Kudos to my summer employer The Nation for its smackdown of the holier-than-thou anti-immigrant demagogue Lou Dobbs. In a piece called “Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite” running in this week’s issue, Isabel Macdonald reveals that “Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper.” For the article, Macdonald interviewed no fewer than five undocumented immigrants that have worked on Dobbs’ properties, either landscaping or grooming the horses ridden by Dobbs’ daughter, a showjumping champion who has won over one million dollars in prize money.
After years of watching Dobbs lionize himself as a heroic, one-man bulwark against illegal immigration, vilifying anyone who so much as associated with illegal immigrants while recklessly casting aspersion about immigrant-carried diseases and immigrant-perpetrated violence, it was more than a little satisfying to watch this self-appointed guardian of all that is good and American fall on his sword in his recently-concluded appearance on MSNBC alongside Macdonald. Dobbs didn’t dispute Macdonald’s reporting, conceding that illegal immigrant might have been employed by contractors he hired to tend his property and horses, instead resorting to the usual attacks against the lefty, activist, attention-hungry Nation for daring to expose his remarkable hypocrisy.
When Dobbs did decide to actually defend himself, he treated the possibility that he’d employed undocumented workers as no big deal, par for the course for a rich landowner like himself. Besides, no one has accused him of breaking any laws, he pointed out, as if he was now somehow vindicated.
And indeed no one has. Nor, given the inherent murkiness and secrecy that shrouds any case involving “illegals,” do we know if Dobbs was aware of his workers’ legal status, although for a man so concerned about the alien menace to American society that the topic led just about every one of his nightly broadcasts at CNN, you’d think he would have taken slightly more interest in the hiring practices of his landscaper, who was after all operating in an industry where roughly a quarter of all workers are undocumented.
Ultimately, as much as I’ve enjoyed following my colleagues’ excited tweets while watching Dobbs’ painful efforts to explain how his “possible” hiring of illegal immigrants through his landscaper or horse grooming service (?) squares with his claim earlier today that he never “directly or indirectly” hired any undocumented workers, there’s a larger point here, which The Nation’s accompanying editorial this week nicely lays out. Dobbs’ “I don’t know, I don’t care, shame on The Nation for besmirching my good name over a few lousy illegals” act on TV made two things abundantly clear. First, illegal immigrants are not the scary, drug-pushing, axe-wielding criminals his heroic alter ego would have you believe. And second, whether we like it or not, undocumented workers are part of – and an integral part of – the American economy and American society (not that I consider Lou Dobbs’ showjumping horse ventures integral to anything, but you get the point). In Lou Dobbs’ fantasy TV/radio world, the discovery of illegal immigrants working on his property (well, not his – someone else’s obviously) property would be a headline story, but in the real world it’s just a hatchet job by The Nation.
So, there it was that we witnessed a patriotic hero’s tragic fall from grace, although I can’t say I’m moved to despair. But if nothing more comes of this than the usual substanceless rhetoric that has left upwards of 20 million people living in the shadows of American society, then that will be a real tragedy.