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Lifestyles on Display

Latest cabinet appointment scandal indicates a larger problem.

by Jonathan Wilson
January 9, 2001

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Lifestyles on Display_Jonathan Wilson-Latest cabinet appointment scandal indicates a larger problem. The similarity in appointment scandals between George Bush's first cabinet and Bill Clinton's first cabinet tells a great deal about the lifestyles of America's Rich and Arrogant.

Once again, a cabinet appointee is in trouble regarding the employment of an undocumented worker. Republicans want to send up the smoke screen about all the ways this situation that Ms. Chavez faces is different from the scandal that rocked Clinton's first choice for attorney general.

The differences might be there. I am not writing to declare that Chavez should resign from consideration. The point is, we are seeing another unseemly side to the caste of Americans with disposable income and house employees.

Perhaps I am particularly incensed regarding this subject, because I have just watched GONE WITH THE WIND again.

In any event, this trend of sheltering "undocumented workers," that is, those who are in the country illegally, for exploitation wages, appears to be a lifestyle among our privileged that the scandal eight years ago did not erase.

Of course, they talk about "compassion." They talk about how $100 is an enormous sum in Guatamala. But we are not in Guatamala. The worker deserves her hire. When in America, pay as Americans do.

Perhaps this Guatamalan lady in Chavez's house was "lucky." We know about international sex trades that enslave women. We know about daily border crossings that bring unskilled Mexicans to the orange groves of Arizona and the cotton fields of Texas. And we know what they get paid. But the only time we are outraged is when an illegal Mexican family applies for food stamps or sends their kids to our schools or has their kids birthed in our hospitals. These things, the very things that a sense of charity ought to permit, outrage Americans, because they drain our tax revenues. But pay a Mexican 50 cents an hour to pick oranges? This is "compassion!"

Trading chores for lodging to an illegal alien in a suburban home, and a few hundred dollars stiped, this is compassion!

As one who is looking forward to a career in Christian ministry, I feel a call to resume the same quest undertaken by my Quaker ancestors, the quest of Abolition.

A quest to stop stuffing eighty human beings into the back of a moving van. A quest to stop boxing up Chinese immigrants in crates that become their coffins on the sea voyage. A quest to interrupt the trade in Eastern European women and Thai girls and underage Nepalese children.

It is time we got a grip on a sense of ethics. I am not preaching religious ethics. I am preaching the very substance of humanism, and of business ethics, the kind of thing that deists and agnostics and atheists can sink their teeth into and comprehend. Rather than exploiting others with our wealth and calling it compassion, let us name slavery for what it is, and abolish it.

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Freedom Fighter writes:
January 1, 1900
Yes, it is compassion to take a battered woman into your home, teach her English, and give her spending money. And it is polite of that woman to respond to the favors by cleaning up the house a little bit, which houseguests frequently do. That is all we know of Mrs. Chavez's relationship with Ms. Mercardo. Mr. Wilson at first concedes that the Chavez case might be different, and then he treats it exactly the same. Although the issue of her candidacy is moot, this kind of smearing of Ms. Chavez in public media is unfair, and I think she is owed an apology.

When it is illegal to help those in need, it is foolish to condemn the compassionate

[2001-01-10 18:54:00]

Freedom Fighter writes:
January 11, 2001
In response, Zoe Baird did not pay social security taxes for the nanny she employed, and that's why she wasn't appointed Attorney General. I know no more than what the papers tell me, which is what Ms. Mercardo and Ms. Chavez have said. Mr. Wilson still is assassinating Ms. Chavez's character based on an assumption and zero known facts. He has no evidence whatsoever of an exploitive relationship in this case.

Jonathan Wilson writes:
February 23, 2001
Dear Editor: Six weeks later, I am apparently still under Freedom Fighter's skin. I would like to say that, while I appreciate the efforts of your Dear Jon to shield writers from criticism in order to encourage more contributors, I am quite capable of dealing with it on my own.

If I can reduce Freedom Fighter's issue to a single paragraph, it is when I wrote: Trading chores for lodging to an illegal alien in a suburban home, and a few hundred dollars stipend, this is compassion! Whether I am substantially in error or not in terms of the article, depends on the following questions:

Was Ms. Mercardo undocumented?

Was she sheltered in the home of Linda Chavez?

Did she perform chores?

Did money change hands?

What is compassion?

If the answer to JUST ONE of any of the first four questions is NO! then I will retract any aspersions I cast upon Linda Chavez in the wider context of my article. This retraction can only be on the basis of disclosures subsequent to January 12, because by then Linda Chavez had appeared for interview by Peter Jennings and those disclosures only strengthened my opinions, and I wrote my article based on what was stated by ABC News by January 9. Even so, I am open to new information and would categorically retract. If, however, the disagreement between myself and Freedom Fighter is over the question, What is compassion? this is a philosophical disagreement. I hope, then, if that is the case, that Freedom Fighter will have the courage to apologize for casting aspersions on my integrity.

Sincerely, Jonathan Wilson

Freedom Fighter writes:
February 28, 2001
From my understanding reading the Wall Street Journal at the time, the key question is, was Ms. Mercado paid for doing assigned chores? For houseguests with open-ended stays to pitch in around the house sometimes should not be misconstrued by Jesse Jackson as indentured servitude and, while assumed, no one has evidence that Ms. Mercado did the housework, only that she helped out as a family member would.

No one knows, or has provided anything more, than this:

1. Ms. Mercado, an illegal immigrant from war-torn Guatemala, and battered by her boyfriend, was taken in by Linda Chavez.

2. Chavez herself grew up in poverty and often lived in other people's homes due to her parents' poor health, and had showed such compassion to others in adulthood previous to Ms. Mercado's arrival.

3. Chavez taught her English and helped her find work.

4. Chavez gave her spending money.

I believed these facts were commonly known, and was therefore shocked by Mr. Wilson's article. And I was more surprised by his dismissal of my letter.

That said, my letter to Dear Jon was supposed to be good-natured teasing, and regret the offense that was taken. Therefore, I apologize to Dear Jon and to Jonathan Wilson.

-Freedom Fighter

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