And so, as we begin the shortest day of the year, many pundits are reflecting back on the previous 354. They’re mostly talking about what a disaster it has been for the President, whose second term has begun with one scandal after another and few successes. The fact is, though, that President Obama will be just fine. He won’t ever lose another election. For the remainder of his Presidency, most of the people he encounters will treat him like a king. And once he leaves the White House, he will always be referred to as “Mr. President” and will easily be able to earn tens of millions of dollars simply by speaking his mind. All in all, it’s not such a bad life.
If you want to identify the real victims of 2013, don’t look backwards but think ahead. And instead of focusing on President Obama, consider his second-term agenda. After the disaster of the Obamacare rollout, it is hard these days to imagine any big reform initiative getting traction with the American public, let alone making its way through Congress. This is tragic, since the President had envisioned a number of initiatives that we sorely need. Take, for example, his support for immigration reform.
It wasn’t that long ago when this cause received support at the highest levels of both political parties. W supported it. So did McCain. Anyone and everyone in the Democratic Party seemed on board as well. So what happened? The same crowd that recently gave us the Government Shutdown went ballistic, and the liberals, moderates and mainstream conservatives backed down. As a result, millions of Hispanic men and women who have lived and worked in this country for years wake up every morning as “illegal aliens” with no apparent path to citizenship. It doesn’t sound like America to me. Does that sound like America to you?
In the next two weeks, I’ll be heading off on two trips – one by land and the other by air. The first will be to New York City, where a little more than a century ago my grandparents sailed into the harbor with virtually no money or possessions in the hope of religious freedom and a fair opportunity to prosper. They settled in the Bronx and Brooklyn, worked their buns off (much like the Hispanic “illegal aliens” work today), and within a generation, they watched as some of their children attended college and even graduate school. In short, they are a microcosm of the great wave of Jewish immigration to the United States, which for the most part has accepted my people with open arms.
Immediately after my week in the Big Apple, I’ll be heading out to the other coast -- to the City of Angels. Ostensibly, I’ll there to watch my Stanford Cardinal play in the Rose Bowl. But most of my time in LA will be spent visiting friends, and most of those friends will be Hispanic immigrants or children of immigrants. Because I know them as a result of my days at the bourgeois bastion that is Stanford, I can assure you that each and every one of my friends will be “legal.” Yet I doubt that can be said for all of their cousins. Why, I wonder, should their families have to struggle so hard to obtain citizenship? Why were the Bernsteins, Solomons, Siegels, and Schpaerkins (that was my family name before it was shortened at Ellis Island to “Spiro”) allowed to become American citizens, whereas the Garcias, Santiagos, and Mendozas are told that they’re not wanted? I have no answers – at least none I can respect.
Last weekend, I went to a folk music concert given by three professional musicians who I have met over the years while teaching Spinoza at the Southeastern Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute. Individually, they are accomplished singers, songwriters and instrumentalists, but thanks to their incredible harmony, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What’s more, all of these musicians are wonderful people – smart, socially-committed, warm, the whole package. They have a new album out, and its first song beautifully addresses the issue of immigration.
The band’s name is Brother Sun. The song is Lady of the Harbor. And the singer and songwriter is Joe Jencks. I will end this post by linking to the video for this song. Enjoy Brother Sun’s lyrics and harmonies, and send the link on to your friends. Whether or not we can make immigration reform happen, at least we can help people discover this wonderful ensemble.