January 20, 2000


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Reeta Sinha

Acts of Compassion

I didn't want to write another column related to Dubya. Two in one month was pushing it already. I'm sorry, but even as the President-elect, the man just isn't that interesting. But then, two things changed my mind.

First, I finally learned what a "compassionate conservative" is. This is the term George Dubya used to describe Republicans during the US presidential campaign. Second, I figured that a rather vocal Republican reader (and librarian-hater, judging from his e-mail) might be suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Let's just say this is my own effort to be compassionate.

So, what is compassionate conservatism? It means if you're a Republican and if your heart is in the right place, you can ignore US federal immigration laws. George W Bush's nominee for Labor Secretary was, apparently, as compassionate as conservatives come.

At a press conference on January 9, Linda Chavez withdrew her name from consideration for a cabinet post. For days, the story had been circulating that Chavez had housed and given money to an illegal alien in her home. In her statement Chavez said she had probably known all along the woman was in the US illegally. Chavez also said she had helped other people in the same way.

It's difficult to know where to begin, but if this is what the Dubya era is going to be like, some of us are going to have a lot of fun watching what went around, come around.

First, Chavez would have been asked to uphold US laws, had she been confirmed as a member of the President's cabinet. So, if she knew the woman living with her was in the US illegally, she may have broken a federal law willingly. She has said she would do so again, if she had to.

To be fair, it seems hundreds of Americans are guilty of hiding and/or helping illegal aliens in the US. Remember Elian Gonzalez? But, it seems authorities rarely prosecute those who break this particular law.

I didn't know the US was so sympathetic towards immigrants. I mean, this is the same outfit that keeps families continents apart and leaves others in INS-limbo-hell for years, isn't it? I hope those of you in such situations were taking notes. Apparently, the trick is to let your visas run out or to enter the country illegally. Once you've done that, all you have to do is find a compassionate conservative politician to give you shelter.

Good luck.

Also, Chavez, aspiring to set policy and enforce labor laws for all workers in the US, has gone on record opposing the Family Leave Act. Among other things, this law permits an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child or a to take care of a family member (for example). Before enacted, it was conceivable that a new mother could return to work after a few weeks and find out she no longer had a job.

Chavez rejected a benefit allowing workers to earn a living when faced with challenging personal circumstances, yet she gave an illegal alien food, clothing, money and shelter? What's wrong with this picture?

To continue, Chavez claimed she was a victim of the "politics of personal destruction." This referred to, although she didn't say so explicitly, both Democrats and the press. People were out, in her words, to search and destroy. This issue alone demonstrates the hypocrisy of some Republicans in Washington.

Linda Chavez didn't hold back when President Clinton's nominee for Attorney General, Zoe Baird, was politically lynched. If politics has been reduced to dirt-digging and mud-flinging (and I believe it has), Chavez has been a willing and active participant in the process on at least one occasion.

When asked about the similarities, Chavez, without missing a beat, said the Baird case was different. I'll say. Chavez committed the ultimate political sin; the cover-up.

From Watergate to stained dresses and so many more incidents in between, where was Linda Chavez? How could she think this story would not become public? Or, that it wouldn't be important enough to make the news. Why did she think her attempts to cover it up would succeed? Even Bill Clinton finally got it. Addressing an audience of journalists at an annual gathering, Clinton joked that it's the cover-up that will get you every time.

Too bad Linda Chavez wasn't listening. Now, no matter how generous she says she is, or how many people she parades in front of the press afterwards, one has to wonder why Chavez didn't want her boss (or the rest of us) to see her compassionate side.

In a patriotic flurry towards the end of her statement, Chavez predicted that others would be reluctant to serve their country in the future, as she had wanted to do for President-elect Bush.

Not a problem, Ms Chavez. Thanks to you, we now know you don't have to be a member of the President's administration or road kill for the press to do good. Like you, we'll feel a greater sense of accomplishment when giving someone a hand one-on-one. And hey, if they also do the laundry, go grocery shopping and clean house in between English classes, more's the better, right?

Linda Chavez may have learned something as well. If you try to hide your good deeds, you may end up with a lot of free time to be a Good Samaritan.

I have no personal or political grudge against Linda Chavez, nor am I waiting for the next Cabinet nominee revelation. I am sick, however, of the self-righteousness of so-called do-gooders in government. Particularly those who want to shape policies that affect my role as a manager and an employee.

Chavez said she would have made a good Labor Secretary. She may truly believe this but her performance has shown me just how out of touch she is with the world of workers. Anyone who has had a job, a real one that pays your bills and keeps you off welfare; anyone in such a position (and who wants to stay in it) knows that violating company policy or federal law does not usually earn you high marks in the area of initiative. Attempting to cover up such actions, or asking others to help you do so, only makes matters worse. At best, it demonstrates a gross error in judgment; at worst, it proves you are an arrogant fool to think you could get away with it.

Reeta Sinha

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