monotonous track of vapidity that characterizes modern television shows, with a few exceptions.  He seemed harmless back then.  He was just another econovangelist trying to come up with a schtick that would separate him from the crowd. 

Unfortunately, the only hook that worked for him was the anti-immigrant meme.   And during the immigration reform debates a few years ago, Dobbs found his calling.  Since then Dobbs has taken up the mantle against illegal immigration, gaining in popularity and in demand for speeches he would give to nativist groups around the country. 

Recessions are always times for extra concern among immigrants and the continued assault on the Hispanic community in areas like Maricopa County here in Arizona help to reinforce a system of intolerance aimed at the weakest members of our community.  The choking sensation these people must feel as they step out into the world of job raids, pointless arrests, patrols following them because they "fit the profile", etc. as they seek greater opportunities for their children cannot be described as anything but violent.  Even more so when their homes can be invaded at any time by armies of men donning military gear and weapons designed for terrorists, not families doing what they can each night to prepare for the challenges of the next day of work.  

We have an immigration problem.  Immigrants present problems for our society.  True.  But these problems are not existential.  They are not even economic.  The problem immigration presents is one of cost-sharing. Local communities bear the greatest cost of immigration by burdening public services, such as hospitals, schools and social services.  In contrast to these acute costs are macroeconomic benefits to the labor market, federal revenue streams that reduce our debt and long-term human capital.  The burdens are far more visual and they give rise to nativist sentiment among those with a pathological attachment to some sense of cultural purity; sheer ignorance.  Lou Dobbs used the acute costs to stimulate his own personal economy by appealing to those basest emotions.

So after a campaign to pressure CNN into firing Lou Dobbs, he was finally let go.  I am glad he is gone, and those who put the pressure on CNN should be proud of themselves, but Lou Dobbs is not the problem.  He is the symptom of a greater issue facing this country.   Lets not forget that CNN felt comfortable keeping a man on the air whose tongue slipped when talking about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, calling her a “cotton picker”.  He caught himself before he could finish, but it was clear what he was going to say.  Dobbs will also most likely join Fox News, where he will join in the daily chorus of nativism and hyper-patriotism that engulfs their rendition of the news.  As a friend of mine points out, Dobbs will now get to do this with the renewed vigor of a patriot gone martyr. 

As a political scientist, it’s always nice to see community action have positive results.  It is indeed a teachable moment in more ways than one.  So bye for now Lou Dobbs, and I’m sure we will see you soon enough.  I wish we could discuss these problems without the vitriol and with an understanding that we are talking about fellow humans looking to solve problems of their own and who have no less right to the promised land than we do.  But somehow we just talk past each other, each side unwilling to give ground for fear that we may be seen as advancing to the rear.  As Juan Gonzalez writes, we are not the enemy, the enemy is the wall of ignorance that stands between us.