President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras said, “We are neighbors and it’s best to remain friends with your neighbors,” as he arrived in Washington for meetings with his U.S. confrère in the presidents’ club this weekend. They are concerned about emigration and immigration, which are causing tensions and difficulties on the Rio Grande, the great river that forms our natural border with our neighbors. We too want to be neighbors, and in fact have little choice. They are there. We are here. They are so far from God, so close to the United States, as the Mexican proverb has it, we can tell them to complain to God, or better yet, get it through their heads that God helps those who help themselves, but since the surest and quickest way of helping themselves is to cross the Rio Grande, we have to face it: their problems are ours. So what do we do?
Our great poet Robert Frost provides sound advice: “Good fences make good neighbors.” He means this in several ways, including the neighborly bonds that are formed in a common project. Consider:
“ … I let my neighbor know beyond the hill” (that the wall between their properties has been damaged during the hunting season as hounds chased down small animals).
“And on a day we meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again.”
Frost and his neighbor are farmers. Somewhat whimsical, provocative, Frost remarks, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…” and he asks his neighbor what’s the big deal, since there are no cows on either side that might intrude on the other.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” the other answers, reciting an adage he learned from his father. Frost has a fleeting vision of him as “an old-stone savage armed,” who “moves in darkness,” but upon reflection he lets him have the last word.
It is clear we are going to have to work with our southern neighbors to control the population movements on our borders. Truth is, there is nothing new in this issue, other than a perverse unwillingness to address it seriously. Whether due to stupidity mixed with arrogance, which seems to be the typical manner of our national leaders in the Congress these days — as William Tucker observed with wicked wit the other day in this space — or by means of a considered and deliberate breach of executive responsibility, as many people suspect and which quite frankly is alarming, we have a crisis; fortunately, it is far from hopeless.
To begin with, President Hernandez is right when he says this thing is largely our own making. He is not indulging in blame-the-victimism. He is pointing out that on the one hand we do not defend our borders properly, and on the other we have a market for drug pushers that is irresistible. We also have, dare I say it, labor markets mired in hypocrisy and contradictory regulations.
Sure, it is in the nature of the beast that labor markets are not clockwork. You want clockwork in political social and economic affairs, go to a fascist utopia. However, you tinker where you can. We passed an immigration reform a generation ago that could have been designed by enemies determined to subvert us. Well then, surely we can pass a new one that will convince our enemies we are determined to stay strong and free. A sensible immigration policy, the guts of which can be written on one side of an index card, should be a litmus test for anyone seeking office in the next elections.
Too, the Latin Americans are quite right to tell us that we have a lousy drug policy. It is not our fault that they cannot suppress the drug traders in their midst, but that is like saying it is not our fault there is a lot of inter-communal hatred in Iraq. It may not be our fault, but it sure as hell matters and we happen to be the cops on the bloc and we must act the part. So the second litmus test for the next elections should be how do you propose to suppress the drug trade, on one side of an index card.
In the case of drugs, I have been an advocate for tough enforcement, up to and including a serious war on drugs beyond our borders, war in the sense of bang-bang kill the bad guys. I understand we have spent billions to little avail. I am against wasting money. But there must be cost-effective ways of helping our neighbors’ security establishments put an end to the drug trade, or am I having delusions caused by too much whiskey. Whiskey is legal. When it was illegal, Eliot Ness and other “untouchables”, with far fewer resources than the modern ATF, broke up the Capone mob in Cicero, the Chicago suburb whose good name they made notorious. Ness, admittedly, paved the way for vast enhancement of federal power, a dubious policy development. But he stopped illegal runs across the Canadian border. Still, fortunes were made in the gin-running trade, and they were put to use in building our aboveboard economy, so we must keep this in perspective.
Seeing as how the anti-smoking fanatics are destroying the cigar industry in Tampa and environs, and seeing as how Florida’s senator, Marc Rubio, notwithstanding his presidential ambitions or perhaps because of them, is thus far unwilling to do anything to save it, why not move it to such charming locales where unemployment is even higher than here, such as San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Managua. Create jobs, keep people at home.
Also, I think we should rent harbor space on both Atlantic and Pacific sides of Central America and develop shipyards, build the 600-ship navy Mr. Lehman dreamed of — with full support from President Reagan — but never completed. (Correct me if I err, Seth Cropsey, you the man on this one.) We could offer to hire locals, in fact we should hire locals. Create jobs, help them feed their families instead of sending their kids over the Rio Grande. We need the 600-ship navy to defend our Far East interests against the pagan Red Chinese. Yes, that will cost tax dollars. But we can balance the cost against savings obtained from the abolition of the Department of Education.
But speaking of education, how it is that some of the bright young prospects at Washington’s own tennis tournament should be U.S.-trained foreigners? I am not against foreigners. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in a strange land, so I can scarcely complain about foreigners, plus I believe all men are brothers. The problem is the absence of fraternal sentiments, and tennis is one way to develop those. Many young players from all around the world develop their talent at our tennis schools and camps, some of which are in Florida. Dedicated, courageous men and women help form wonderful kids, who grow into fine young men and women,
They do this not only in places that are run for profit, such as the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida — the pretty and talented Michelle Larcher de Brito, who is from Portugal, went there at the same time as the Siberian ace Maria Sharapova. Maria had a much bigger career (so far) on the tour, but Michelle took her out in the second round at the All-England at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. Whatever else Mr. Bollettieri did — Andre Agassi, who also attended, though some years before the lithe screeching young ladies, described him, with some literary license, as a child-abusing ogre in his autobiography — he sure nurtured the competitive instinct in his young charges, even as he figured out ways to make money off them, but that is the American way.
There is another American way, the way of charity and giving, service to the community. The Washington tournament, the Citi Open as it is presently called (earlier versions credited Legg-Mason firm and the regretted Washington Star), belongs to one of our national treasures, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, which is dedicated to going into hard-up neighborhoods and making human beings and citizens — life champions — out of kids dealt bad hands. It succeeds, often, and sometimes helps make sports champions as well, as in the case of a young lady named Taylor Townsend, who as a matter of fact qualified for the main draw the other day with a big win over Tereza Smitkova, who is 19 and comes from Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic and surely has a future no less bright than Miss Townsend, her nearly exact contemporary.
But I digress. Michelle had some injuries and so forth, but she is not a quitter. She too was in Washington this past weekend, pretty and hard-hitting as ever, fighting her way through the qualifying rounds to earn a place in the main draw. She has a lot of fight in her, she plays hard tennis, all over the court, aims at the corners, goes for the mid-court volleys, serves gorgeous. She was in a hell of fight with another foreign person, Stéphanie Dubois, who is from a French-speaking town in Canada, Laval (Quebec province).
If tennis stars the world around seek out Mr. Bollettieri — the son of immigrants, note, who grew up in New York — it must mean that we are not as hopeless in the education field as some evidence suggests. Tennis is a good example. We attract the best tennis players, who settle in Florida (an unofficial borough of New York and a suburb of Havana) and other year-round places with good coaches and teachers, and they make a lot of money. I say good for them. Some of them are in Washington this week, competing in the Citi Open at the wonderful FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, at 16th and Kennedy Streets, NW. They enrich our athletic culture and our economy. And I am sure they have valid visas.