Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Imaginary Hobgoblins

Zinn understands the games politicians play to divert attention from their gross mishandling of government. He wrote this regarding the Clinton administration, but clearly the Republicans are just as good at the game as the Democrats:

"Those holding political power--whether Clinton or his Republican predecessors--had something in common. They sought to keep their power by diverting the anger of citizens to groups without the resources to defend themselves. As H.L. Mencken, the acerbic social critic of the 1920s, put it: 'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'

Criminals were among these hobgoblins. Also, immigrants, people on "welfare," and certain governments--Iraq, North Korea, Cuba. By turning attention to them, by inventing or exaggerating their dangers, the failures of the American system could be concealed.

Immigrants were a convenient object of attack, because as nonvoters their interests could be safely ignored. It was easy for politicians to play upon the xenophobia that has erupted from time to time in American history: the anti-Irish prejudices of the mid-nineteenth century; the continual violence against Chinese who had been brought in to work on the railroads; the hostility toward immigrants from eastern and southern Europe that led to the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s.

The reform spirit of the sixties had led to an easing of restrictions on immigration, but in the nineties, Democrats and Republicans alike played on the economic fears of working Americans. Jobs were being lost because corporations were firing employees to save money ("downsizing") or moving plants out of the country to more profitable situations. Immigrants, especially the large numbers of coming over the southern border from Mexico, were blamed for taking jobs from citizens of the United States, for receiving government benefits, for causing higher taxes on American citizens."

The People's History of the United States: 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn, page 634

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