Sick with swine flu racism

The threat of a deadly swine flu pandemic appears to be fading, despite an outbreak of hype that one former CNN reporter says stemmed from the media’s “economic vested interest in promoting the fear.”

But fear may well be lingering — fueled by animosity toward Mexicans — thanks to a rash of comments from some of America’s nastiest right-wing broadcast personalities.

Ignoring news reports that some swine flu victims inside the U.S. likely contracted the virus during recent trips to Mexico, Fox News regular Michelle Malkin asserted: “I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration.”

“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” radio host Michael Savage warned listeners about the contagion threat. “And that starts in the restaurants,” he said, where you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands.”

As Media Matters for America reported, radio host Neil Boortz stoked fears of a “bioterrorist” plot, asking, “What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?”

Savage also ran with that idea: “There is certainly the possibility that our dear friends in the Middle East cooked this up in a laboratory somewhere in a cave and brought it to Mexico knowing that our incompetent government would not protect us from this epidemic because of our open-border policies.” He suggested terrorists may realize that Mexicans “are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America.”

limbaugh-studioRush Limbaugh ranted about an Obama administration conspiracy to use both the swine flu scare and the renewed debate over torture “to cover up the mess that is the United States of America right now.” (One wonders if he’s including Dick Cheney’s prominent role in the latter.)

While such ugliness from this bunch is predictable, it’s worth remembering that these folks have sizeable to large audiences. Moreover, the rank xenophobia underscores an uneasy truth: America has yet to contend in a serious way with its enormous immigration problem.

Obama continues promising to do so, as when he campaigned for president. The task, like many others since last fall, has been swallowed up in the nation’s economic maelstrom — but it’s inextricable. (So is overhauling health care in Obama’s view.) As Colin Powell emphasized when I interviewed him back in 2007 — not long after immigration had commanded headlines in a national election cycle — dealing with the issue is at once a moral and economic imperative. In an hour-long conversation covering much political ground, Powell’s comments on the matter stood out. We should do everything we can, he said, to admit people legally, dry up the flow of illegals and defend our borders. “But let’s recognize that these folks, whether legal or illegal, are making an enormous contribution to America’s well-being. They do the jobs that others don’t want to do.”

He continued: “It’s outrageous for us to take advantage of this population of 12 million people, to use them to cut our grass and build our houses and repair our streets, but keep them illegal and subject to deportation. That’s not equitable — that’s not America. We have to find a dignified way to work through with this population.”

With the swine flu scare, the unpleasant opportunism of the far right reflects how incredibly far we still have to go.


4 comments so far

  1. Eilene Zimmerman on

    Great of you to write about this Mark. Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh… they are the real terrorists. Swine flu is nothing compared to the dangers they pose. I have to admit, I feel pretty unhopeful that the Obama administration will be able to pass meaningful immigration reform, which has to involve–in my opinion–a way for all those workers who pick our strawberries (and live in cardboard boxes as they contend with respiratory problems from the pesticides they breathe in…) and cut our grass and clean our McMansions to work here legally and have their basic human rights respected.

  2. markfollman on

    No doubt meaningful immigration reform is a daunting task, both politically and practically. Here’s hoping that Obama can live up to his professed ability to take on multiple daunting problems at once…

  3. Marisela on

    I’m somewhat optimistic about immigration reform, but it won’t be an issue that will get anywhere until the economy begins to pick up. I went to a funders briefing on the issue recently and there’s a lot of work being done to target local and state officials, but they have their work cut out for them.

    I’ll have audio from that briefing within a week I think, it’ll be worth listening to if you interested in the a D.C. and California perspective on immigration reform.

  4. […] Rush Limbaugh wasted no time, of course, calling Sotomayor a “reverse racist” and “hack.” Others are running with “socialist,” thanks to an undoubtedly sinister Norman Thomas citation Sotomayor used — for a college yearbook photo in 1976. […]

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