Fox and Chavez: Clashing Symbols

Posted: May 23, 2001 12:00 AM
As the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound -- meaning, when you've knocked political correctness a few times and been knocked right back by those who esteem and practice it, you haven't much reputation left for High-Mindedness. So ... This business of a paid city holiday -- in Dallas! -- for Cesar Chavez (on which measure the city council votes Wednesday): Huh? Que? You know, of course, as well as I do what it's about. It's about the struggle for supremacy in multi-cultural America. A paid day off in Dallas, honoring a California labor organizer and grape boycotter makes no objective sense; still less so if it entails, as originally proposed, the cancellation of Presidents' Day as a paid holiday. Adios, Jorge Washington! Hasta la vista, Senor Jefferson! Hail, Cesar! A compromise could be in the offing, with two, not one, paid holidays (Nice leisure, if you can get it ... ) But the profile of the struggle fits. A segment of Anglo America's perpetually guilty baby-boom leadership, in perpetual moral crouch, eschews the defense of anything in the pre-1965 American heritage that supposedly reminds anyone of Anglo "oppression." To a certain kind of baby boomer, America remains a smoking, red-hot engine of cultural and economic oppression, rather than the world's greatest generator of jobs and opportunity. The desire of America's increasingly large Hispanic population for more formal recognition hardly seems odd. We should be on the lookout, it seems to me, for reasonable ways of accommodating such a reasonable demand -- as with Dr. King. The main equivalence one notices between King and Cesar is the baby boomer enthusiasm both excite. King shamed; Chavez, through the National Farm Workers Association, stirred up economic antagonisms, telling Americans, essentially, to destroy agricultural jobs by boycotting California grapes. It was the kind of lecture on which the counterculture and the war protesters of that day got high. Yes, kick those capitalists, for the grand offense of providing jobs! For entering into contracts with people seeking jobs, then paying the contracted rate! Standard, boiler-plate 1960s liberalism. Boiler-plate liberalism even now, one learns as Democrats bash the energy industry. Cesar Chavez, a skillful propagandist, fits the template: adversary of capitalism and underminer of the Anglo ascendancy. Honor Cesar, bash the capitalists he opposed. Such is the less-than-subliminal message informing attempts to deify him in the King manner (e.g., ultra-wacko Austin's transmogrification of First Street into Cesar Chavez St.). What a useless mess! Wars of symbols -- that's what we have here -- are bitter and bilious; better sidestepped than waged. We carry our symbols close to our hearts. To love Cesar Chavez is to want him universally loved. Revere Marse Robert (E. Lee) and you'll rise in rebellion, suh, over attempts to degrade Confederate symbols like the battle flag. For all that, if not directly because of it, the war of clashing symbols goes on all around. The whole business comes off oddly. Not a few of us in Anglo America respond positively to the infusion of talent and energy from other countries -- appropriately integrated, of course, into the American way of life, rather than left aloof, isolated and potentially hostile. The measure of a good American should be his capacity for honest work. Light Bulb Comes On. Mexican hero for our times? Encourager of honest work and related virtues? Friend and fan of our culture as well as his own? Got it. Vicente Fox (may his tribe increase exponentially). No Mexican public man of this century, on either side of the border, has better understood the relationship of work and prosperity. Suppose we were to wait six years? Appraise what he has done, by term's end, in behalf of human enterprise? Niche him then, perhaps, into Presidents' Day? Fox vs. Chavez, in the Mexican hero sweepstakes. There -- how's that for intellectual clarity?