Skip to comments.Doesn’t Anyone Remember Tom Lehrer?
Posted on 01/13/2004 1:44:50 PM PST by Congressman Billybob
In the entire weekend discussion of the President Bushs guest worker proposal for (mostly) Mexicans in the United States, there was a yawning omission. Doesnt anybody remember Tom Lehrer, George Murphy, or the braceros? As the master himself was wont to say, Heres a song about that.
Shortly after the 1964 election in which California elected a singer/actor, George Murphy, as its new Senator, Tom Lehrer presented his musical salute to your new junior senator at the legendary Hungry I in San Francisco. Some of what Lehrer said and sang, so long ago, requires updating. In his introduction to the song George Murphy, he said, I'm from Massachusetts, and I feel that we have a certain right to gloat over the other states because Massachusetts is after all the only state with three senators. That is no longer accurate. Substitute Arkansas for Massachusetts and it becomes accurate today.
But part of that old, relatively unknown song is current, accurate, and applies to the Bush proposals on Mexican workers in the United States. The few of you who are devotes of the opera of Lehrer know exactly where this is headed. Youre smiling; I know you are.
The song begins:
Hollywood's often tried to mix
Show business with politics
From Helen Gahagan
To Ronald Reagan
But Mister Murphy is the star
Who's done the best by far....
Gahagan was a Congresswoman from California, a former Broadway star, defeated by Richard Nixon in a campaign that attacked this actress as being pink down to her underwear. The names of the candidates have changed with the passing decades, but not their politics. Ronald Reagan was just beginning his first term as Governor of California. Thirty-nine years later, Hollywood is still up to its Spockian ears in politics.
But the subject of todays sermonette is the Bush proposal on Mexicans in the United States, and what should and will happen to that proposal as it wends its way through Congress. The charges and countercharges, the social and legislative battles have only just begun. But in the flood of words broadcast and written in the opening weekend of this struggle, no one mentioned that we HAVE ALREADY HAD such a program. It worked. And it lasted for 22 years.
Heres how the song introduces this subject:
The movies that you've seen
On your television screen
Show his legislative talents at a glance
Should Americans pick crops, George says no
'Cause no one but a Mexican would stoop so low
And after all, even in Egypt, the pharaohs
Had to import Hebrew braceros....
The Bracero program was negotiated in 1942 between the US and Mexico, and adopted by Congress as a law. With so many Americans going into the military, or into war production industries, there simply wasnt the manpower available for American farmers to bring in their crops with American labor. On an accelerated basis, the US and Mexico agreed that hundreds of thousands of Mexicans would come into the US for certain agricultural jobs, at certain minimum wages, with a savings program built in with that money being returned to the workers when they returned to Mexico.
There were problems with the bracero program, but overall it was essential to the economies of both the United States and Mexico during WW II. In fact, the program worked so well that it was extended after the war for 20 years, not ending until 1964.
My understanding of the bracero program is that Mexico cooperated with the US in policing the border between our nations, and that illegal immigration was held to an absolute minimum. The Mexican workers in the US were not guaranteed general access to American schools or medical facilities, and when they had children born while they were in the US, those children were Mexicans, not Americans.
The program was ended because of the conclusion that the program caused the Mexican guest workers to be treated inhumanely. Yet the opposite conclusion, that anyone in the United States regardless of how or why they got here are entitled to the full panoply of American health, education and social services today is bleeding our nation dry in public costs, especially in California, Texas and Florida.
Am I suggesting that anyone should die for lack of emergency medical care, as Billie Holliday did on a southern highway because, being black, she could not be taken to the nearest hospital? Of course not. But I am suggesting that the level of services available should be a matter of negotiation between the US and Mexico, with Mexico participating in the payment of the costs for that.
Next is the matter of citizenship. There have been instances of Mexican women who are eight months pregnant, dying in the deserts of Arizona, or in locked vans attempting to smuggle them into the US, because they wanted their children to be born in the US and therefore become American citizens. This is an insane result for all concerned, and Congress has the power, if it so chooses, to solve this problem by legal definition.
No child born of parents in the US illegally, or legally under tourist or guest worker provisions which require them to return to their own nations, should become American citizens by accident of such births.
Again, I am not suggesting any attempted change (if attempted, I do not think it would succeed), to change the citizenship status of any child or adult who is now recognized as an American. However, going forward, this problem can and should be solved in the legislation that will eventually grow from this proposal.
A good friend of mine, and colleague as a journalist, is a Canadian who married an American, is working toward his American citizenship, and all three of their children are Americans. If one parent is an American, the children are American. And, the goal of preserving families should be retained. This policy only presents a problem when it is pushed to the limit an infant just born to illegal immigrants is an American and therefore the entire extended family of eight people have a leg up on remaining in the US and becoming American citizens.
And lets address the tendency of immigrant rights organization to avoid the word illegal in all they say and write, and even going so far as to claim that it is prejudicial even to refer to these undocumented workers as illegals. When Jesse James robbed a bank at gunpoint, was he making an undocumented withdrawal? When a fat cat pays a bribe to a politician, is he only making an undocumented political donation? Gimme a d*mned break.
If and when a legislative program results from the Bush proposal, it should make an absolute distinction between all who are granted the right to work in the US for a period of years, and those who have violated US law and continue to violate it by staying here illegally. A centerpiece of the legislation should be that all Mexicans or other nationals who wish to work in the US MUST sign up for the program with full ID (photographs and fingerprints) to do so. And all who do NOT sign up that way, are subject to immediate arrest and deportation. To give Mexico an incentive to control its own side of the border, the costs of apprehending and expelling all illegals after the new program is set up, should be reimbursed from the Mexican government.
As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details. Those who think the US should stick its head in the sand and continue to ignore a disastrous situation will label any steps taken now as amnesty. But the program will not actually be an amnesty if it draws clear differences between those who are guest workers and those who are following all aspects of the law to earn their citizenship through existing channels.
The bracero program between 1942 and 1964 brought at its maximum about 700,000 Mexican citizens per year into the United States to work. It is both amazing to me, and appalling, that none of the politicians or talking heads who weighed in on the Bush proposal this weekend ever uttered the word bracero. It is garden-variety common sense that if the nation has done something in the past, any present proposal ought to take into account both the benefits and the liabilities of the last program, in designing any new program. Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. Georges Santayana.
One last tidbit from Lehrers song is appropriate here, since we are now into a presidential election year. Murphys two best-known performances on Broadway were in musical reviews. (His film appearances were mostly in B movies.) The song ends:
Yes, now that he's a Senator, he's really got the chance
To give the public [long piano riff, punch the last four words] a song and dance....
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About the Author: John Armor is an author and columnist on politics and history. He currently has an Exploratory Committee to run for Congress.
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*Note: CCC has never poisoned pigeons. It's a joke, son.
Wasn't Lehrer a math teacher at Harvard?
I remember the bracero program. It worked well for the farmers and the Mexicans. The ones who hated it were the Mexican-American farm laborers (those whom Caesar Chavez was organizing) who felt it depressed wages for them and other American unions (remember in the '60s the unions were pretty strong) who wanted to have higher wage union crop jobs.
Lehrer was (is?, I think he's still kicking around Santa Cruz where he taught math for many years) quite a liberal, but he was not politically correct. I loved his line in the song about "Old Mexico":
How I'm longing to get back
to the land of the Wetback
And forget the Alamo!
In Old Mexicooooo. Ole!
His kind of humor left me cold.....i.e.,
The Boy Scout Marching Song:
"Don't solicit for your sister
That's not nice
Unless you get a good percentage
Of her price!
March 1 2003
Tom Lehrer is still feisty and funny, but the king of sophisticated satire tells Tony Davis there's no place for his style of humour now: the world just wouldn't get it. 'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them."
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