Immigration Rhetoric Needs To Be Tempered With Policy And Understanding Our History

With all the news about the spring offensive of brave and determined Ukrainian soldiers striking back at Russian aggressors, the almost daily occurrences of innocent people being shot and killed for no reason other than a gun was in easy reach of being fired, and the attempted hostage-taking by Republicans over the debt ceiling it might seem near impossible to add another top-of-the-fold story to the mix.  Nonetheless, immigrants at the southern border are making its usual series of articles and talking points across the nation.

There is merit to some of the news about the border, as the scheduled court-ordered lifting of Title 42, a public health rule issued during the pandemic that gives U.S. officials unusual powers to quickly expel migrants who cross the border without permission is soon to occur. But as is usual when this topic is elevated comes the partisan rage about immigration that also connects too easily with racism.  At a time when Wisconsin Republicans say the worker shortage is so dire, they need to pass legislation so fourteen-year-olds can serve patrons their drinks, alerts us all to the need for more people desiring to live and make wages in the nation. (I trust some creative editorial cartoonist is drawing a kid in northern Wisconsin studying the whiskey rebellion on the bar counter as he is getting ready to serve table seven their cocktails.) There is clearly a need in every sector of our economy that is screaming out for workers on the one hand as there are clearly many people who wish to reside and work in our nation at the border on the other. Of course, a nation must have control of its borders but we also must have a comprehensive immigration policy passed by Congress to react to both ends of the issue.

For the record, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, with a 62-36 vote. (I very much approved of the measure.) The bill included provisions to strengthen border security with fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and more personnel; a new temporary worker visa category; and a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally if they met specific criteria.  Then-President George W. Bush commended the Senate “for passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform” and said he looked forward to working with both chambers.

But the bill was never taken up by the House.

Then in 2013, a bill backed by Democrats and 14 Republicans, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. Another measure many found grounded in the policy principles that our nation needed to strive at implementing.

It rotted in the GOP House. 

The Dreamers have been held hostage to partisan politics so long that they will likely have grandkids before our nation can find a will to resolve the issue. Though our nation is awash in political dysfunction which results in not passing legislation dealing with immigration the partisan anger is high and too often just mean and cruel. Sometimes, as we know, cruelty itself is the reason for such outbursts. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this week labeled the dead family from a mass shooting as “illegal immigrants” and in so doing removed any sense of humanity from the horror. On display was the foghorn of racism that comes too easily to our politics.

One of the best columns I read about immigration in many months landed in newspapers across the nation a couple weeks ago. I clipped James Rosen’s words from my local daily paper and post a section of it below. Yes, we have issues at the border requiring a national policy response, but the vitriol and outright racism that often lands on those who simply wish to make for a better life with a job and some hope on their shoulders must be called out. One way to address the current headlines is to shake hands with our past.

There was a “border crisis” in the 1840s when the Irish flooded into the country in huge numbers; they made up half of all immigrants. Yet they would come to dominate politics in Boston, New York and other cities while seeing one of their own elected as president in 1960.

There was a “border crisis” in the 1850s when waves of Chinese immigrants arrived, drawn by the California gold rush and fleeing economic turmoil at home. Yet they almost single-handedly built the first transcontinental railroad and opened many popular businesses.

There was a “border crisis” in the early 1900s when millions of Jews came to escape pogroms and other persecutions in Eastern Europe. Yet they would come to dominate fields from filmmaking to academia, earning a volatile mix of admiration and contempt in their new homeland.

There was a border crisis in the 1940s when Japanese immigrants were rounded up and held in internment camps during World War II. Yet today, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Suburu employ tens of thousands of Americans at factories in eight states; hundreds of thousands more work for firms that supply them or sell their cars.

There was a “border crisis” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when FBI agents began to question the large Arab community in Dearborn, Michigan, and question Muslim immigrants elsewhere. Yet, Arab Americans today head major universities and make major contributions in every field, from science and computer engineering to business, journalism, entertainment and politics. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco to a Syrian father … and a German-American mother.

The original “border crisis” started long before Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The immigrants who arrived in the early 1600s went on to found a great nation after slaughtering the Native Americans who preceded them, a tragic tale of conquest that illustrates the morally murky precept, famously repurposed by Winston Churchill, “History is written by the victors.”

Being Classy Matters In Politics

On Friday we observed the two-year anniversary of President Biden taking the oath of office. History will recall that in spite of the lift of the nation for reason and sanity, there was a stark reminder of how it all played out in ways not seen since John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson were alive.

There is a classy way to conduct oneself when turning over power at the White House, and then there are those who act like petulant rubes. As such, two years ago when Joe Biden took the oath of office, we did not see the likes of the photo from 2017 when President Obama and First Lady Michelle welcomed Trump to the White House on the inauguration morning.

Or previously in 2009 when President and Mrs. Bush welcomed the incoming First Couple Barack and Michelle Obama. When class is on display it is clearly demonstrated, and sadly, the same is true when it is severely lacking.

Over the decades of reading history, it is clear that a politician’s character is best observed not when the election victories are secured but rather when defeat needs to be faced. That is when people are made aware of the true nature of someone they otherwise may not honestly know.

We are undoubtedly very aware of who Donald Trump is and what constitutes his character. Showing class would not be one of the words attributed to him.

Grotesque Behavior From Ron DeSantis Towards Immigrants

Over the recent past, we have witnessed more than our share of truly awful partisan moments. We saw a disabled journalist mocked, Gold Star families maligned, a POW with lifetime injuries ridiculed, and the Memorial Wall at the CIA demeaned.  While it would be wrong to think the reasons for our national disgust could not grow, we could be excused for not thinking it would be as grotesque as it turned out to be this week.

Using a pot of money, $12 million in public funds, Florida moved some immigrants to another state. The aim of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is not to aid, comfort, or assist people who have come to our nation seeking a better life, but rather to pump up his name and harsh brand of conservatism for a national bid for the presidency.  If seeking to embarrass officials in other states by abusing men, women, and children who are at the mercy of our nation now what constitutes ‘leadership’ in the modern GOP, well, Lord, help us all.

This week the shameless display of flying about 50 immigrant Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts set the bar for deplorable behavior at the lowest level yet. There was no notice given to state or local officials or equally important to aid organizations who could have helped to support these people.  It was reported the immigrants were picked up in Texas where they had been staying and then flown through Florida.  The funding for this despicable treatment of people was from a ‘slush fund’ in Florida, money not appropriated for the purpose to act with recklessness or with a desire to harm others.  Yet, DeSantis was doing exactly that very thing.

Not to be outdone for wretched behavior, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has also sent busloads of people to cities around the country. But come Sunday these self-righteous men will bask themselves in evangelical fervor and pretend to have a slice of decency in their lives.  But what they really have demonstrated outside of church is the absence of Christian values.  No one uses vulnerable human beings as political pawns.  It is grotesque.   

People come to this nation for economic and safety reasons. The fact is there will be much stress and upheavals in Mexico and Central American countries in the years to come. Some of it will be created by climate change and while there are those who will pretend that is not a ‘real concern’, it is in fact, already contributing to immigration. Reports from places such as the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador) underscore weather changes are happening as drought becomes prevalent. As such, challenges with farming mean people are leaving. Add in drugs and the misery they cause in these counties, and factor in natural disasters, and failed governmental leadership and it is no wonder people flee in an attempt for something better.  You and I would do the same.

There remains a duty for politicians to craft a reasonable immigration bill that will afford our nation’s border security.  That has long been a point this blog has made clear.  One of the reasons that such legislation is not forthcoming or sent to the president’s desk is that we do not have common-sense redistricting. During the past decade, 70% of the Republican members of the House had less than 10% Hispanic voter base in their districts which means there was nothing required of those members to act.  They felt no pressure to work for the higher national interests or do the heavy lifting required when it comes to immigration reform. 

Some Republicans are, in fact, the reason two all-encompassing bills failed to be enacted.  For the record, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, on a 62-36 vote. The bill included provisions to strengthen border security with fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and more personnel; a new temporary worker visa category; and a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally if they met specific criteria.  Then-President George W. Bush commended the Senate “for passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform” and said he looked forward to working with both chambers. But the bill was never taken up by the House.

Then in 2013, a bill backed by Democrats and 14 Republicans, called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. It rotted in the GOP House. In 2018 Dreamers were being held hostage by the GOP congress. 

Republicans have shown they will not ante up to pass meaningful immigration policy but will harm and abuse others to make for partisan tensions. The horrible behavior of DeSantis along with his band of aping followers this week underscores the need for good immigration policy to trump loud boorish partisanship.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies At 96: Met U.S. Presidents Since Harry Truman

It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.

I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.  

President Harry S. Truman and Britain’s Princess Elizabeth are shown as their motorcade got underway following the reception ceremony at Washington National Airport on October 31, 1951.
 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
20th October 1957: Queen Elizabeth II, US president Dwight D Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) with his wife Mamie (1896 – 1979) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at a White House State banquet.
 Keystone/Getty Images
Buckingham Palace during a banquet held in his honor, American President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, pose with Queen Elizabeth II London, United Kingdom, June 15, 1961.
 PhotoQuest/Getty Images
From BBC
President Gerald Ford dances with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a White House State Dinner honoring the Queen US Bicentennial visit, Washington DC, July 7, 1976. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
6/8/1982 President Reagan riding horses with Queen Elizabeth II during visit to Windsor Castle, Daily Mail
Express UK
People magazine
Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Jack Hill – WPA Pool/Getty Images
(Wow….just wow.)

When Was Last Time President Monitored For Inciting Violence?

We have crossed so many red lines and been deposited so often into the basement in our country that nothing really surprises me anymore. But the news yesterday about a media company needing to review the material posted by a former president, so to make sure violent or insurrectionist material is not online, does make me again aware of how much worse we are due to Donald Trump.

YouTube will reinstate Trump’s channel once the “elevated risk of violence” has passed, the Google-owned video-sharing site said in a news release. YouTube first suspended Trump’s account on January 12th for one week due to concerns “about the ongoing potential for violence” in the wake of the Capitol riot six days earlier and later extended the restriction by one week. After that period elapsed, the company said on the 26th that it was again extending the suspension but offered no timetable for it to be lifted, leaving its status indefinite.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton works on solving worldwide problems with his global initiatives.

YouTube will rely on a mix of indicators to assess the level of violence Trump may upload, including statements by government officials, the readiness level of law enforcement, and any violent rhetoric YouTube may observe on its own platform.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, up until a few months ago, was still helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

I have argued repeatedly that we needed to remove Trump from office and elect a new person so to restore the dignity of the office. I made this statement for the benefit of all Americans, regardless of partisanship or political ideology. I made the plea as I have had deep concerns about Trump’s irreverent and aberrant behavior in the Oval Office. He has cheapened the dignity of the office, and now needs to be monitored so as not to cause more violence or damage to our democracy based on lies and conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, George Bush paints and does volunteer work.

Trump needs to be watched so he does not cause injury to the nation by inciting his base.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has used film projects to advance a national dialogue on race and class, democracy, and civil rights.

Donald Trump And Lack Of Unity In Pandemic America

Our pandemic crisis is unique for the current generations.  We have not lived through something like this before.  It feels so different from the other horrors such as 9/11, or for those older, World War II.  But what seems so at odds with other crises, such as the Oklahoma bombing or the Challenger explosion, is the lack of empathy from a president.  In addition, is the partisan divide that has resulted in a lack of unity in a nation that has nearly 60,000 dead citizens.  And that number is growing.

We have always had a president in our nation who was able to show empathy and use the office and words to bring a nation together during times of crisis.  That quality of a president has never, perhaps, been understood more clearly than now when we view its glaring absence.

I was on-air at WDOR the night President Reagan spoke to the nation following the horrific explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger. In my lifetime there is perhaps no other speech that so clearly demonstrated the role of a president at times of national crisis, or the heights of rhetorical balm that can come with the office.  I sat in the broadcast studio and was moved to tears.  Contrast national moments such as that one to the current occupant in the White House who continually stokes the anger and resentment of people for partisan advantage.

Trump is not able to either resist being mean or fails to grasp the need and the ability of his office to lift others up when they need the nation’s support.  For instance, I can not get out of my mind how Trump refused to keep the White House flag at half-mast to honor the late Senator John McCain.  It was only belatedly that he allowed his staff to put out a mildly laudatory statement in his name and allow the flag to be lowered.

Character matters.  We say those words often but also take the concept for granted.  When the lack of character is so obvious and smacks at us daily, it becomes a reminder of how much this nation lost when Trump secured the votes of the Electoral College.

As The New York Times pointed out today much of the reason for such a fractured and dismaying national moment is due to the actions and words of Donald Trump.

One of the recurring features of the Trump years has been the president’s knack for detonating so many of our powerful shared experiences into us-versus-them grenades. Whether it’s the anniversary of a national catastrophe like the Oklahoma City bombing, the death of a widely admired statesman (Senator John McCain) or a lethal pathogen, Mr. Trump has exhibited minimal interest in the tradition of national strife placing a pause upon the usual smallness of politics.

Mr. Clinton, historians said, always appreciated the power of big, bipartisan gestures, even when they involved incendiary rivals. “He understood the healing powers of the presidency,” said Ted Widmer, a presidential historian at City University of New York, and a former adviser to Mr. Clinton who assisted him in writing his memoirs. He mentioned a generous eulogy that Mr. Clinton delivered for disgraced former President Richard Nixon, after he died in 1994. “There is a basic impulse a president can have for when the country wants their leader to rise above politics and mudslinging,” Mr. Widmer said.

In that regard, Mr. Trump’s performance during this pandemic has been a missed opportunity. “The coronavirus could have been Donald Trump’s finest hour,” Mr. Widmer said. “You really sensed that Americans wanted to be brought together. But now that appears unattainable.”

For whatever reason, Mr. Trump seems uninterested in setting aside personal resentment, even when some small gestures — a photo op or a joint statement with Democratic leaders in Congress; a bipartisan pandemic commission chaired by former presidents — could score him easy statesmanship points.

Gregory Humphrey Makes The New York Times!

That headline sums up the energy today which flows from the desk of Caffeinated Politics.


CreditDiana Walker, via The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

I made The New York Times‘ Daily Newsletter regarding the campaign rally of President Bush (41) on Oct 31, 1992 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. They had asked for campaign memories of special rallies and I sent them a summation of the day.  I took my family to see an old-fashioned mode of travel for a presidential campaign.  While what I sent was many paragraphs long, and truly allowed for a reader to feel the event in words, only a snippet was used by the paper.   I am glad, however, the sentence they used contains the mood of why that rally remains my favorite of the many I have been fortunate enough to have observed.

I was elated when the Times asked July 3rd for permission to quote me. My best friend made the NYT over two decades ago for running the New York City marathon, and now I have made it to the ‘Gray Lady’ too!! We now have checked those items off our bucket lists.

It is a very good day as the NYT has been my favorite daily newspaper since arriving in Sturgeon Bay in 1982 for work at WDOR.

For the record—and for my readers–this was the whole summation of what was submitted to the NYT.

October 31, 1992, was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin. Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and even though President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book “Truman ” in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948, the polls were all indicating the opposite. In spite of that there were still campaign stops to be made, as Bush was traveling Wisconsin by train, while working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true.

I had secured tickets for my mom and dad along with most of my immediate family, including nieces and nephews who wished to attend what turned out to be the most incredible campaign rally I have ever witnessed. My Mom and Dad surely had doubts about standing in line for several hours to see the event, but I also know they loved it. They talked about that day for the rest of their lives.  It was that same train station in 1944 where my mom’s family had arrived from Ozone, Arkansas.  

We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand in the very front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will never forget. I have been lucky to be up front at many of these election moments over the years, but nothing compares to the sights and sounds of President Bush (41) arriving on the train to greet the people. Being a lover of history this was a moment that made time seem to move backwards as the loud engine and sharp whistle brought a President to that little depot. I had at times wondered if my folks thought my involvement in politics was worth the time and energy which I had put into it. But that day as I watched their faces I had my answer. This had impressed them!

At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance the lonesome sound of the train was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers. As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were friendly in spite of the national mood. The crowd was highly partisan, as it should be, for such an occasion. I was mesmerized by the historical and grand moment that this old-fashioned campaign rally had generated. Nothing will ever surpass that event.

My Memories Of President George Herbert Walker Bush In Wisconsin

Of all the politicians who have some to Wisconsin George and Barbara Bush were the ones I saw most often, and were able to ‘press the flesh’ with on rope lines.   I can assure you, having grown up in rural Wisconsin, and reading history books about national politicians and their families, that my first encounter with a major politician was most memorable.

It was a spring Saturday morning in 1988 at Madison.  I was standing alongside staunch Republicans while having the time of my life.  The presidential primary was nearing and Vice-President Bush was sparring for votes with Senator Bob Dole.  On the stage in the hotel stood George and Barbara Bush.  I had never before been so close to such a powerful couple.  Of course many in the crowd were chatting about the woman who stood and smiled, waving at times here and there at people she recognized.  It was following the address Bush made to the party faithful when people pressed forward and handshakes were given by the Vice-President and Mrs. Bush.  I was truly thrilled as a young politico to shake each of their hands.

The most politically romantic campaign rally I ever attended–and grasping fully nothing of its kind will ever compete–was on October 31, 1992 when President Bush and the First Lady made an old-fashioned whistle stop in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

It was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin.  Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot.   The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book “Truman ” in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948.  In spite of the polls there were still campaign stops to be made as Bush was working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true.

A Republican friend of mine at the Capitol had secured tickets for my parents and family, including nieces and nephews.   We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand up front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will  never forget. (It needs to be noted that in 1946 this is where my mother’s family had debarked upon their arrival from Ozone, Arkansas.)

At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance the lonesome sound of the train whistle was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers.  As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were fully-charged for a campaign pitch.  There were many of the Bush grand kids bouncing about with exuberance and Barbara was doing her best to keep them somewhat under control.

While nothing will ever surpass that event for political charm there was one other rally that stands out as it was the first time I was able to shake hands with a President and First Lady.

My nephew, Troy, and I drove to Waukesha in the fall of 1992 for a large outdoor Bush rally.

We arrived a bit late, and were stuck way in the back of the crowd.  I really wanted to be the best uncle possible so following the impassioned plea for re-election I took the lead along the perimeter rope line as we edged our way through the throngs.  We maneuvered ourselves until up front along the roped section not far from the podium. It was there we waited for a couple minutes and then the hands of a President and First Lady were making contact to our right.  And then it was our turn!

There are no words to describe the feeling of pressing the flesh with a president. I recall looking into his eyes. It was heady and historical and pure adrenaline.  I was very pleased that my nephew had that opportunity.

There is no way for me not to get rather nostalgic tonight as I think back to all the fun times and smiling faces of those I stood with as we watched and listened to George Bush.  There is something about the fall leaves and chill in the air every four years as candidates ask for our votes for the White House that lets me know how fortunate I have been to be able to see and hear so many of the contenders.

More importantly I am constantly reminded of the ones who put themselves in front of their fellow citizens with their candidacies in an attempt to make our country a better place to live.

For them and their service to this country I say thank you.