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The Dobbsian Chain Letter…

There is a group out there — for want of a better term I will call them Dobbsians — whose thoughtless and baseless xenophobia can only be explained by the level of frustration they must feel as Americans stuck in world where no politician seems to be listening to them. Dobbs has created a following not unlike the masses that adored the Charles Coughlins of the 1930s — and his “character” is not unlike Howard Beale in Network who led the chants of “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Since I am a professional cynic by trade and inclination (I teach political science, after all), I tend to hold back on any reactions that might give away my feelings about this crowd and their media-based leaders. But yesterday I received one of those emails that asks that you join 999 others in a “letter” to the White House weighing in against one or another of the issues surrounding illegal immigration. This one was already signed by more than 730 and was sent to me by a close relation who for some reason thought I might be supportive (I guess my cynical cover really works!)

The basis for this email was legislation before Congress (in lieu of the failed immigration proposals) that would give illegal aliens access to Social Security benefits if eligible (which means working in a job that paid wages or salary for a given number of quarters, reaching the right age or disability condition, etc etc). The solicitation, interestingly, contained little or no information or discussion. It merely asked the uninformed recipient (who is increasingly gullible — just watch the Dobbs nightly news as an example) as follows:

Social Security Changes

Where does this leave those of us who have paid into Social Security all our working lives?

As stated below, the Senate voted this week to allow ‘illegal’ aliens access to Social Security benefits.

Attached is an opportunity to sign a petition that requires citizenship for eligibility
to that social service.

You can Agree or Delete. Instructions are below.

If you don’t forward the petition and just stop it, we will lose all these names. If you do not want to sign it, please just forward it to everyone you know.

Thank you!

When the petition hits 1,000, send it to

PETITION for President Bush:

Dear Mr. President:
We, the undersigned, protest the bill that the Senate voted upon recently which would allow illegal aliens to access our Social Security.

We demand that you and all Congressional Representatives require citizenship as a prerequisite for social services in the United States .

We further demand that there not be any amnesty given to illegals, no free services, no funding, no payments to and for illegal immigrants.

We are fed up with the lack of action about this matter and are tired of ‘paying’ for services to illegals!

There are so many things about this that are troubling. The facts — usually in the form of substantial “whereas” statements that lay the basis for the demands of petitioners — are just not there, and of the many folks who signed this email (or whose names were attached to it; one can always hope that this is merely mass forgery) perhaps not a handful know the facts. For example, from a 2005 news story in the New York Times:

As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

While it has been evident for years that illegal immigrants pay a variety of taxes, the extent of their contributions to Social Security is striking: the money added up to about 10 percent of last year’s surplus – the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it doles out in pension benefits. Moreover, the money paid by illegal workers and their employers is factored into all the Social Security Administration’s projections.

In short, one of the reasons many or most of those petition signers do not have to worry about short term increases in the Social Security payroll deductions is that we benefit from the generosity (intended or not) of the very same illegals they are trying to banish.

So there goes the financial basis for their argument.

Face it, these folks are either uninformed or thoughtless or xenophobic, and while many of us would like to blame Lou Dobbs and his like, it really is more the petty but powerful prejudices of the followers that makes this kind of movement survive and thrive. It is as if they want to be manipulated.

When I challenged the individual who sent me the email, the response was “I can’t be subjective and become passive.”

Translate that: I can’t be prejudiced and be passive about it. I must express my hatred and dislike of others — of strangers — by working with like minded others to form a mass movement that will deal with the problem — and perhaps even come up with a solution — maybe even a FINAL SOLUTION!

What is interesting is that many of the folks who signed the petition are indifferent to history, and some even ignore the presence of illegal aliens in their family histories. In that sense, their efforts are not merely politically offensive to me — they are personally offensive since I had a close relative who for decades (!) lived in fear that her own illegal status might be uncovered and she would be arrested and sent back to Russia (Tsarist Russia, that is)…. She lived a long life, paid her Social Security and got the benefits — and gave great benefits to the families she helped raise. I wonder how many of those email petition signers know the story behind their immigrant families — stories never shared out of fear that some anti-Semitic, anti-Irish, anti-Japanese, anti-Italian jingoistic demagogue-fueled mob might do them or their families harm.

The reward for the risks taken by past generations has been to give root to a generation of xenophobes who, had they been around in the 1930s, might have turned in their parents or grandparents to the immigration agency….

Well I have done my part — I failed to forward that email on to the next folks in the Dobbsian chain, which is of course a fruitless action given the logic of chain mail. But, hey, I feel good for even doing that much in honor and memory of those who took the risks….

August 23rd, 2007 Posted by | immigration, Lou Dobbs, public policy, Social Security, Xenophobia | 4 comments