Saturday, December 11, 2004

Securely Confused

"You boys be careful out here tonight. I bought me a wetback last night. Gave him a blanket and a rifle so he could sleep in the barn and maybe shoot a rabbit to eat. I even gave 'em a six pack of Pearl beer... Hell, I wouldn't pour Pearl on a fire."

That is a quote I won't ever forget. I was a junior in high school and sitting around a campfire with some friends. One of my friends was what we considered "rich" and his family had a farm in Hamilton, Texas (120 miles south of Dallas) where we occasionally would go on weekends. We called it camping although it was actually something closer to binge drinking and drug abuse in the woods. At least we didn't venture off the farm...we explored the land, our minds, and our blood alcohol limits, but we never ventured into the "city" of Hamilton. We couldn't harm anyone but ourselves through our stupidity.

The farm was sharecropped. A caretaker lived on half of the property and grew crops which he sold in return for tending to the rest of the land which contained our cabin retreat. I only met that caretaker once...the night he came up to our campfire and said the words I quoted above.

I remember being stunned on so many levels. Here was a man who was telling me he had "bought" a human being, whom he was laughingly treating inhumanely.

I was stunned because my friends laughed too.

The caretaker was a way making the claim that he was better than some "wetback."

Ironically, my friend who owned the farm thought he was better than that sharecropper and openly mocked him as soon as he was out of earshot. I fear I probably laughed right along with him.

None of those value judgments were true much less justified...with the possible exception of the merits of Pearl beer.

The weekend passed and I never saw the illegal alien who had been "bought" although I admit keeping a wary eye out fearing someone desperate enough to be "sold" might be capable of any number of things especially when given a rifle and Pearl beer.

As the years have gone by I've met many a person with attitudes like that sharecropper. I have also known lots of people who have hired undocumented workers. That is so common in this part of Texas you'd have to be blind not to see it. In fact Amy and I could have been guilty of much the same thing. We had a young woman working for us as a housekeeper for several years. I wasn't entirely certain of her legal status. Not too long ago she bought a home around the corner from us. She's a U.S. citizen, recently married, finishing up college and she and her husband had a baby a while back...but in truth, for all I knew initially, she could have been an "illegal." I didn't ask and I paid her in cash.

All of this comes to my mind today because I awoke to the end of a news story on TV saying that the President's choice for Homeland Security Czar was withdrawing his nomination. I was somewhat familiar with Bernie Kerik already, and when he was nominated I was sort of pleased. A tough talking, born from a hooker, street cop who had battled demons all his life and risen above them. He seemed like the type of guy I would like protecting me from real life demons. I also wondered if someone like him could pass muster amid the often beyond partisan evil political scrutiny that comes with such an appointment. I have seen that process destroy men...good men.

When I found out Bernie Kerik was withdrawing his nomination because he apparently hired an illegal alien to watch his kids my first thought was "that's silly" and I was a little angry.

I still think it is silly really.

Our country will lose the services of someone who might very well have brought a fresh, non-Washington tainted, viewpoint to a very important job because of a "nanny-gate" scandal.

However part of me also thought of that sharecropper I met in high school. I don't mean to equate Bernie Kerik with that racist. Kerik apparently hired a nanny "off the books"....the other guy thought he "bought" a man. There is no real comparison.

Yet, I must admit I'm a little divided now in how I'm thinking about the whole episode.

Being in charge of our homeland security means more to me than protecting borders and buildings...we are guarding values too...and perhaps even small lapses, those of which we could all be guilty, should be treated like big threats these days.