One of the most fascinating aspects of history is that people and governments keep making the same mistakes, again and again. The Spanish philosopher, George Santayana summed it up best in his famous and often-quoted line that: “Those that fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat their mistakes.” We can see that on a daily basis in this country concerning our failed drug policies. We tried prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, and not only was it a monumental failure, but it gave us the lasting legacies of the Mafia and organized crime which exists to this day. We finally threw in the towel on alcohol only to resurrect a new prohibition against drugs, which has, similarly, been a huge failure, but has given us the legacies of drug cartels and street gangs. And this prohibition is taking a lot longer to get rid of than the one on alcohol consumption.
While most of you are probably familiar with Santayana’s famous quote, very few, if any of you, have probably heard of the Maginot Line. It was named after the French Minister of Defense in the 1930s, and was built along the French western border with Germany. As Nazi Germany was rapidly re-arming in preparation for WWII, the French built a heavily armed fortification along its German border. The Maginot Line consisted of a series of trenches, bunkers, heavy artillery, land mines barbed wire, and other military forces to preclude Germany from successfully invading France. The trouble was, the Germans were not stupid enough to try and penetrate such huge fortifications. So instead of invading from the west, German troops came sweeping down from the north through Belgium and other small, defenseless countries, and roared into France’s northern border which was only lightly defended. The French military collapsed within weeks, and France had to live under the evils of Nazi Germany for 5 years, until it was finally liberated by the Allies.
Why is this relevant today? Because there’s legislation wending its way through Congress that would erect our own version of the Maginot Line along our border with Mexico. And this time, there isn’t even a shooting war. In the full -“not learning the lessons of history”-mode, Congress is proposing a 21st century type Maginot line because, God forbid, one illegal alien might still be able to sneak across the border. And given how successful the previous Maginot Line was, how can we resist the temptation to build a new one?
In my previous entry, I described how legislation, being sired by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, to give 11-12 million illegal aliens in this country, legal status, is being fiercely resisted by the far right-wing of his own party. Sen. Rubio, himself, is an interesting study in contradictions. The son of immigrants who fled Castro’s Cuba, he was a tea-party favorite from the get-go because of his strong conservative ideology. When he was elected to the Senate in 2010, with his boyish good looks, and an easy speaking style, he was quickly being cast as a future GOP presidential candidate. He established his far right-wing chops, by calling for deep slashes in Government welfare and entitlement programs. It’s standard Republican mantra that if we cut government spending, it has to be for the poor, the sick and the elderly. For example, about a year ago, or so, Rubio gave a speech in which he declared that he had just made the final payment on the student loans he had borrowed to get through college. And since he’s making good enough money to where his own kids won’t need student loans to attend college, he advocated getting rid of the entire Government-sponsered student loan program. (It’s my words about his kids not needing student loans. The rest are his words.) It was that kind of stuff that made the tea-party swoon in delirium.
The problem is that Rubio desperately wants to become president, and he knows that if he’s typecast as just another right-wing looney-tune, he chances drop dramatically. A la Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, wacky Ricky Santorum, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and other tea-party boys and girls. So Rubio is trying to demonstrate that he’s not there just to slash Government programs; but that he can also be bi-partisan by resolving our broken immigration policies. The Democrats are eager to go along with his legislation to give 11-12 million illegals hiding in the shadows, legal status, and an eventual pathway to citizenship. But he can’t get the far-right of his own party, which is practically the entire GOP, to get on-board. So as an inducement to the Rush Limbaugh-types, (who will never come on-board no matter what), the proposed legislation is getting harsher by the day. The latest version, as I’ve said, would create a modern-day replica of the Maginot Line. Even the solidly Republican “Wall Street Journal” blasted the latest Republican efforts in today’s editorial.
The latest proposals would extend the wall on the border with Mexico by hundreds of miles. About 40,000 border-patrol agents would be hired-practically one for every 100 hundred feet of border. (If you need a well paying job, you might try going on down there.) There would be drones, infra-red cameras, sensors of every type imaginable, all to protect our border from a supposedly friendly country. Employers, large and small, would be periodically harassed to make sure that not even one illegal is on their payroll. Harsh penalties would exist if an illegal is found. The list just goes on and on, becoming more ludicrous almost by the hour. And the cost for all this would be, at least, another 40-50 billion dollars a year. But in this instance, money is apparently no object to all these- slash government spending- tea partiers and right-wing whackos. It would, thus, appear that Rubio’s dream of becoming president through bi-partisan enactment of major legislation is getting more and more remote.
I look at it this way. Civilization is barely ten thousand years old, so mankind is still pretty far down in the evolutionary cycle. As evidence, we still eat the flesh of dead animal carcasses. It would appear that we may need about another thousand years of evolution to wise up to the point that we actually learn from history, and not keep repeating the same mistakes. Or maybe we’re just doomed to keep repeating them, over and over. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would have said.