Has there ever been a politically more manic-depressive pol than Arizona Senator John McCain?
This weekend he gave many of us who had supported the old 2000 John McCain hope that he “was back” when he criticized the current 2012 crop of Republican presidential aspirants as being isolationists who would dismay Ronald Reagan. Fair enough.
And then he made this comment suggesting that illegal immigrants/illegal aliens (choose your phrase to reflect your political preference on this issue) started the catastrophic Arizona wildfires:
John McCain (R-AZ) says undocumented immigrants are to blame for the massive wildfires that have ravaged Arizona.
“There is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” McCain, said at a press conference Saturday after touring the Wallow fire, which began on May 29 and has burned over 500,000 acres to date.
“They have set fires because they signal others, they have set fires to keep warm, and they have set fires in order to divert law enforcement agents and agencies from them,” McCain said. “The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”
McCain did not provide any evidence to support his claim, however.
On Sunday, Tom Berglund, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, told ABC News that there is no evidence that undocumented immigrants had caused the Wallow fire. “Absolutely not, at this level,” Berglund said. “There’s no evidence that I’m aware, no evidence that’s been public, indicating such a thing.”
Berglund did say, however, that the cause of the Wallow fire, now the largest wildfire in Arizona history, had been determined to be human — specifically an “escaped campfire.” Two persons of interest were questioned, but no arrests were made.
Latino groups sharply criticized McCain for his remarks.
Some thoughts about this:
1. If one or two people started a wildfire and they were illlegal immigrants even then it would not mean that “they”…illegal immigrants…as a group or a large percentage of them were to blame.
2. Securing the border would not mean that Arizona will never have a wildfire again. Here in California we had plenty of fires over the years and guess what: it was because “they” were responsible as a group or “they” started them. And if one person started a wildfire who was illegal that would be like suggesting that someone Jewish cooked a Hebrew International hotdog and it spread into a wildfire that someone could say “these people who fill our country’s Chinese restaurants and flock to live performances of Fiddler on the Roof and love Adam Sandler’s Chanuka Song started the wildfires.”
3. McCain continues to seemingly work to squander part of his legacy — as someone who seemed to be thoughtful on the immigration problem and not into pushing hot buttons.
4. I’m convinced more than ever when I read comments such as McCain’s, comments from politicians demonizing illegal immigrants, and posts on websites that most of these folks have never met or talked with immigrants who are here illegally. That would NOT change the fact that we do in fact have a serious illegal immigration problem in the United States that needs to be seriously and comprehensively addressed and fixed — which may not be possible for many years due to the way our politics and media operate. But many immigrant families resemble some of the families that came into the U.S. legally, with the strong emphasis on family and family values. (FOOTNOTE: I have had extensive contact with people here illegally in my volunteer work with Big Brothers in Wichita, KS in the early 80s, my jobs as a reporter via series I wrote while on the Wichita Eagle and the San Diego Union in the 80s through 1990 and in programs I have done at fairs and in schools for 20 years).
5. McCain’s comments sadly lump him with those who suggest that illegal immigrants are over here to rob and kill and break laws. That isn’t what he meant but until some substantive information comes out indicating that the fires were set by illegals or that being illegal had anything to do with it, McCain is just one more American pol trying to whip up hate against a group to press his own political arguments.
6. YES we need to secure our borders. NO we do not have to demonize a whole group of people to do it.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.