Induced Xenophobia

It’s hard to be xenophobic in Los Angeles. You’d have to stay home with the windows closed. Back in the eighties it was sitting and sipping scotch down in San Pedro late at night with the retired Croatian merchant marine captain next door, while watching some fourth-rate Hong Kong Kung-Fu movie on television, dubbed into Japanese, with Spanish subtitles. We laughed a lot, and then he’d reminisce about Dubrovnik – a wonderful place, it seems – and once again tell stories of the difficulties of navigating the mouth of the Plata at Montevideo, where the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled way back when. The cultural shifts were dislocating. You had to keep on your toes.

And now here in Hollywood it’s the same thing – a few blocks to the east there’s Thai Town and Little Armenia jumbled together in what is now, for convenience, called East Hollywood, and one block down the hill, Fountain Avenue, with its enclave of French nationals working in the movie industry, and a block south of that the Ukrainian community (do NOT call them Russians), and further down Fairfax, Little Ethiopia. And then there’s the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, a corner in the Pico-Union district where Greeks, Mexicans and Central Americans live side by side, and you hear a lot of Korean on the streets too. The area used to be known as “Greek Town” – but now it’s what it is. Yeah, we have our Little Tokyo and Chinatown and Koreatown – everyone does – and there’s always Brazil, Los Angeles. The the icons of fifties white-bread culture, Ozzie and Harriet, actually lived a few blocks east, and Rickie and David went to Hollywood High – but this is not Iowa in the Eisenhower years.

It never was. In fact, that whole pleasant small town nicely-white America was something that Hollywood invented for you – from the Andy Hardy movies through Leave It to Beaver and beyond. Did you think you were supposed to take that seriously? Those weren’t documentaries, they were entertainment. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crowd may rail against Hollywood values, and talk about the Real Americans – who live in small towns and go to church and NASCAR races and not much else, far from the big cities and the coasts – but she and her crowd are the ones who really bought into the Hollywood nonsense. They may want to take back their country, but what they want is a movie set at Paramount down on Melrose or over the hill at Warner Brothers in Burbank. That’s where their Real America is, and where it always was. It was an idea, a notion – for dramatic purposes.

So it pays to loosen up. Yes, you’ll hear a lot of Spanish, and Hindi, and you don’t want to mess with the Tongan gangs down in Long Beach. But you deal with it, or you stay home. And you can’t ignore fifty thousand people in the streets saying yep, we’re here, so get used to it.

Or you hunker down and say no – America should be just like it was on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – when things were as they should be. Yes, that show ran from October 3, 1952 to September 3, 1966 – a long time ago, and as you see, ending just before the hippies ruined everything. And it was just a television show, filmed on a soundstage out here, in evil Hollywood, where you don’t know what language you’ll hear next.

But believe what you will. And in Washington, as new jobs legislation is moving forward in Congress, Republican Senators are using immigration “wedge politics” to rip the bill apart and make the Democrats look un-American or something, as you see in The Hill:

The GOP expressed worries that the $15 billion jobs package crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), does not go far enough to ensure that businesses don’t use new-jobs tax credits in the bill to write off jobs given to illegal immigrants.

Jackie Mahindra, at America’s Voice, an immigration reform site, has a few comments:

Sound familiar? It should. Restrictionist members of the GOP have been playing the ‘immigrant’ card on nearly every major piece of legislation that’s come before Congress this session. They started off playing politics withsick kids, but now they are holding jobs for unemployed Americans hostage in order to score cheap political points on the backs of America’s most vulnerable workers and families.

Yeah, extending health insurance to more kids ran into trouble with the Republicans – some sick kid whose parents were illegally here might get emergency medical treatment. Why should American taxpayers pay for that?

And there’s the current problem:

A familiar bloc of Republican Senators … are protesting the Senate jobs bill over supposed fears that the bill’s tax credits for employers would be used to employ unauthorized immigrants. The reality, according to The Hill, is that the very language in this current jobs bill is the same as language first introduced by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah in tax rebate legislation. In short, it is already against the law to hire unauthorized workers. Reality, however, is rarely the issue with this debate.

Well, reality also is rarely an issue out here in Hollywood. But at least we know we’re making it all up. As for Orrin Hatch, his objections to the safeguards he himself wrote is pretty cool. He may shout that the man who wrote those words should be taken out back and horsewhipped. And then someone tells him he wrote those words. You could build a half-hour episode on that.

But Mahindra points out that Orrin Hatch and his buddies are just asking for trouble:

The thinly-veiled excuse to oppose legislation based on the “illegal immigration” boogeyman is a worn-out strategy used again and again by some GOP lawmakers, who draw on research by extreme groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, (FAIR), a recognized hate group, to make their points. These groups have urged their Republican allies to play the “immigrant” card in the stimulus bill, SCHIP, healthcare, the financial crisis, the flu pandemic, and even global warming.

Yep, illegal immigrants are causing global warming – which, by the way, is a hoax anyway. It makes your head spin. And Mahindra thinks it makes no sense:

Clearly, many members of the GOP have not learned the lessons of the 2006 and 2008 elections when it comes to immigration and Latino voters. In one of the most dramatic swings in recent electoral history, the efforts by President Bush and Karl Rove to win over Latino voters, especially Latino immigrant voters, was completely hijacked after 2005 by the right wing revolt against comprehensive immigration reform and the demonization of hard-working immigrant families. For example, Spanish-dominant voters had supported John Kerry in 2004 by a narrow margin – 52 percent to 48 percent. In 2008 Barack Obama won a much larger chunk of the Spanish-dominant electorate: by a hefty margin of 75 percent to 25 percent.

Of course, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference convention some conservative leaders, like Grover Norquist and Linda Chavez, actually got it:

“You can’t talk to someone from the immigrant community, threaten to deport their relative and then ask them to vote with you because you’re pro-life… some conservatives and some Republicans have used harsh and insulting rhetoric that has chased away Hispanic voters unnecessarily,” and former Reagan official Linda Chavez noted, “I want to see conservatives triumph in the United States… If you share that view, then we better begin to figure out a way to talk about immigration that does not alienate the fastest-growing demographic in the United States.”

The other side featured such anti-immigration zealots as former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), who has published an anti-immigration book, Whatever it Takes, in which he likened Republican support for tough anti-immigrant measures as a way “to stand up for our culture.” At CPAC, in remarks at a screening of the film Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration, Hayworth said, of the immigration crisis “This is an invasion that must be stopped.”

Buy his book if you want to stop the invasion. Or buy the Nelson house if it comes on the market again. Lead the populist revote to bring back what once existed, or should have existed, or what fooled you into thinking it existed – that Real America of Real Americans.

It’s very odd, and Digby puts it this way:

The Real Americans we see at these tea party rallies are often portrayed as slightly misguided common folk who have it right in their gut. And when they rail about bailouts and government it all sounds somewhat rational, at least on the surface. Sure, there are some rather unseemly images among them, particularly those pertaining to the president, but politics ain’t beanbag and demeaning pictures of politicians are as old as the hills, even if these have a peculiarly, shall we say “old-fashioned” tenor.

But the ACORN set-up was a little preview of what I suspect is coming. And immigration is the issue that’s likely to clear up any confusion about just what kind of “populists” these tea party patriots really are. And it will be yet another headache for the GOP establishment, who know that they need to get somebody other than white, middle aged conservatives to vote for them.

In fact Roll Call has this piece on those disagreements about immigration inside the conservative ranks (subscription only):

The antipathy toward immigrants was further apparent in comments from ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is running against Sen. John McCain for Arizona’s GOP Senate nomination. …

“The problem in Washington is that so many people – including my opponent – view this as a political problem to be managed instead of seeing what really is going on,” said Hayworth, who was featured in the film.

And the other side:

On a Thursday panel called “The Rise of Latino Conservatism,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he was taken aback by assertions he has heard that Latino immigrants are lazy and weaken Western culture. Latinos actually share values that are staples of conservative campaigns, he added: They’re overwhelmingly Christian, pro-business, and oppose gay marriage and abortion rights.

“But you can’t talk to someone from the immigrant community, threaten to deport their relative and then ask them to vote with you because you’re pro-life,” he said. “Some conservatives and some Republicans have used harsh and insulting rhetoric that has chased away Hispanic voters unnecessarily.”

Now that adds an interesting twist – the whole notion of who is weakening Western Culture. Out here in Los Angeles it sometimes seems the Asian and Hispanic cultures are the only ones who take the whole notion of family seriously. It’s the rich white folks who are dumping the old folks in the nursing home and ignoring the kids, until the overdose or car wreck.

But that aside, Matthew Yglesias is just glad that Norquist is just now recognizing that lots of conservatives are racists:

Beyond that, I’ll just say that I think of the system of border controls and passports and the routine violations of those rules as a political problem that needs to be managed. Nobody favors “illegal immigration” – but a response focused on large-scale deportations of undocumented migrants is both inhumane and economically destructive. It would be far smarter to put into place a system that lets people who’ve come here to work do so as long as they follow the law, pay the taxes they owe, and start the process of integrating themselves and their families into American society. The economic benefits of immigration are quite considerable, but relatively few voters understand this. …

The fact that lots of people from all around the world want to come here and add their skills and efforts to our own is one of America’s great strengths in the world – it’s something we should be taking advantage of, not fearing.

But of course nostalgia-fueled Hollywood-induced xenophobia, based on sort of mythic fiction from the soundstages out here isn’t the only problem. In the American Conservative there’s this analysis from Daniel Larison – basically young people still hate the Republican Party. The party’s recent resurgence is pretty much due to a huge shift in voting preference among senior citizens. And that makes sense. They were the ones watching Ozzie and Harriet.

And the New York Times’ new conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, comments on what that means:

These figures should make small-government conservatives a lot more nervous than they make partisan Republicans. After all, you can win an awful lot of elections just by mobilizing the over-65 constituency – they’re well-informed, they turn out to vote, and there are more of them every day. But the easiest way to do it, as the Democrats proved for years and years and years, is to defend Medicare and Social Security. …

If the Republican Party depends too heavily on over-65 voters for its political viability, we could easily end up with a straightforwardly big-government party in the Democrats, and a GOP that wins election by being “small government” on the small stuff (earmarks, etc.) while refusing to even consider entitlement reform. That’s a recipe for one of two things: Either the highest taxes in American history and a federal government that climbs inexorably toward 30 percent of GDP, or a Greece or California-style disaster.

Yep, old folks trend conservative Republican, long for the good old days, and want their goodies – Medicare and Social Security. They want the government to get out of the way (small-government) – and get rid of the odd people who look funny and talk funny, and want the government to come through on its promises of support (big government). Douthat sees the problem, and Kevin Drum says that Douthat is far too optimistic that the conflict might be avoided if they seek votes from elsewhere:

This goes a long way toward explaining the recent Republican U-turn on Medicare and Social Security spending. Defending every last dime allocated to Medicare was, of course, a tactical move designed over the summer to gin up opposition to Democratic healthcare reform measures. But beyond that, it was also a metamorphosis that was almost inevitable. The twenty-something generation has been trending Democratic so strongly for the past decade that Republicans have no choice anymore but to cater to seniors, the same way that the rise of the Christian right gave them no choice but to cater to religious fundamentalism. And catering to seniors means, above all else, defending Social Security and Medicare.

And Drum argues that in the long run this is a disaster – not just for small-government conservatives but for the whole party:

Their earlier embrace of social fundamentalism was largely responsible for driving away young voters in the first place, and now, left only with a core of middle-aged and elderly voters that they need to keep loyal, they’re likely to pursue policies that push the young even further away. This might produce occasional victories, but no political party can survive this kind of vicious cycle in the long run. Having long since alienated blacks, Hispanics, and virtually the entire Northeast, Republicans can hardly afford to permanently lose young voters as well. The white South and the elderly just aren’t enough to sustain a national party.

No, the white South and the elderly can only sustain a boutique sitcom or two, targeting that specific demographic. After all, Matlock is always in syndication somewhere, and so is Murder, She Wrote.

But that specific demographic are the folks who stay home, watching such stuff, seduced into bitter xenophobia by Hollywood, having taken what we churn out over all the long years seriously. But there’s the real Hollywood that was always here, so come visit, and visit the Byzantine-Latino Quarter for a giggle, and drop by for a bit of scotch and some fourth-rate Hong Kong Kung-Fu movie on television, dubbed into Japanese, with Spanish subtitles. It’s fun, and it’s the actual world.

But if you insist we can drive by at 1822 Camino Palmero Street – the Nelson house, where they filmed the show’s few exterior shots. And you can believe it was all real if you wish. But then it’s lunch down the street in Thai Town of course.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in American Xenophobia, Hollywood and America, Immigration Policy, Life in Hollywood, Republican Party Breaks Apart, Republicans and the Hispanic Vote and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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