Readers debate the Minutemen's motives. Plus: MoveOn and the future of the Democratic Party.

Published May 12, 2005 9:38PM (EDT)

[Read "The Angry Patriot" by Christopher Ketcham.]

Christopher Ketcham's interview with one of the Minutemen said it all: "He seems genuinely anguished and confused. Mexicans who work for cheap wages, he says, are ruining his own livelihood. 'In 1990, I was making $15 to $20 an hour on construction sites. Now I make $8 an hour. The issue is not the Mexicans: They're good workers, they show up on time, work all day and go home.'" But no doubt this confused Minuteman consistently votes for Republicans who encourage illegal immigration precisely because it helps them reduce wages, instead of for Democrats who'll support unions that will see that fair wages are paid.

Just like Thomas Frank pointed out in "The Trouble With Kansas," blue-collar workers in this country drink the Republican blue Kool-Aid every election and vote for candidates who then destroy their economy. It's hard to sympathize.

-- Brian Farrington

Given that people like Medina, who are legal Mexican immigrants, are troubled by the current state of affairs, it is ridiculous to claim that there is no legitimate rationale for the Minuteman Project or that the motivation is racial.

Although an immigrant myself, I too find aspects of the scale of illegal immigration troubling and I am not in favor of anything that is done to encourage it.

The key word here is "illegal." If an activity is illegal, it should not be condoned. For to allow it is to allow our own laws to be undermined. For me, one of the great gifts of living in America has been the respect for the rule of law. As an immigrant I have enjoyed the luxury of obeying the law and have felt good about doing so.

The apologists for illegal immigration don't seem to care that a law is being broken, so blinded are they by their supposed compassion for the poor, hardworking folk. They don't realize that between breaking the law and relying on a large body of disenfranchised workers, America is on the path to becoming a banana republic -- a stratified society in which the serfs toil so the privileged few might live well.

The manicured lawns outside gleaming glass office towers are tended by 16-year-olds who ought to be in school. I can no longer admire those lawns and that plastic beauty. It feels grotesque to me. The same goes for the gleaming floors and tables at the food court at the mall and the restaurants.

I don't want to get my goods and services from exploited labor. But in today's economy I don't really have a choice.

I would much rather see all workers earn a fair living wage. If the wages were fair, I am sure plenty of Americans would line up to do those jobs. Let the illegals come in as legal workers if we find that no Americans are available to do the work they are currently doing.

The way things are right now, the only real winners are those who employ these people. The illegals are so desperate that even this life of exploitation is better than what they would have to face back home. The real losers are the displaced American workers at the bottom of the scale -- for they are too disenfranchised to be a real lobby.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as fair-minded people. Where is the fairness in having a permanent and growing underclass of have-nots?

-- Nandini Pandya

What Chris Simcox and the so called Minutemen in Arizona fail to realize is that with the passage of NAFTA, the borders have, in effect, been erased. With the ratification of the free-trade agreement, the only borders remaining are meaningless paper borders, and the Border Patrol has largely been stripped of any real power to enforce and protect the American economy. Therefore, the only real meaning that the "borders" today hold is symbolic -- and that symbolism is only meaningful to those who grasp at the idea of "nationalism" in a post-national globalized world. In other words, the Minutemen are dupes of a bygone system, and useful only for politicians, like Gov. Schwarzenneger, who use ethnic hatred masquerading as "nationalism" to bolster their own failed leadership. The irony is that, in reality, there is nothing left to protect or worthy of protection other than the wretched victims of globalization crossing the border in search of sustenance.

-- Paul L. Tidwell

In February 2003, I spent a week in Cochise County, Ariz., reporting a magazine story about Chris Simcox's "citizen" border patrol group, Civil Homeland Defense, and another group called American Border Patrol, run by a 60-ish man named Glenn Spencer.

While in Cochise County, I also met John Petrello, of whom Chris Ketcham, in my opinion, paints far too sympathetic a portrait. This is a man who bragged to me about shooting at a group of illegal immigrants who were on his property, even though they were unarmed, ragged and several yards away. That February, Petrello and another gun-toting friend took me on a Mexican "hunt" (his word), wherein we crept around the desert looking for "wets" (short for "wetbacks," also his word). Petrello, strapped with a nine-millimeter Tangfolio Witness and a Bowie knife, gave me the same I-feel-the-Mexicans'-pain speech that he gave to Ketcham, but I quickly dismissed him: spotting a full water bottle on the side of the road (coyotes on the U.S. side leave water for thirsty border crossers as a way to mark pickup spots), Petrello approached the container -- and slashed it with his Bowie knife. Moments later, Petrello told me, "I think I'm the poster child for this new [citizen patrol] movement." We should hope he's not.

Overall, Ketcham's piece illustrates an important trend that Americans should know about. There is, indeed, an illegal immigration problem in the U.S., and citizens are taking matters into their own hands, and we should be made aware that this is happening. But therein lies the problem: The more press these people receive -- and believe me, they're as media savvy as they are anti-illegal immigration -- the more angry people like John Petrello will join their ranks, and the more people (Mexican or otherwise) run the risk of getting hurt.

-- Mike Kessler

The Minuteman Project should turn its attention to our northern border. It is much more vast (4,000 miles) and less heavily guarded than our border with Mexico. That might also help validate claims that they're not racists but concerned about terrorists and national security. Plus, I hear northern Minnesota is quite invigorating in January.

-- Barb Nesheim

The philosophy of the Minutemen is deeply un-American. A closed border is a barrier to the free market, where one of the foundational assumptions is the free movement of labor. If closed borders were a good idea, we would make movement between individual states more difficult, too. To live as cheaply as the middle class does in the U.S., it is necessary to keep labor costs down. The consequences of closed borders include higher costs for food and other goods, including housing, as well as reduced public capacity to pay Social Security. Immigration is good, whether it's legal or illegal. But for the immigrants, it's of course much better when immigration is legal. The only rational option is simply to open the border between the U.S. and Mexico and allow the free flow of labor legally. That is the way one can "protect" the U.S.

-- Curt Rice

[Read "Pushing PBS to the Right" by Eric Boehlert.]

I heard the interview with Mr. Tomlinson on NPR last week here in the Central Massachusetts area. Most people here are liberal Democrats with a few libertarians. I was shocked to hear the conservatives' notion of "fairness." What they seem to call "liberal" is anything that presents all sides of an issue, not just the details on the surface that can be captured in a sound bite or two. Mostly these things leave out context, add hysteria and play fast and loose with the facts.

The real issue here is a news organization's willingness to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Religious conservatives claim to have the corner market on the truth, but what they espouse and live by is their own histrionic sense of morality that presumes to settle all matters with shouted platitudes about "family values" and "patriotism" over any semblance of reason or concern for reality. They will ignore what's right in front of them in order to promote their simplistic, reductionist point of view. If telling the truth or presenting all the facts and "nuances" of an issue represents a "liberal bias," then count me among the "elites" who prefers thinking for myself to being told how to think, how to worship, how to be moral, or how to be patriotic.

-- Ken Dyier

This was a great article, but I believe it is subject to the same "bias" as PBS. The problem here seems to be one of semantics. Republicans are notorious for their spin-mongering and have done a wonderful job here.

You see, all things considered, the truth is progressive. From a conservative standpoint, this won't do. Telling the truth, asking hard questions, and digging through the chaff are all ideologically in opposition to the conservative agenda.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with championing truth. It worked so well for Galileo ... The danger in all this is assuming that just because something is "the right thing to do" automatically makes it correct among the backdrop of a fully fledged and funded (pseudo)theocracy.

-- Christopher S'aulis

[Read "Life of the Party" by Tim Grieve.]

It blows my mind why the "movement" doesn't focus more on training laypeople to run for local office. I just moved back to my rust belt hometown where I was (silly me!) surprised to find a truly corrupt, nepotistic and silver-haired Democratic Party. One of the biggest successes of the right has been leaving no elected office unopposed, from school board to dog catcher. In my county alone, there are hundreds of offices where the incumbents -- often business-as-usual Democrats -- sit for 20 years or more. Of course we need defensive multi-issue organizations like MoveOn.org to send us legislation alert e-mails, encouraging house parties and hosting billboard caption contests, but we also need more hardcore offense.

Around these parts, Republicans and business interests are encroaching from the suburbs, circling my city, and waiting for it to fall into complete ruin so they can point to financial and social mismanagement and persuade residents to merge the city with the county -- thereby increasing conservative political power. It's working.

Organizations like the Center for Progressive Leadership are trying to replicate the success of the right-wing Leadership Institute and the Young America's Foundation (which boasts Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition as famous alumni). But at this rate, unless organizations with massive memberships like MoveOn focus on empowering members locally, we're treading water.

I understand the reluctance of MoveOn and other groups to closely align with Democrats and "be" the party; but hell, let's run Independents and Greens too. Who cares if these new people adhere to a strict and cohesive Democratic agenda? The Democratic Party as it stands now is stale, pale and spineless. What we need are the concrete details of election logistics: give us trainings, give us press manuals, give us lists of unopposed candidates. Give us the power to help us take our neighborhoods back first ... and then let's talk 2008!

-- Natalia Rudiak

I think we all have to remember that Eli is only 24, and thank God for it. To be that engaged, that smart, that aware at 24 is absolutely amazing. Yes, he may say "I think" or "I guess." So what? MoveOn did more good and worked harder than any other progressive organization in 2004 to engage regular Americans. I think this interview with him was snide and condescending. I think it was a "gotcha" interview. Eli was gracious and informative and informed throughout. MoveOn got the right's hackles up more than any other organization during the 2004 campaign. They had good ideas. I don't like to think that interviews like this will discourage young people to get this involved. I hope it doesn't discourage those at MoveOn.

-- Ellen Johnson

I read the Tim Grieve piece on MoveOn.org with interest, but as a lifelong Republican and conservative I cannot say that the Dems will be in much better shape in '06 or '08.

What I did not see discussed was the built-in advantage conservatives have over traditional liberals or progressives in national elections. Most people are born into this world as conservative. Conservative attitudes prevail in most situations and form the basis for most human endeavors. The working world is not "liberal"; it is not even democratic. Most churches do not espouse liberal positions on important matters because to do so would undermine their role and livelihood. Most people become "liberal" out of choice in response to some perceived injustice.

By today's standards, LBJ and JFK are "liberal," but that certainly was not the label they wore in their day. Carter was actually conservative in his day, but today he is a "flaming" liberal. My point is that the article failed to address a key point: when revisionists start the process of reviewing the historical record, it is the Democratic candidates who are most likely to be "revised" in terms of their politics and their impact. Conservatives have a deeper political tradition that extends beyond generational patterns.

-- Rick Fogarty

By Salon Staff

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