Chavez nomination hypocrisy

By W. James Antle III
web posted January 15, 2001

Forget for a moment the arguments over whether former Labor-Secretary designate Linda Chavez was committing an act of illegality or charity in housing an illegal immigrant in the early 1990s. Forget whether the woman in question was an employee or a battered woman in need of shelter. Consider the hypocrisy of those who opposed Chavez in either case.

Linda ChavezLinda Chavez ran the staff of the US Commission on Civil Rights under President Reagan. She is a widely read syndicated columnist and has actively opposed bilingual education, racial preferences and other liberal schemes. When it came to pass that Chavez had an illegal immigrant from Guatemala in her home, regardless of the reason, the organized left pounced.

Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle, perhaps recalling the fate of early Clinton nominees who failed to pay Social Security taxes on their domestic employees, was ready to disqualify Chavez on that basis. All of this seems like typical confirmation-hearing partisan wrangling, until you consider the following: Isn't exploiting the issue of illegal immigration for political purposes racist and xenophobic?

Isn't there more that is being communicated here than simple concerns about Chavez's adherence to labor laws? The use of an illegal immigrant to sink a Hispanic nominee with an obvious Spanish surname ought to invite comparisons to the Willie Horton incident, one would think. When GOP California Gov. Pete Wilson campaigned for the Proposition 187 initiative to eliminate welfare payments to illegals, he was roundly denounced as divisive, racist and xenophobic, even though 59 percent of Californians ultimately agreed with him. Where is the outcry against the use of illegal immigration to block the nomination of an ardently pro-immigration Hispanic to a pro-immigration administration?

Jesse Jackson and company did not rise to Chavez's defense. Jackson immediately took to the TV talk-show circuit (as if he ever leaves) to proclaim that this incident proves Chavez is "against the minimum wage." Thus, she opposed minimum-wage increases because of her own preference for cheap labor. Never mind that the woman might not have been an employee, but a houseguest benefiting from Chavez's compassion. It is also worth noting that Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has called the minimum wage "one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the books" because it tends to price inexperienced young black workers out of the labor market.

Perhaps Jackson can be forgiven for excluding Chavez from his Rainbow Coalition because her conservative views are said to render her an "inauthentic" Hispanic. Indeed, her marriage to Christopher Gersten, who is Jewish, has also caused some Hispanic community activists to question her racial solidarity. While no major liberal organization would ever make such slurs, many would not be above standing next to such people at protests. If you doubt, consider Bill Bradley and Hillary Clinton's cozy relations with Rev. Al Sharpton. Notwithstanding his broadsides against Jews and white interlopers, he is defended by credible people against charges of bigotry.

When Republican senators oppose minority nominees, they are accused of racism. John Ashcroft is said to be a racist for voting against Ronnie White, a black judge whose lone dissent in a death-penalty case against a cop-killer raised the ire of Missouri law enforcement officials. The fact that he voted for 26 of Clinton's 28 black judicial nominees and appointed eight black judges as Missouri governor isn't considered.

So, by that standard, is opposition to Linda Chavez not opposition to Hispanics? Apparently not anymore than it was racist to oppose Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. Or to criticize Clarence Pendleton, Chavez's predecessor at the US Commission on Civil Rights and its first black chairman. Or to show old pictures of current House Republican Conference Chairman JC Watts wearing an Afro.

The point of this is not to suggest it would be fair or legitimate to accuse those who opposed Chavez of racism, xenophobia or bad faith. It is simply to note that if Chavez has been liberal and her opponents conservative, these are exactly the charges that would have been made with little concern for fairness or legitimacy. Criticism of illegal immigration by the right automatically triggers accusations of bigotry; conservative opposition to minority nominees inherently is interpreted as discrimination and exclusion.

We should all learn a valuable lesson from the assault on Linda Chavez. Those who most ferociously play the race card in American politics are not to be taken seriously, because true racial progress is not really their motivation. Instead, they are interested in pursuing their political agenda by means of blackmail. For these people, diversity is only a value when it yields a diverse sampling of liberals. ESR

W. James Antle III is a former researcher for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. You can e-mail comments to

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