When I awoke Friday morning I did not expect to spend the better part of the morning watching a congressional hearing on migrant farm workers. Call me ignorant but the topic held zero interest for me. While eating breakfast, my wife alerted me that one of my favorite satirists, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” would be testifying to Congress, in character. This was a potential train wreck that I just could not resist watching. To my surprise, I was fully drawn into the hearing with Colbert’s appearance ending up only incidental to the attention I gave.
So for starters, Colbert’s presence was effective at the most base level. It caused me to watch and learn something I would otherwise have ignored. Secondly, by Colbert playing his faux Conservative role to the hilt, he highlighted the most ignorant aspects of conservative social policy. One of his best lines was “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan, in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” He closed with “I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interests of the American people as you always do.” The digs were a pleasure to watch as the idiot Congressional panel looked at him dumbfounded. One Democratic Congresswoman from California is seen reading her smart-phone. Republican Congressman Steven King looks on not the least bit amused. Some pundits from both the right and left were apoplectic. Congress had jumped the shark by inviting Colbert, snorted MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Some accused Colbert of trivializing the plight of migrant farm workers. The only thing Colbert trivialized, and rightfully so, is the posturing bull crap that passes for the legislative process in Washington.
After a few Congressmen asked Colbert dumb questions to which he supplied dumb answers, California Congresswoman Judy Chu gave Colbert a chance to get serious and he finally did.
When asked why the plight of immigrant farm workers interested him, Colbert replied that he is always interested in those without power. In a nation supposedly guided by Christian principles such as caring for the least of our brothers, why do we allow immigrant farm workers both legal and illegal to be taken advantage of? Why do we encourage “illegals” to work our farms but then yell and scream about how they should be deported?
Personally it incenses me that in a country with a real unemployment rate of about 15% that farm owners are hiring illegal aliens and not hiring unemployed Americans. This brings us however to the crux of the problem. Are we Americans so snobby that there are certain jobs that we simply will not do? When a “Take Our Jobs” program was announced in order to attract legal immigrants and citizens to farm work, only six people wound up permanently employed. The argument then goes, with no Americans willing to work the fields, farms will go under if they do not employ willing labor and that willing labor is substantially illegal.
When Mexicans come to this country to work, and not to attack us, we end up looking xenophobic when we protest their presence here. Yet it is equally true that we must control our borders. We must, in the best interests of our country employ our own people. There are few easy answers and the easiest answer is one that no one seems to want to enforce, particularly the GOP. That answer is to demand better working conditions and wages from farm owners and substantial penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. I believe for the right money, Americans will do any job you give them. As long as farm owners and the rest of corporate America insist on cheap labor, we will reap what we sow.
In 2002, the Sesame Street character Elmo “testified” before Congress on school music programs. It wasn’t the least bit controversial. Perhaps that is because unlike Stephen Colbert, Elmo didn’t shine a light on our nation’s hypocrisy and our government’s inanity.