The racism of John McCain
September 19, 2008 9 Comments
There are two possible alternatives to John McCain being a racist. On one hand, he could simply be a bumbling old man who has trouble explaining himself in unscripted town hall meetings. On the other hand, he could just be pandering to his perception of the racism in his supporters. However, if we proceed on the idea that McCain is not simply a bumbling old man nor simply pandering to his base, it appears that only one conclusion remains.
When I watched the livestream video of the McCain/Palin town hall in Grand Rapids Michigan on September 17, 2008, I was shocked to hear the word associations made by John McCain when he was asked about “Hispanics.”
From a generalized question, McCain leaped to “immigration,” “illegal,” “criminal,” “drugs,” and his classic condescending line about “God’s children.” His answer rolled out as if he considered all Latinos to be immigrants, that the main issue related to the Latino community was “securing our borders,” and as if his main concerns about the Latino community was managing the “supply” of illegal immigrants and stopping drugs from coming across the American border.
For the record, the US Census Bureau reports that of the 35,238,481 people counted as “Hispanic” in 2000, “About 7 out of every 10 Hispanics residing in the United States were either native or naturalized citizens.”
The Grand Rapids Press reports on September 18, 2008 that “[w]hile Martinez did not specifically ask about illegal immigration, that was the question McCain answered.”
Unfortunately, in a stunning breach of journalism ethics, the Grand Rapids Press edited out some of the more unseemly parts out of McCain’s answer, even though the full response can be heard in an audio file on the Grand Rapids Press site.
I have not been able to find a full transcript of the September 17, 2008 town hall, so I transcribed the question and answer in order to discuss it here.
The relevant portion of the audio recording begins at about 43:40 (after the medical malpractice question).
Q: Again I’d like to say welcome to Grand Rapids. I want you to know that I not only am I a proud Hispanic, I am also a proud Republican Hispanic. (applause) For me, it’s an honor to be a surrogate for your campaign, and I know that right now there’s a lot going on in the Hispanic community, and I would like some pointers from you as to what message we can continue to give to the Hispanic community for you.
A: Thank you very much. Very briefly, my friends, the issue really is immigration reform. We tried twice to pass comprehensive immigration reform and we failed because the American people did not believe that we would secure the borders. So, we obviously have to secure our borders, but we also have to have a temporary worker program that works, with tamper-proof biometric documents, so that people can come here and work temporarily, if necessary, but then return to the country that they came from.
And that, my friends, if we can put that into effect, plus securing our borders, then the supply, the number of people who are trying to come to this country illegally, will be dramatically reduced, because they know if they get here, then they are unable to obtain a job.
And let me just say a word about securing our borders. It’s not just people that’s coming across our southern border, my friends, it is drugs. And the President of Mexico is in a transcendent struggle right now because the drug cartels are literally taking over towns on the Mexican border. So we have to work with them, because we know what the ultimate destination of those drugs is, and we know who it kills. So it’s not just securing the border from people coming illegally, it is also the flow of drugs across our border.
And I’m happy to tell you, for the first … maybe not for the first time, but certainly, the President of Mexico, a man named President Calderon, is trying to work very hard, for the security of his own country, to help us fight these drug cartels.
So, and the other finally, my friends, there are 12 million people who have come here illegally. In my view, in my view there are about 2 million of them who have come here illegally and committed crimes. They have to be deported or put in prison, anybody who does that. (applause) But, there are also millions of Hispanics here who have come here and they have been law-abiding, good citizens, et cetera. We have to address this issue in a humane and compassionate fashion. They are still God’s children, as we are all God’s children. (applause) So we have to do that.
And finally let me just mention about immigration reform. Some tough decisions were taken, Senator Obama did the bidding of the labor unions and went out and tried to kill the temporary worker program that was part of comprehensive reform. I tried to fix it, and he tried to kill it. (… light applause)
As McCain’s answer makes clear, one of the major issues facing the Latino community is the incorrect and racist assumption that all Latinos are immigrants who have recently arrived in America. Not only did he fail to address the issue of racism, he fed into the poisonous perception that Latinos are not Americans. His one mention of the citizenship of Latinos was qualified with the introduction about how they have “come here” and in the context of his discussion of illegal immigration. It is clear that he did not mean “citizen” in the sense of legal citizenship, but instead that he believes that there is a vast majority of illegal immigrants who are “law abiding.” This is particularly clear as his answer continues and he asks that these Latinos be treated in a “humane” manner and not simply deported or imprisoned like the “2 million” who have “come here illegally and committed crimes.”
I find it interesting that the Grand Rapids Press decided to edit out the line about “tamper-proof biometric documents.” The Grand Rapids Press reports McCain’s answer as follows:
“We tried twice to pass comprehensive immigration reform and we failed because the American people did not believe that we would secure the borders,” he said. “So we obviously have to secure our borders but we also have a temporary worker program that works, so people can come here and work temporarily and return to the country they came from.”
My transcription of the first part of McCain’s answer (with emphasis added to highlight the differences) is as follows:
Very briefly, my friends, the issue really is immigration reform. We tried twice to pass comprehensive immigration reform and we failed because the American people did not believe that we would secure the borders. So, we obviously have to secure our borders, but we also have to have a temporary worker program that works, with tamper-proof biometric documents, so that people can come here and work temporarily, if necessary, but then return to the country that they came from.
It is quite clear in the fuller quote that when John McCain hears the word “Hispanic,” he believes “the issue really is immigration reform.”
Going deeper into the issue of “biometric documents,” McCain appears to be talking about collecting biological information from people allowed into America on a “temporary” basis. This is quite the thicket of a human rights issue, since the collection of “biological” information treads on fundamental rights:
Our criminal justice system is premised on the notion that one can only be penalized after one commits an offense; one cannot be punished merely for having the propensity to offend.
Similarly, the Constitution could not permit a sibling to be criminally punished merely for the status of being related to an offender, nor could it be said that a sibling loses privacy expectations of being free of searches merely because he is related to an offender. But were a law enforcement official to use a DNA databank as a tool to gather information not about an offender contained therein, but about an offender’s sibling, that official would be conducting a genomic search on an assumed innocent person without having to first justify this level of intrusion – without having to show probable cause for the genomic search.
Putting aside the real danger that declaring the Constitution and its Fourth Amendment inapplicable for some people on American soil creates a significant threat to the rights of all Americans (hey there, Jose Padilla), what we have here is an issue of perception.
Americans have a right to be free of intrusions into their physical privacy because we are all assumed innocent until proven guilty, and we have a right to be free from intrusion unless probable cause exists. However, John McCain clearly has a perception that temporary workers should be treated as if they are all potentially criminals.
In the context of the recent US Supreme Court decision about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, we should know better than to try to eviscerate the integrity of the US Constitution, but John McCain is already on record expressing his contempt for the founding principles of our nation. As Ben Franklin famously said:
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
There is a lot of discussion that can be had on the constitutional implications of this issue. However, at this point, the issue of “biometric documents” appears to be an illustration of McCain’s perception of an inherent criminality in people he would allow into America on a temporary basis. This seems to underline the way McCain looks at the issues facing the Latino community, and his targeting of this community as “immigrants” and “illegal.”
It is important to remember that John McCain is a terrible public speaker and that this could all be a long and rambling gaffe. If that is the case, John McCain should immediately apologize to the entire Latino community for accidentally contributing to dangerous racism against Latinos. John McCain should apologize to all Americans for his contribution to a culture of hate and intolerance.
update: This kind of behavior is not new for John McCain. The implied meaning of his infamous use of the “gook” slur was described in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on March 2, 2000 as follows:
We’ve made tremendous progress as a nation in overcoming racism. That is why it is so disturbing that a major candidate for the U.S. president can perpetuate the stereotype of Asians as permanent foreigners, hurtling us backward to a time and a place where such racial epithets were an acceptable part of mainstream discourse.
It is casting a group of people as “permanent foreigners” that is the theme in the language used by John McCain at the town hall and on his campaign bus in 2000. In his answer to a question about “Hispanics,” it was as if he went out of his way to describe the Latino population as “permanent foreigners.”