Rhetoric smackdown! Theroux vs. McCain on Arizona immigration law

The other Citizen McCain

Thus far, Combat! blog has not mentioned the crazy immigration law that the great state of Arizona passed in April, in part because that state has already been fully captured and in part because there seemed to be only one side to the coin. Nobody thinks that random* proof-of-citizenship checks are a good idea. Nobody thinks that letting private citizens** sue cops for not performing said checks is a good idea. Like a novel about an old racist woman*** and a black orderly who become unlikely friends in a nursing home, the discussion was boring because no sensible person would put himself on the other side. Enter Paul Theroux. The travel writer is not a sensible person, and he’d be happy to explain to you why the Arizona law is no big deal. He even brought his own straw man. And there, on the horizon like a majestic ship, or maybe a jet ski detached from a much better ship, looms Meghan McCain, who argues that people should stop being angry at Arizonans. It’s straw man versus non sequitur, and only the old and/or politically well-connected will survive.

Round One: You know Theroux is not going to argue nice because the very first clause of his piece is “These people who are protesting being asked for identification by Arizona cops—”. Theroux opines that they must not have a lot of experience with world travel, since Paul Theroux gets asked for his papers every time Paul Theroux goes to Mexico, or to Italy, or India, or Singapore, or Tanzania, or Britain. Do you hate Paul Theroux yet? McCain opens with “Although I live in New York City, I still consider Arizona, where I was born and raised, to be my home.” Apparently, “and where my father is a multi-term Senator married to a beer baroness” was lost in copy/paste. Having established their bona fides, the blue-blooded professional tourist and the 26 year-old millionaire discuss the moral legitimacy of illegal immigrants.

Round two: After a brief detour to refute Ozzie Guillen’s claim that illegal immigrants are workaholics—or to at least point out that they’re still Mexicans (“spare a thought for the policeman two days ago who was gunned down in the desert by a workaholic drug dealer,”)—Theroux unfurls his mighty straw man. In foreign countries, particularly when you’re on a train or checking into a hotel, people ask for your identification all the time. Even in the United States, we are beset with demands for proof. “You present a credit card at the supermarket and they want to see your license to make sure you’re not a grafter,” Theroux writes. “All over the place, renting a car, at the bank.” Yes, all over the places people might derive material gain from falsifying their identities. Obviously, stopping people as they cross the street and demanding to see their birth certificates is not different. Take that, soft, yielding torso of Theroux’s apparent opponent, who smells strangely of horses!

McCain counters by acknowledging that the Arizona law “gives the state police a license to discriminate, and also, in many ways, violates the civil rights of Arizona residents. Simply put, I think it is a bad law… But I also understand why this law came into existence in the first place.” She goes on to describe the ways in which illegal immigration is a problem. Now she’s quoting an email from an unnamed friend who lives in Arizona, who says that a bunch of “wingnuts” live there and nobody is doing anything constructive about illegal immigration. The original argument seems like a half-remembered dream. As Theroux exhausts himself sending punch after punch into his straw man, will her evasion strategy bear fruit? Will it be McCain by rope-a-dope?

Round three: Theroux’s guard is dropping…dropping and—there it is! He’s just talking about immigrants in general now. He cites his own nameless friends who live somewhere when he observes that “delightful Friuli,” Italy, has been overrun by illegal residents. “A few might be mopping floors, making coffee, or catering to the sexual needs of Italian men,” he reports, “but the rest are ill-assorted, a combination of parasites, takers, layabouts, moaners, drug dealers, and hard workers.” In an effort to think of three kinds of jobs for immigrants, Theroux comes up with janitor, food service, and sucking a white person’s dick. Two paragraphs later he’s talking about how the Irish economic recovery forced everybody to look for a new source of cheap labor on Cape Cod, and then, in the last paragraph, he lets fly with the four punch: “my ancestors arrived here in 1690.” It’s a classic WASP finishing move, but does Theroux still have the gas—and does America still have the generalized racism—to make it stick?

Sensing weakness, McCain deploys a straw man of her own. “Like all things in this country, partisan politics is getting in the way of actually solving the problem in an effective manner,” she writes.* Two hundred words after saying that Arizona has passed a bad law, she criticizes President Obama for calling the legislation “misguided.” McCain is throwing the combo with technical precision—attack partisan politics, then attack the guy who beat your dad in a political election—but can she finish? “The issue of immigration has now become so politicized that I seriously wonder if anything can be done to combat the real issues,” she writes. “In the meantime, Arizona ranchers are being shot and killed and very little has been done to prevent it from happening again.” There it is! McCain wins, via a brilliant combination of identifying the problem and lamenting that it remains unsolved. Theroux sags in his corner, with only money, fame and a lifetime of world travel to console him.

Of course, the question, “Does this law effectively address the issue of illegal immigration in Arizona?” is still waiting for the bell. Ready? It should be legal for citizens of Mexico to live in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, provided they can produce a letter of employment from someone with a federal EIN number. It should be illegal to pay those people less than minimum wage. And there should probably be some monster estate tax, to keep people like McCain and Theroux from happening in the future.

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  1. I saw Jay Leno at Correspondent Dinner his best line was; “That was my favorite story (this year) Republicans and a Lesbian bondage club. It’s ironic, Republicans don’t want lesbian getting married but they do like watching them “tie the knot”. So I thought that was interesting.”

    You can say the same about Tea Party (they are haters not debaters or as others have dubbed them screamers not dreamers), they say they respect the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence but they do not mind passing laws, through weak Governors (no one voted for this crazy) who only care about getting reelected on the backs of undocumented workers, that will not pass Constitution muster, just like Arizona’s House Bill 2779 from two years ago, keep passing them Arizona and the rest of us will continue to challenged them in a court of law and you will fail again (and yes we will Boycott Arizona). Their phony patriotism is sickening; they are just racists going by another name. We all know you are just itching to put a sheet on their head? Let’s face it the Republicans had eight years to deal with health care, immigration, climate change and financial oversight and governance and they failed. It appears that the Republican Party is only good at starting wars (two in eight years, with fat contracts to friends of Cheney/Bush) but not at winning wars as seen by the continuing line of body bags that keep coming home. The Republicans party will continue turned inward to their old fashion obstructionist party (and their Confederacy appreciation roots) because they continue to allow a small portions (but very loud portion) of their party of “birthers, baggers and blowhards” to rule their party. I will admit that this fringe is very good at playing “Follow the Leader” by listening to their dullard leaders, Beck, Hedgecock, Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush, Savage, Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the Blowhards and acting as ill programmed robots (they have already acted against doctors that perform abortions). The Birthers and the Tea party crowd think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and understand that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. The world is complicated and people like Hamilton, Lincoln, and Roosevelt believed that we should use government a little to increase social mobility, now it’s about dancing around the claim of government is the problem. The sainted Reagan passed the biggest tax increase in American history and as a result federal employment increased, but facts are lost when mired in mysticism and superstition. For a party that gave us Abraham Lincoln, it is tragic that the ranks are filled with too many empty suits and the crazy Birthers who have not learned that the way our courts work is that you get a competent lawyer, verifiable facts and present them to a judge, if the facts are real and not half baked internet lies, then, and only then, do you proceed to trial. The Birthers seem to be having a problem with their so called “facts”. Let’s face it no one will take the Birthers seriously until they win a case, but until then, you will continue to appear dumb, crazy or racist, or maybe all three. I heard that Orly Taitz now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC), she wants to re-establish a family values party, that’s like saying that the Catholic Church cares about the welling being of children in their care, too late for that.

  2. It’s true, that is exactly what this former SAT tutor noticed, although for a moment, I entertained the notion that she was saying everything in this country prevents problem solving. My tutoring experience is probably also what makes me think a rich Ivy League grad could believe that the whole of the US is getting in the way of solving her problems.

  3. Your accusations that Theroux punches strawmen and McCain offers non-sequitur are only accurate if you assume they are both trying to convince us the law is moral or effective. I think neither do.

    Theroux, a travel writer, points out what less traveled people might not know about frequent and unending paper checks in most countries around the world. It’s his job to do so and it is a valid point to make, though its detracted by his omnipotence about the character of “most illegals.” He’s not saying “the arizonal law is great!” He’s saying “it’s like this pretty much everywhere,” and through his mention of the Italian cop who called him a smart ass and the closing part about trying to get his grandson citizenship, we know that its not necessarily fun having your papers checked everywhere. But, he suggests, maybe it’s not the end of the world.

    McCain tries to chart the factors which contribute to an _ineffective_ law being passed. She cites wingnuts and partisan politics responding to a problem which, we experts of American legislation know, results in fear-driven, compromised shit. This isn’t a non-sequitur, it’s a defense of the state of Arizona which in her opinion made a mistake. She’s trying to deflect blame away from its citizens and onto politicos and wingnuts.

    Are either of them debating the merits and foibles of the law? No.

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