When I first began hearing CNN journalist and news anchor Lou Dobbs being interviewed a month or so ago on radio and TV about his new book, “War on the Middle Class,” I was interested in learning more. I’ve never been a fan of Dobbs given what I’ve picked up were his racially discriminatory -- racist -- views on illegal immigration of Latinos from Mexico and Central America. But I was intrigued when, in the media interviews, I heard him castigate the Democrats and Republicans as parties bought and controlled by big business. He called for action to address the health care crisis and took other generally progressive positions.
So I bought and read his book.
There’s a lot in it that is positive. Some examples:
* “I strongly reject unfettered capitalism and those forces that now rampant corporatism has arrayed against our middle class and those who aspire to be part of it.”
* “Big business and big government are unchecked in their attacks on the common good. Most of our elected officials, whether Democrat or Republican, have been bought and paid for.”
* “What if a sizable number of us decided to walk into our town and city halls all over the country and change our party affiliation from Republican or Democrat to Independent?”
* “The only way we’ll ever see (corporate America’s) power substantially diminished is through the complete public financing of all elections.”
* “Our trade agreements first need to be reciprocal and fair, based on mutuality of trade.”
* “This would be a good time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and to establish heavy penalties for those who violate that standard.”
The book is full of statistical information and analysis about the way in which huge corporations and the top 1% of the population are using their power and wealth to the detriment of the bottom 90%.
Unfortunately, the way in which Dobbs presents these realities of U.S. class society -- an increasingly unequal class society -- is suffused with racism, from beginning to end.
His approach to illegal immigration is the biggest example. To Dobbs this is right up at the top of the list of the major issues facing the US, along with the outsourcing of decent paying jobs and the crisis of our schools.
To Dobbs, “illegal aliens” are an enemy just like corporate America. His language and tone when he speaks of them is no different, sometimes worse. To him, “illegal aliens” are a national security risk; he links their dangerous trek north for jobs and a better life to “the prospect of terrorism.” He is a strong advocate of “English only,” attacking as un-American those who believe in respect for Spanish or other original languages of immigrants.
Dobbs has no shame in using vicious scare tactics. In his chapter on health care, he refers to “the rising fear that once-eradicated diseases are now returning to this country through our open borders . . . diseases we thought had been consigned to our history books.” He quotes a Dr. Madeleine Cosman on the “horrendous diseases that are being brought into America by illegal aliens . . . such as Chagas disease, leprosy, malaria.”
Not once -- not once!!! -- in his chapter on health care does Dobbs even touch upon the idea that the United States should lead a world campaign to eradicate Chagas disease, leprosy, malaria and other serious diseases that could be eliminated if resources were put into such a campaign instead of an illegal war, a sham “war on terrorism” and corporate handouts. This is consistent with the approach he takes in most of the book, with some exceptions: the American middle class first, last and always, and good luck, brother, if you aren’t in it. Build those walls, keep out those dark-skinned foreigners so that, then, us true Americans (as if only the USA was “American”) can get our country together.
Dobbs’ says almost nothing -- only once that I could find, two sentences (!) in reference to public school dropout rates -- in any of his 212 pages about the economic and social disparities between black, brown, red and yellow people in the USA and worldwide and those who have less melanin in their body (Europeans and their descendants). To him it’s virtually a non-issue. It’s a truly breathtaking racist blind spot. It’s as if racial inequality was just not important, and clearly, for Dobbs, that’s the truth of things.
It’s similar with his treatment of unions. The only discussion of them is his criticism of the national teachers unions for their resistance to public school teachers being judged on the basis of how well they teach. His racism and rightist ideology blinds him to a common sense approach to the problem of unscrupulous employers exploiting immigrants without legal documents: unionization. Labor law reform, which protected all workers in their efforts to unionize, would raise the standard of living for both legal and undocumented workers.
And how could someone write a book about the USA in 2006 and say virtually nothing about either the war in Iraq or the climate crisis of global heating? I found literally less than one paragraph, in passing, on each of these huge issues.
Dobbs is deeply concerned about the security of the USA in this post-9/11 age, and this is certainly understandable. But his insular, parochial, USA-first, narrow understanding of the world prevents him from appreciating what people all over the world and many Americans do get: it is US foreign policy and a massively unjust world social order that is at the root of why a small number of people turn to Al Qaeda-type terrorism. Dobbs does not call for the U.S. to get out of Iraq. He says nothing about Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and the need for a just resolution of this most fundamental of issues. There is no mention of the over 700 US military installations and bases in over 50 countries protecting the US empire and the powerful oil and energy corporations.
Dobbs is often eloquent in his deep criticisms of corporate power in the US, but he has trouble supporting anti-corporate movements that don’t fit his rightist ideological approach. Here is what he has to say about Venezuela and Bolivia, two countries with democratically-elected leaders who are serious about ending the dominance of rich elites in their countries: “Communist China is asserting its influence in the Western Hemisphere, building relationships with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and of course, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.”
Will Dobbs become a leader of a new, overwhelmingly white, middle-class/working-class based, independent political movement? It is possible. If such a movement begins to form, those of us who appreciate both the positive and negative aspects of such a development, particularly those of us who are white, have a responsibility to do what we can to influence it as best as we can. Some of those who identify with Dobbs’ views can be won to a more progressive, internationalist, multicultural programmatic perspective, but that won’t happen unless we find ways to interact with them.
The building of a broadly based, progressive independent political force in the US will not happen without flexible tactics grounded in solid justice-based principles.
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