By Vern Nelson
OC Voice Columnist
In the first Naked Gun film, Lieutenant Frank Drebin, while impersonating an umpire in a major league baseball game in order to prevent an assassination, finds himself at a loss what to do when the batter swings and misses. After a long, uncomfortable silence, feeling a thousand expectant eyes fixed upon him, he finally stammers, hesitantly, “…Strike one?” And the crowd erupts into cheers.
Immediately Drebin is transformed by the crowd’s approval into a super-umpire. Inspired, he begins shouting and singing out calls with dance moves and acrobatics, driving the delighted fans crazy:
“STEERIIIIKE TWOOO!!!” There is no middle ground or gradual change as there would be for you or I; the public’s roaring approbation transfigures him instantaneously from mute uncertainty to no-hold-barred showmanship, wallowing in the fans’ adulation for the rest of the game.
It was just like that for Senator Tom Harman when he first discovered the awesome crowd-pleasing power of anti-immigrant rhetoric in mid-2006: the assemblyman known most for his solid environmental record, who had never before been noticed to mention immigration, transformed himself overnight into Orange County’s foremost defender of Anglo-Americans from the encroaching brown hordes. “It is the single most hot-button issue in the district!” he enthused to Laguna Beach’s Coastline Pilot.
California Coalition for Immigration Reform president Barbara Coe, whom I met at a small Mayday Minuteman rally in Santa Ana, tells me, “Tom is the greatest! He not only says the right thing, he gets out there and does it.” Pooh-poohing the appearance of insincerity in his suddenly discovering this issue in the heat of a nailbiter primary against wingnut Diane Harkey, she attributes his metamorphosis to a “very convincing presentation” her group gave him at a meeting around that time.
In columns he regularly generates for the other local papers, Harman regurgitates the usual, easily-debunked canards on immigration familiar from such firebrands as Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh.
He repeats the common claim that undocumented immigrants cost taxpayers $10 billion a year, but in fact they pay-not just sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes (through their rent), but also $8.5 billion a year to Social Security and payroll taxes (from immigrants with false SS cards, who will never receive the benefits.) Most Americans don’t realize that the undocumented aren’t eligible for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps or state health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office concluded last year that the taxes undocumented immigrants pay easily exceeds the cost of services they use.
Then there’s the old imaginary immigrant crime wave: In fact, studies have shown clearly that immigrants commit less crimes than native-born citizens; and Justice Department statistics show that noncitizens account for only 6.4 percent of the incarcerated-far from the one-third Harman claims.
Harman boasts now that he has “penned more bills against illegal immigration” than anyone in the legislature, and this is probably true. He hit the ground running this legislative season with his Senate Bill 3; an amazingly radical and fascistic bill, it fortunately has no chance of passing.
SB3 would make any undocumented immigrant in California, whether on “public or private property,” guilty of trespassing and subject to large fines and lengthy imprisonment. This would transform all state and local police into immigration agents and is more radical than anything that Minutemen leaders like Jim Gilchrist have proposed, placing Harman on the fringes of the debate; and his other bills are no better.
Although figures like the new Harman insist their opposition is only to illegal immigration, it’s easy to see that he really is, as moderate Republican Congressional candidate Ron St. John observes of his immigrant-bashing opponent Dana Rohrabacher, an “opponent to any immigration, who’s in the ‘enforcement-only’ camp, treating the 12 million undocumented workers here as an invading army and offering a militaristic solution that would depopulate the country.”
As Harman 2.0 continues to fantasize out loud about “sealing the borders using technology like laser beams, drones or sound detectors, and then dealing with the twelve million currently here,” hate crimes against Latinos skyrocket, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids of the type welcomed by Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor grow in their frequency and cruelty across the nation, incarcerating hundreds of Latino immigrants for lengthy terms just for trying to feed their families.
Harman’s newfound passion may win him votes among the hardcore Orange County Republican faithful, but he’s incontestably contributing to the climate of hate and fear that is making millions of lives miserable and solving no real problems. Heck of a job, Tommy!
Next installment: On healthcare? Useless as a stick in the mud!
Vern Nelson is a pianist and composer who plays Friday and Saturday nights at Baci Italian Restaurant in Huntington Beach.